If you’ve ever been subjected to a neighbor’s vacation photos, you’ve probably noticed that the only difference from road trip to road trip is the two bored-looking kids standing in front of the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota. The purpose of a road trip is to have an adventure and come back with some interesting stories. This is not likely to happen if you visit the same natural wonders, ludicrous roadside attractions, and historical sites that everyone in your neighborhood has been to already. Before you load up the family truckster for another summer trip, consider a few unusual destinations to break up the monotony of theme parks and giant ice cream cones.
If your road trip takes you to the west coast, make sure you stop by the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California. The house was built in the late 19th Century by Sarah Winchester, whose late husband was heir to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, makers of “the gun that won the West.” After her husband’s death, Sarah visited a medium, who told her that she would be cursed by the spirits of the people killed by the Winchester Rifle. The spiritualist directed her to build a house, but never to complete it—if work on the house ever stopped, Sarah would die. The Winchester Mystery House is the results of the Widow Winchester’s attempts to placate and confound the ghosts that haunted her. Mrs. Winchester constantly added to and remodeled the house with no plan other than to make sure that work continued. The result is a 160-room mansion with stairs that go nowhere, doors that open into empty space, and skylights in the floors. The house now includes a museum of antiques and, of course, firearms, and offers guided tours of the mansion and grounds.
An interesting stopover on the other side of the country is Point Pleasant, West Virginia, home of the Mothman, a bat-like humanoid first spotted in December of 1966. When he traveled to Point Pleasant to investigate the creature, parapsychologist John Keel experienced bizarre phone calls, episodes of “lost time,” and other unusual phenomena. The strangeness stopped, and the Mothman seemingly disappeared, when the Silver Bridge collapsed, killing 46 people, on December 15, 1967. The story is told in Keel’s book The Mothman Prophecies, on which the Richard Gere movie of the same name is loosely based. You can learn more about the story at Point Pleasant’s Mothman Museum.
Alton, Illinois, just north of St. Louis, is one of the most haunted small towns in the U.S. Alton is home to haunted houses, businesses, and even a haunted cracker factory. Outside of Alton you can find rock art of the giant, man-eating Piasa Bird, which is said to have once haunted the area along the river. “Ghost Walk” tours of Alton are available during most of the year.
If your road trip doesn’t take you near any of these places, don’t fret. There are strange and haunted sites throughout America, and chances are very good that a few of them will be along your chosen route. Whether you choose to visit the International UFO Museum and Research Center in Roswell, New Mexico, search for the Jersey Devil in the Pine Barrens, or drive up (or maybe down) Florida’s gravity-defying Spook Hill, adding a few unusual stops to your road trip can make for a much more interesting vacation.