Route 666

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, June 1996

Route 666

For travelers who demand the very worst, a U.S. tourism inferno
By Jack Barth

No denying it: dark and lonesome Barrow has its downside. But let's not forget the rest of the country. From coast to coast, from border to border, from Kansas City, Kansas, to Kansas City, Missouri, the United States is rich with locales that are worth a visit just because...they so very much aren't. And now, thanks to way-high speed limits, you can see it all in just a week!

Day One
We begin in Opa-locka, Florida, a run-down exurb of northwestern Miami, founded as an Arabian Nights theme town in 1926. A city ordinance states that all new public buildings must be designed with a Moorish motif. The goal is beguiling civic wonder. The reality is more like post-Gulf War Baghdad--inarguably, Opa-locka is the world's wackiest slum. So ride that magic carpet outta there, but don't pick up any hitchhikers near Milledgeville, Georgia, which proudly boasts The World's Largest Insane Asylum Not in Chicago.

Day Two
Got Buckeye fever? In Salem, Ohio's Reilly Stadium, a urinal used by JFK in 1960 has been preserved as a historical artifact, though renovation work has temporarily consigned it to storage. Demand to see it. The Wood County Historical Museum in Bowling Green displays three human fingers in a jar, the knife that Gay Nineties murderer Carl Bach used to sever them from his wife's hand, and the noose used to hang Carl. And then there's Hamilton! In 1984, 11 years after a grisly mass murder at a family picnic brought national infamy, this PR-conscious town officially appended an exclamation point to its name.

Day Three
People come from all around--really--to chuckle at the water tower in Ypsilanti, Michigan, which inadvertently is shaped like a phallus. After you've had your fun, floor it toward Sturgis, Michigan, which bills itself as the Curtain Rod Capital of the World--see the proof at the Kirsch Drapery Hardware company. Top your day off with a snack at The French Embassy, the world's only "gourmet" French restaurant that's also a bowling alley, perched in the Mennonite maelstrom of Arcola, Illinois. They've got savoir faire to spare!

Day Four
Yes, you clamor, but when can we finally see Jeffrey Dahmer's brain in a jar? Well, hypothetically, today, at the state pathologist's office in Madison, Wisconsin, where his gray matter was taken "for observation" after his death in prison. Only problem: Those grumpy dairyland Quincys claim the brain is elsewhere. We believe otherwise, so go, go, go! Casselton, North Dakota, boasts the "can pile," the world's largest pile of oil cans. Finally, Newton, Iowa, houses the loneliest tourist spot in the Midwest: the forlorn Maytag Museum.

Day Five
Ripping on through the fat of the land, catch the Rush Limbaugh Tour in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, the lardy, crabby guy's hometown. Down in Bentonville, Arkansas, the Wal-Mart Museum boasts such artifacts as the hula skirt Sam Walton wore in 1984 while dancing down Wall Street to celebrate record earnings. On the high plains, Garden City, Kansas, offers a double treat: In Finnup Park you can dive into the qualifier-heavy World's Largest Free Outdoor Concrete Municipal Swimming Pool, while the county historical museum next door contains what modest curators will only call an "extremely large" hairball taken from a butchered steer. Believe in yourself, guys: Call it The World's Largest Bezoar!

Day Six
Watch for flying discs in Beaver, Oklahoma, the world's "cow chip throwing" capital. The town's official symbol is a jumbo beaver, who's clutching a huge "manure Frisbee." Next, race the sun to Steamboat Springs, Colorado, which in 1993 dedicated the James Brown Soul Center of the Universe Bridge. In whimsical Guffey, Colorado, the mayor is a dog named Shanda--and this is an improvement. Up until 1993, the mayor was a cat named Whissy Lagone. Speaking of amazing animals, the Manhattan Bar in Manhattan, Nevada, displays Herman the Mouse, still gripping the extension cord that he fatally gnawed through.

Day Seven
Time for the final push, but choose your route carefully! High winds and dust storms make the stretch of I-84 through Cassia County, Idaho, "the most dangerous road in America," according to truckers polled by USA Today. Steer clear, but don't dip down to Gallup, New Mexico, which The New York Times has called "the drunk-driving capital of America." Blast toward the Pacific and end your sojourn in Simi Valley, California, home of the Rodney King jury pool and the Ronald Reagan Museum, the highlight of which is a presidential seal made of 6,500 nails.

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