Road Trips

Great Southern Road Trips: Pit Stops

Fourteen weird and wonderful Southern pit stops

Photo: Lissa Gotwalls

  • Ave Maria Grotto

    Cullman, Alabama
    Why cross  the Atlantic to visit Saint Peter’s Basilica when you can see it and 124 other historical sites at one former quarry? The late Brother Joseph Zoettl spent decades fashioning the astonishingly detailed miniatures out of scrap marble, shells, and old toilet parts.

  • Buford Pusser Home and Museum

    Adamsville, Tennessee
    In the 1960s, rural Tennessee sheriff Buford Pusser was so feared by the Dixie Mafia that it took an entire Walking Tall movie trilogy to detail his skull-cracking exploits. His legend lives on at the museum that operates out of Pusser’s ranch home. See some of the eighty-seven moonshine stills he busted up in one year and the charred Corvette in which he died mysteriously, only magnifying his myth.

  • Cadillac Ranch

    Amarillo, Texas
    Let England have Stonehenge. We’ll take the ten Cadillacs buried up to their windshields in a cow pasture. The odd sight was created in 1974 by three San Francisco artists and funded by Texas millionaire Stanley Marsh. Stranger still, visitors can add their own artistic flourishes, leading to the craziest paint jobs ever to grace a Caddy.

  • Frank Lloyd Wright’s Bachman-Wilson House

    Bentonville, Arkansas
    No, you haven’t wandered onto an old Mad Men set. Last fall, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art finished rebuilding Frank Lloyd Wright’s Bachman-Wilson House one concrete block and mahogany board at a time after flooding threatened the home’s New Jersey site. You’ll be tempted to make yourself at home inside the midcentury masterwork, but curling up on the couch is discouraged.

  • Jefferson Pools

    Warm Springs, Virginia
    These aren’t the Gatsby-esque bathhouses of Hot Springs. No, these enclosed twin pools, preserved by the Homestead resort, look more like circular apple barns. What the baths lack in grandeur they make up for in history—Native Americans were known to seek out the springs, and Thomas Jefferson “took the cure” inside the same eighteenth-century structures. Around here, if it’s good enough for TJ…

  • Luckenbach

    Luckenbach, Texas
    If you only know the lyrics to the hit Waylon Jennings–Willie Nelson classic, there’s so much more. Okay, not really. But the tiny Hill Country crossroads does boast a weathered general-store-slash-bar that serves frosty Shiner Bock and a rustic dance hall that hosts artists such as Leon Russell.

  • New River Gorge Bridge Walk

    Fayetteville, West Virginia
    An acrophobia-defying thrill seeker can shell out $69 to stroll the two-foot-wide catwalk on the underside of the New River Gorge Bridge in the Appalachian Mountains. Yes, you’re 851 feet in the air but a safety cable ensures that a strong breeze doesn’t send you flying. Your camera is your problem.

  • Pearl Fryar Topiary Garden

    Bishopville, South Carolina
    After the garden club awarded Pearl Fryar Yard of the Month in 1985, he never looked back. With no topiary experience, he transformed the “grounds” of his home into a living masterpiece, with rows of junipers that suggest sailboats and oaks fashioned into fat mushrooms.

  • Robert Johnson’s Three Graves

    Leflore County, Mississippi
    Blues fans still squabble over the location of the Delta crossroads where Johnson reputedly sold his soul to the devil. So it’s no surprise they disagree on where he’s buried. To pay respects, navigate back roads to Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church near Morgan City, Payne Chapel Church near Quito, and Little Zion Missionary Baptist Church near Greenwood.

  • Sam’s Treehouse

    Calhoun, Georgia
    The building inspector’s ulcer is your gain when you park behind a Mexican restaurant on Piedmont Street to find a treehouse that looks as if it were crashed into by an airplane, a helicopter, a ski boat, and a submarine. But it’s home for Sam Isaac Edwards, a former aide to Jimmy Carter who apparently has never met a mode of transportation he couldn’t graft onto a tree—or a zoning law he couldn’t flout.

  • Starlight Drive-In Theatre

    Atlanta, Georgia
    There is no better time machine than a drive-in, and the Starlight, which has lit up thousands of nights since 1949, offers all the throwback bells and whistles. From the neon entrance sign to the snack shack, you’ll wonder why all summer blockbusters aren’t viewed from a parked car. After all, you’re not there for the plot. Honorable mention: Hull’s Drive-In (Lexington, Virginia).

  • Synchronous Fireflies

    Gatlinburg, Tennessee
    Sure, the fireflies where you live are pretty enough, but it turns out they’re shiftless layabouts compared with the Photinus carolinus species, which you’ll find concentrated near the Elkmont campground in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Thousands of these showstopping little guys blink on and off in unison, attracting mates and droves of lightning bug watchers. Note: Firefly activity typically peaks in early June, so plan accordingly.

  • Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park

    Wilson, North Carolina
    Not long ago, you had to search out a pasture to gape at repairman turned folk artist Simpson’s towering scrap-metal sculptures festooned with spinning propellers and bicycle wheels. Today, sixteen works occupy a dedicated park in progress in nearby Wilson, with ten more scattered downtown.

  • Weeki Wachee Mermaids

    Spring Hill, Florida
    Attire a bunch of women in mermaid costumes. Teach them to hold their breath for an impressively long time. Then let tourists watch them perform underwater routines (eating or battling a sea witch) in a crystal-clear natural spring. Interstates and the Internet be damned, Weeki Wachee is as much campy fun now as it was in its 1960s heyday.