September 9, 2010

Road Trip Philosophy – Mourning the Decline of Roadside Attractions

When I was a kid, my family took a lot of road trip vacations. For spring break, we usually drove from Oklahoma to Colorado to go skiing. When we drove through Kansas, I always remember we passed a sign from the World’s Largest Prairie Dog. I would beg my father to stop so we could see it, but he always refused. “It’s not really a prairie dog,” he said. “It’s made of plastic.” I didn’t care and I still don’t. I may be in my twenties, but to me a giant plastic prairie dog is amazing and I want to see it.

Unfortunately as time goes by and we march into the future, more and more people are losing interest in the weird roadside attractions of my childhood. Eccentric Roadside recently posted an article about roadside attractions for sale. It reminded me of my trip to see the Sinclair dinosaur only to find out the gas station had closed down and the dinosaur had been stolen.

Kansas – land of wheat fields and weird things by the road – seems to be particularly susceptible to the decline. The Prairie Dog Town of my youth is now for sale for $450,000. Some say it is the change in travel habits – more people fly than drive long distances now. Some say it is the inability to compete with other forms of children entertainment – a kid isn’t going to be amazed by a giant plastic prairie dog after seeing 3D cartoons.

But I think it is a lost sense of childhood wonder that is really endangering America’s roadside attractions. When I was ten-years-old, I knew that prairie dog wasn’t alive. I didn’t care. It was amazing to me that a giant prairie dog existed. It was amazing because I was willing to be amazed. I was willing to be swept into the childhood wonder.

Roadside attractions may not live forever. The giant prairie dog may not be around for my children, grandchildren or great grandchildren. But what concerns me more is that this is a symptom of a greater disease afflicting our great nation – a cynical unwillingness to be impressed. An unwillingness to be childish and absurd is more troublesome than the loss of a giant prairie dog.



  1. I agree with you wholeheartedly! Someone created and built these places. This work may represent their finest hour; their 15 minutes of fame. They deserve some homage. My family loves traveling to see quirky roadside attractions like these! We have a blog,“Go BIG or Go Home,” which chronicles what happens when our small-town family visits the “world’s largest”…whatever!

  2. Traci, I love your blog! I am a big fan (pun intended).

  3. The cynical unwillingness to be impressed is infecting the whole world. I feel it here in Europe, too. Sad but true.
    Great article. Thank you.