Off the beaten path in the South
Drinking sweet tea, eating deep-fried food, driving pickup trucks, speaking in similes, and being able to fix almost anything with duct tape are all just a part of life in the South. Lifelong Southerners such as myself are not at all offended that many outsiders view our lifestyle as strange, weird, or quirky. To the contrary, we consider it a matter of pride and tend to flaunt our eccentricities like a badge of honor.
That’s good news for travelers venturing south, as it provides plenty of weird and off-the-beaten-path things to experience. So next time you’re down in this neck of the woods, check out a few of our favorites. You’ll be happier than a possum eatin’ a sweet tater.
You don’t have to travel to England to experience Stonehenge. There is a full-size fiberglass replica in “LA” (lower Alabama) just outside of the Gulf Coast town of Elberta. As a bonus, in the nearby woods on the road to the Barber Marina, there are four fairly realistic-looking life-size dinosaurs. While at the marina itself, you’ll find a giant 50-foot, half-submerged woman referred to as the “Lady in the Lake.”
Spook Hill (Florida)
There is a road in Lake Wales, Florida, known as Spook Hill. Legend has it that ages ago, a giant gator and an Indian chief were killed while battling each other. Early mail carriers noticed that their horses labored whenever going downhill on a path near the chief’s burial site. They named it Spook Hill. Today, that path is a paved road, and if you stop at the white line by the Spook Hill sign and put your car in neutral, it will roll backward up the hill! We put it to the test in a video when we participated in the Best of the Road Rally in 2012.
Babyland General Hospital (Georgia)
Babyland General Hospital in Cleveland, Georgia, is where Cabbage Patch Kids are born and cared for. When you enter the hospital, you’re greeted by a “nurse” who explains the adoption process. If you are there when a mother cabbage is dilated to 10 cabbage leaves, you can witness a “doctor” assist with delivery of a newborn doll.
The waiting room is a mini museum featuring the first Cabbage Patch Kid that was originally adopted for a fee of US$30.00 in 1977 and readopted by Cabbage Patch creator Xavier Roberts in 2006 for US$37,000.00. The walls are adorned with pictures of celebrities who either visited the hospital or adopted a Cabbage Patch Kid. There is an enormous selection of dolls throughout the hospital waiting to be adopted.
Viewfinder Tip: When ordering iced tea in the South, most places will bring you sweet tea unless you specifically ask for unsweetened.
South of the Border (South Carolina)
Located on I-95, just south of the North Carolina and South Carolina state line, is South of the Border—a Mexico-themed tourist complex with a gas station, a souvenir shop, restaurants, a campground, a motel, and a mini amusement park.
The centerpiece is the 200-foot-tall Sombrero tower that is often referred to as the “Eiffel Tower of the South” or the “Space Needle of the East.”
Along a 200-mile stretch of I-95, there are 120 billboards featuring a sombrero-clad mascot named Pedro beckoning you to visit South of the Border and experience all it has to offer. The frequency of the billboards increases the closer you get to the state line. You’ll find yourself stopping by just for the sake of curiosity if not for Pedro’s power of persuasion. South of the Border is perhaps America’s cheesiest tourist attraction, but therein lies its charm.
Mount Airy (North Carolina)
It could be said that the entire town of Mount Airy, North Carolina, suffers from a bit of an identity crisis considering it has morphed itself into the fictitious town of Mayberry from The Andy Griffith Show. But that’s not a bad thing, especially for those of us old enough to remember the hit TV show from the 1960s. Mount Airy is a place where you can experience small-town southern charm at its finest.
Many businesses in town have gone to great lengths to recreate the look and feel of what Mayberry was like in the television series. There is an old black-and-white sheriff’s car in front of the Mayberry Courthouse and an old tow truck parked beside Wally’s Service Station. Inside the courthouse you’ll find a replica of Sheriff Taylor’s desk and the jail cell where Otis the drunk would let himself sober up. While you’re in town, be sure to grab a fried pork-chop sandwich from The Snappy Lunch. While you’re at it, get a haircut Floyd’s City Barber Shop on Main Street.
Unclaimed Baggage Center (Alabama)
Did you ever wonder what happens to all the unclaimed baggage left on airport baggage carousels? Look no further than the Unclaimed Baggage Center. Since 1970, the only lost-luggage store in the nation has been purchasing unclaimed baggage from airlines and selling the contents in Scottsboro, Alabama. Truckloads of baggage arrive at the center where it is sorted, priced, and sold. Because luggage comes from all over the world and contains some quite unique items, the store has the feel of a giant boutique thrift store. Bargains are to be had for sure.
What are some of the off-the-beaten-path things you’ve encountered in your travels?
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