Wigwam Motel (Credit: John Lutz)

Arizona's Roadside Attractions

By: Bryn Bailer

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March 28, 2016

Find quirky sites—both naturally formed and man-made—across Arizona.

About the author

Bryn Bailer

Bryn Bailer

Native Tucsonan Bryn Bailer is an award-winning journalist, former newspaper reporter, current-affairs junkie, and a firm believer in indecision. (At least she thinks so.) Her work has appeared in various publications, including The Dallas Morning News, Arizona Highways, Arizona Daily Star, international news service Agence France-Presse, scads of lifestyle magazines, and curiously, the English-language financial magazine Czech Business Weekly.

Sometimes the best part of a journey isn't the destination—it's the expedition itself. Happily, the Grand Canyon State has a plethora of peculiar places to play while you're en route to your destination.

Some are natural oddities. Others are small-town tourist stops from the bygone era of highway road tripping. Still, others are charming kitsch and can inspire even busy modern travelers to pull over for a look-see.

Kitsch is king

In Holbrook, along historic Route 66, mosey over to the Wigwam Motel—a business concept that proved mid-20th-century Americans were so intrigued by American Indian imagery that they would pay handsomely for slope-walled, concrete-and-stucco teepees rather than conventional motel rooms.

Today, the property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and offers passersby kitschy photo ops, a vintage car collection to view and a free museum featuring American Indian artifacts and Civil War memorabilia. And, yes, you can still book a night in one of the teepees—but only by calling or sending an email, and well in advance.

Space is ace

If you're a modern American with a hankering for the retro atomic age, you'll want to seek out Gila Bend's futuristic Space Age Lodge (now operated by Best Western). Built in the early 1960s, the hotel boasts a blue-and-aluminum color scheme, starburst and spaceship decorative motifs, and a quirky gift shop. (Don't overlook the little green alien gewgaws.) The adjoining Space Age Restaurant sports a similar spacey decor with food that's a bit more down to earth.

Superlatives in Superior

In road tripping, superlatives are the name of the game. The town of Superior, located alongside U.S. Highway 60, lays claim to being the site of "The World's Smallest Museum." (The official title may actually belong to New York City's Mmuseumm—a tiny natural-history collection housed in a glassed-in elevator shaft in Chinatown—but the Superior site is tiny in its own right.)

Located in a sturdy shed outside the folk-art-studded Buckboard City Café, the 134-square-foot museum features a collection of random artifacts, including a collection of presidential campaign buttons, and—to pile on another superlative—"The World's Largest Apache Tear," a type of obsidian rock.

There's weirdness in them thar hills

Some look up and see clouds shaped like castles, or mountains that rise up like mighty towers. In the town of Congress (15 miles north of Wickenburg), one resident looked at a hillside and saw a frog—or rather, a 16-foot-tall boulder that looked like one. After it was painted bright green, the gargantuan amphibian was affectionately nicknamed "Rocky."

Thanks to occasional paint touch-ups to keep the color bright, you can still spot Frog Rock crouching beside U.S. Highway 89, about one mile north of downtown Congress.

Standing tall

Whichever direction you're traveling on U.S. Highway 160, you can't miss Elephant Feet rest area. The two soaring sandstone columns, which are located near Tonalea, on the Navajo Nation, look like the legs of a giant, petrified pachyderm. According to experts, the sandstone towers were actually formed many millions of years ago during the Middle Jurassic period, back when Brachiosaurus roamed the Earth.

A rosebush by any other name…

The former silver-mining boom town of Tombstone may be the Town Too Tough to Die, but it has another, decidedly more decorous claim to fame. It is home to "The World's Largest Rose Tree."

Lady Banksia Rose cuttings were planted here in 1885, reportedly by a homesick Scottish bride, and the plant continues to grow. It is now more tree than bush, with a trunk measuring 12 feet in circumference, and a canopy spreading an impressive 8,700 square feet. (It's supported by a sturdy network of wooden trellises.) In April, the bush bursts into clusters of fragrant white blossoms, and the town celebrates with a parade and annual Rose Festival.

This story was updated in April 2019.

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