I grew up on a farm in rural Iowa. Because my dad raised a few dairy cattle, we never took a family vacation. That is, not until my mom discovered The House on the Rock. It was my first Midwest tourist attraction. I still remember it like we visited yesterday.
Mom figured we could drive to The House on the Rock located in Spring Green, Wisconsin, see the sights, and drive home again the very same day. This would allow Dad time to milk the cows in the very early morning. We would return in time for a late milking in the evening. Only now do I realize the momentous sacrifice my folks made for that brief family vacation.
Attractions close to home
Ever since that childhood vacation, I’ve made a point to check out any and all Midwest tourist attractions along our travel routes. If you’ve wondered about attractions in the Midwest, and want to save on fuel costs this year, consider staying closer to home—if you are fortunate enough to live in fantastic flyover country, that is.
House on the Rock
The House on the Rock in Spring Green, Wisconsin. Things have changed since my family and I visited in the late ’60s. The Infinity Room is still there. It extends out from the house over 200 feet, off the side of a cliff. Without any visible support beams, you are suspended above the forest floor far below. Today, the many rooms in this fantastic house are home to many rare (and odd) collections of varying items. The House on the Rock holds special events at Halloween and Christmas. If you’re in the area, it’s worth a stop.
Austin, Minnesota. Mystery meat lovers unite! A tour of the SPAM® Museum is led by professional “SPAMbassadors” who will tell you that 44,000 cans of SPAM come down the conveyor belt each hour! There are nine galleries in this 14,000-square-foot museum. Each gallery features interactive games, information, and photo opportunities. Best of all, this museum tour is free.
Future Birthplace of James T. Kirk
Riverside, Iowa. Star Trek fans will delight to see the predicted birthplace of Kirk, captain of the famous Starship Enterprise. (His birthdate? March 22, 2233.) A stop at this unusual Midwest attraction will allow visitors to view a bronze statue of Captain Kirk, and tour the Star Trek Voyage Home Museum. Who wouldn’t want a selfie with Spock, McCoy, or Kirk?
Sikeston, Missouri. If you’re traveling on Interstate 55 along Missouri’s eastern border, stop and eat at Lambert’s Café. You’ll see billboards advertising this iconic restaurant. “Home of the throwed rolls” is Lambert’s famous motto. That’s because years ago, the owner was swamped with customers. He was so busy that rather than deliver his yummy wheat rolls to a table, he tossed them to customers instead. The practice continues today. It’s really fun—and the food is good, too!
Alliance, Nebraska. You’ve heard of Stonehenge. This is Nebraska’s version. Jim Reinders built Carhenge in tribute to his father, who once lived on the site. Reinders used Stonehenge as a model. Instead of boulders, Reinders used cars. Yes, he used 38 cars (mostly models from the ’50s and ’60s). He arranged the cars in a circle with the same diameter as Stonehenge. The cars were placed in the same positions as the famous English monument, too. Carhenge is off the road a bit, but worth the trip. Hint: If you can’t visit Carhenge, check out The Cadillac Ranch off Route 66 near Amarillo, Texas.
Leaning Tower of Niles
Niles, Illinois. Located outside of Chicago is a little piece of Italy. This half-size replica of the original Leaning Tower of Pisa was the idea of prominent businessman Robert Ilg. Dedicated to preserving the natural beauty of the region, Ilg made a 22-acre park. The Leaning Tower was constructed in the 1920s, to disguise a water tower that supplied water to one of the park’s pools. It makes a perfect backdrop for photos and is well worth the stop. The Leaning Tower of Niles is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Dorothy’s house in the “Wizard of Oz”
Liberal, Kansas. Fans of the iconic movie will love touring a replica of Dorothy’s cottage home. You can relive parts of the movie as you tour the 5,000-square-foot animated exhibit hall. The gift shop offers lots of movie memorabilia, of course. For fans of the Oz movie, it’s a must see!
Sure, they’re on the “kitschy” side of tourism, but that’s what makes these unusual Midwest tourist attractions so much fun. Do you have favorite places to put on the list? Please comment below.
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