Arizona’s highways can seem pretty lonely at times, miles upon miles of emptiness. Then, in the distance – you see it: a much-needed spot to pull over, gas up and perk up before hitting the road once more. In many instances, these are not your ordinary pit stops – these are roadside attractions. Those kitschy, weird, even corny establishments end up being not at all what they advertised themselves to be.
Just east of Interstate 17 in Camp Verde is the world’s largest Kokopelli, commonly known as “that big flute player.” The giant yellow sculpture stands 32 feet tall and weighs a whopping five-and-a-half tons. The Navajo god of wealth and fertility is a symbol seen across the Southwest. Still, this one is simply a giant billboard for the former Krazy Kokopelli trading post, which has turned into a coffee shop and Mexican restaurant. For many, it is still a great photo op.
On the other hand, you don’t always have to be big to get noticed. Sometimes being the smallest can earn you quite the reputation and turn your supposed shortcomings into bragging rights. In the town of Superior, just off Highway 60, is the world’s smallest museum.
Once an ordinary Tuff Shed, now it is a 134-square-foot museum of not so small treasures. Dan Wight and Jake Reaney opened the museum in the mid-90s to lure diners into the Buckboard Café next door. Some of the unique exhibits you can check out include a 1984 Compaq computer, a Beatles concert poster, a letter from President-elect John F. Kennedy to Jake Reaney from the 60s and the world’s largest Apache tear, which is a semi-precious gemstone. This type of obsidian rock only comes from Superior.
More than just a roadside attraction, a monument in Winslow is an all-out destination. Even if you are not an Eagles fan, chances are you’ve heard the lyrics from their song “Take It Easy,” about standin’ on the corner in Winslow, Arizona.
In fact, in some ways, that 1972 song and those lyrics helped put this historic town back on the map. Winslow, located on Route 66 about 50 miles east of Flagstaff, was the largest town in northern Arizona until I-40 bypassed the town in the late 1970s. In 1998, the town created the Standin’ on the Corner Park, paying homage to the song.
The park has it all: a life-size bronze statue of a guy with a guitar and a two-story Trompe L’oeil mural where you can see the girl in a flatbed Ford reflected in the storefront. The town now estimates 100,000 people stop by every year to stand on that corner, making Winslow more than a roadside pit stop.
From US 60 to I-17, Highway 93 to Route 66, Arizona’s roadways build connections to our past with stops that let us linger a little longer. Some have been called tourist traps, but today they’ve gained cult status, luring travelers off our Arizona highways. From the world’s biggest to the world’s smallest, roadside stops give you the chance to slow down, take a look, enjoy the photo op and, like the song says, “take it easy.”
— Robin Sewell is the host and executive producer of Arizona Highways Television, Saturdays and Sundays on CBS.