Big, strange things on the side of the road

Slide show: A look at the massive hot dogs, folk heroes and mega kitsch that have become stars of the U.S. highways

Published April 17, 2011 1:01PM (EDT)

When pilgrimages to sacred sites took off in medieval times, a new culture of wanderlust was born. As a byproduct, along these routes, roadside weirdness began to spring forth like mushrooms after a spring rain in the oddest (and often most profane) places. Churches and monasteries pulled out all the stops to woo these passersby off their path with pastries, mesmerizing chanting, over-the-top relics (a vial of the Virgin Mary's breast milk! a saint's finger with magical properties!), and promises of half off their time in purgatory or a cure to whatever might ail them.

With that in mind, the oddball phenomena that flanks our modern-day highways and byways doesn't seem so strange. Our roadside oddities tend to fall more into the aesthetic category of hyperbole and kitsch -- absurdly giant things in otherwise small, in-between places -- massive hot dogs, overblown folk heroes, towering corporate mascots, not to mention synthetic re-creations of the ancient world and extinct species.

Of course, these spots are expressly designed to catch your eye as you speed down a highway's bland strip of sameness, lure you in, and part you from a bit of your time and money. Rushed and encapsulated in our cars, cross-country trips aren't exactly the missions from God that pilgrims once embarked upon, but the road is still fertile ground for the cultivation of the weird and wonderful when you stop to look and ponder what it all might mean. You can find more roadside enigmas around the world at

By Megan Cytron

MORE FROM Megan Cytron

Related Topics ------------------------------------------