Page 5 of 11ROADSIDE ODDITIES OF UTAH
Road trips are a lot more fun when they get weird.
By Randy Harward
I don't think I have to sell you, necessarily, on the appeal of the road trip. Jumping in the car with your family or friends and driving anywhere for as long as an hour or an entire day, with or without a particular place to go—well, that's a blast. You eat terrible food, listen to great music, tell stories or just stare out the window and think—or not think at all.
Sometimes, while you're gazing through the safety glass, or hanging your head out the window, mouth open, wondering if your gaping gob creates enough drag to slow down the car (what, you don't do that?), you see something—among all that nothing—that'd make your jaw drop, if it wasn't already low. Something weird. Something awesome.
What I'm sayin': Road trips, whether short jaunts to Wendover or cross-country treks, appeal to our need to escape, to reboot our minds and activate our possibly dormant childlike sense of adventure and wonder. They make us feel alive again. (Or at the very least, provide us with Instagram fodder.) But they're a lot more fun when random, crazy shit happens.
Maybe you're on Redwood Road and you spot someone riding an elephant—and then you see the big top for the traveling Mexican circus. (Caution: elephants, as my daughter pointed out, are covered in "poky" stubble.) You might spot Dancing Steve, the retired anesthesiologist, who wears purple velour outfits and dances and juggles at intersections in the Holladay area. Or, on westbound SR-201 east of Wendover, you'll see this crazy structure with no immediately discernible point or purpose that appears to be the creation of a madman, but qualifies as art and makes you wonder what it means. (See "Metaphor: The Tree of Utah.") Sometimes it's a pile of mildly interesting junk, or a historical landmark you never knew existed—or could fathom existing.
Like the following list of roadside oddities ripe for your to ogle. From downtown Salt Lake City to all six corners of Utah, there is an abundance of roadside oddities to ogle while thinking, "What does it mean?"
Rubin and Ed Locations
Trent Harris's beloved cult film from 1991 was shot entirely in Utah. The desert scenes, where Rubin discovered he's the "king of the Echo People," were shot in Goblin Valley State Park in Green River. On Main Street in nearby Hanksville, you can visit the tiny gas station (called The Prod Pump & Rest in the film) where Rubin found his way out of the desert. The Fontenoy Inn, where Rubin (Crispin Glover) lived with his mother and dead cat, is actually the Mountain Courtyard Suites at 350 S. 300 East in downtown Salt Lake City. At 222 E. Broadway, you can walk down the alley where Rubin kicked his platform shoe at his tormentor. Also downtown, last we heard, is Trent Harris' office, where the stuffed cat, named Thistle, sits on a shelf. But don't show up there hoping to see it. Maybe just leave a watermelon at the door. If you've seen the film, you know why.
Everyone knows that the site of Kevin Bacon's iconic dance-fit in the 1984 film Footloose is in or near Lehi (I think, exactly six degrees from wherever Kevin Bacon is currently breathing). But who, among us locals, ever goes there? Even if you don't dance, why wouldn't you go, if only to be that close to where the magic happened?
Mounted Head of
Located up north near Ogden, Huntsville ain't all that big, but Buck—the St. Bernard whose gargantuan cranium is mounted in the Shooting Star, was once the largest of his breed according to the Guinness World Records. As of 1957, the giant pooch is chasing 18-wheelers in the Great Beyond—but they're still using his carcass to make the Shooting Star's famous burgers. (That's a joke.)
Mountain Meadows Massacre Mass Grave
It's horror movie fodder, the idea that a group of territorial religious zealots, masquerading in redface as Native Americans, would slaughter scores of innocents and bury them in a mass grave. Standing at this monument, located off of Highway 18 in Central Utah, is good for a chill, or a couple of dozen whispered, WTFs.
With a name sounding like it came straight from a 1970s blaxploitation flick, this little joint in Carmel, right outside of Zion National Park, also boasts that they serve "Ho-Made Pie." I wonder if they also serve ho cakes. 'Cause, you know, hoes gotta eat, too. (John Witherspoon, Hollywood Shuffle, 1987)
Lightning McQueen and Scooby-Doo Van
North of Moab, in Thompson, Papa Joe's gas station has replicas of Lightning McQueen (from Pixar's Cars) and the Mystery Machine, aka the "Scooby-Doo Van." Tip: Don't ask if you can hotbox the MM.
Real This Is the Place Monument
Say whaaaaaat? It's true. The big monument off of Sunnyside and below Hogle Zoo isn't the real place where Brigham Young and company decided, "Screw it, the mountains were a bitch to get over—let's stay here." The real spot is actually located over a half-mile away, marked by a tinier monument, which oughta be shaped like an asterisk.
Giant Soda Cans
Oh, we Utahns love our carbonated beverages, don't we? In Salina, somebody likes 'em so much that they painted giant storage tanks like Coke, Sprite, Diet Coke and Monster cans. There used to be a Pepsi product in there, so the neighboring Carl's Jr. may have influenced the change.
Robert Smithson's earthwork sculpture sits, since 1970, on the northeastern shore of the Great Salt Lake near Promontory. The 15-foot wide coil of mud, basalt and crystal reaches more than a quarter-mile into the lake and is sometimes obscured when the water is high. A high-clearance vehicle is mandatory, according to RoadsideAmerica.com, where you'll find dozens more places to check out this summer. The politics of summer