Road Trip USA: The 8 Most Unusual Roadside Attractions

Labor Day weekend is upon us (woot), which means road trip season’s starting to wind down (sigh). But before summer’s gone for good, why not head to some of the sights that make this country great?

We’re not talking about your typical tourist destinations. You know, Mt. Rushmore, the Grand Canyon, Old Faithful. No, to get a real slice of Americana, you need to map out the more unusual road trip destinations. And believe you me, there are plenty of unusual things to see in this great land of ours. Here are our top 8 favorites.

Road trip ideas (or at least stops along the way)

1. Corn Palace and Wall Drug – South Dakota

India has the Taj Mahal. The United States has the Corn Palace. Truly a wonder to behold, it’s a testament to what humans can do with an excess of corn. Full of murals made of naturally colored corn, grains, and native grasses, the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota, is “the agricultural showplace of the world.”  Best of all, it’s open year round and it’s free. (If you’ve been before, it’s still a worthwhile destination, as each year the Corn Palace is redecorated with a new theme.)

Driving down the I-90 in South Dakota, you’ll also come across Wall Drug (along with about a billion signs for Wall Drug) — another free and completely surreal attraction. What started in the 1930s as a tiny drug store offering free ice water to road-weary travelers has turned into a tourist mecca offering everything from snacks to souvenirs to photo ops (you can even pan for gold!).

And hey, while you’re in South Dakota, you might as well check out Mt. Rushmore too.

2. World’s biggest ball of twine – Kansas

Yep, it’s a real thing. Not only that, it has competition (or at least had competition). Beginning in the 1950s, Francis A. Johnson of Darwin, Minnesota, began wrapping his ball of sisal twine. A man by the name of Frank Stoeber in Cawker, Kansas, had a similar dream, and both men continued wrapping until their deaths. Darwin now holds the record for the largest ball of twine built by one person, while Cawker holds the (more impressive?) title of biggest ball of twine in the world. Visitors can add to the 9-ton ball and view twine art along Main Street.

3. The Mystery Spot and Winchester Mystery House – California

Nestled among Northern California’s majestic redwoods (also worth a visit) is a 150-foot circular area that defies physics. Appropriately located in the hippie sanctuary of Santa Cruz, the Mystery Spot will cause you to question gravity itself (we hear you can roll a ball uphill). What causes it? Well, it’s called the Mystery Spot for a reason.

Less than an hour away, in San Jose, California, is another strange attraction: the Winchester Mystery House. With doors that lead to nowhere, steps that go down then up again, and secret passageways, the house once owned by rifle heir Sarah Winchester is certainly one of the strangest architectural designs out there. The story goes that after the deaths of her young daughter and husband, Mrs. Winchester became convinced that her family and their fortune were being haunted by spirits of those killed by Winchester rifles. In order to confuse any ghosts wandering around her home, Sarah built a dizzying maze of secret stairs, hidden hallways, and disappearing rooms. Many claim the mansion is indeed haunted, but again … it remains mysterious for a reason.

4. Ava Maria Grotto – Alabama

Ever wonder what monks do with all that silent time? Perhaps they’re working out ways to build delightfully tiny reproductions of historical landmarks and religious shrines. At least that’s what Benedictine monk Brother Joseph Zoettl did. And Ava Maria Grotto, also known as “Jerusalem in Miniature,” is the result. What started as a hobby became an entire park of miniatures constructed out of donated materials like marble, costume jewelry, and even cold-cream jars. Even if religion’s not really your thing, it’s pretty awesome to behold this miniature city (and to feel like a giant).

Some other worthy roadside attractions

5. Carhenge – Nebraska

Not to be confused with Foam Henge in Virginia, Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska, is an arrangement of 38 cars placed in a formation mimicking England’s Stonehenge.

6. Land of GiantsWest Virginia

If you’re on your way to our nation’s capitol, take a detour to visit the Land of Giants in Unger, West Virginia. Also known as Farnham Collasi, this land of giant statues screams Americana.

7. Paper HouseMassachusetts

Visiting Boston? Head an hour north to see Elis Stenman’s Paper House. What began as a source of insulation grew into a unique and slightly mind-boggling feat of construction. Not only is the house itself made of newspaper, so is the furniture (including the piano).

8. The Spud Drive-In – Idaho

Who says the drive-in movie is dead? It’s still alive and kicking at the Spud Drive-In in Driggs, Idaho. In business since 1953, the drive-in may be known more for Old Murphy — a 1946 Chevy truck that has a 2-ton potato on its back — than its double features.

Know of any other offbeat tourist destinations? Leave a comment and let us know!

Related links

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First time road tripper? Check out the Esurance Guide to Road Tripping.

Meet Esurance: Nandini E.

Meet Esurance: Nandini E.

Esurance has always been a technology-driven company. But technology doesn’t just happen. It takes a lot of talented people to keep Esurance moving forward. People like Nandini, Esurance’s director of quality assurance at our San Francisco headquarters — and one of the (genius) minds behind Esurance’s cool car insurance tools.

Nandini started as a web developer at Esurance in 2006. She attributes much of her success to asking questions — and she encourages her team to do the same. In fact, many consider Nandini their “go-to gal” when they need a hand.  And she let us in on a little secret: the simpler the technology is for a customer to use, the more complex it is behind the scenes.

Knowledgeable, approachable, and an admitted junk-food lover … meet Nandini E.

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Meet Erin H., customer service rep
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Diamonds, Mudbugs, Flying Pigs: Esurance Is Now in Arkansas

Esurance now offers car insurance in Arkansas. And we’re thrilled to be there. Of course, as with Kansas last month, we wanted to learn all we could about our newest state. And what better way to do so than through a (virtual) road trip?

Places to visit in Arkansas (a virtual travelogue)

As a company born online and powered by technology, we decided to take a virtual route through the Natural State. So we consulted our favorite shiny new web app, Roadtrippers, to plot a course full of natural wonders, historical highlights, and local cuisine. Here’s where our wanderings took us.

Crater of Diamonds State Park

It’s not often that you have the opportunity to make money on vacation. So when we heard about Crater of Diamonds State Park — where you can go mining for diamonds in the U.S.’s only operating diamond mine and keep whatever you find — we made it our very first stop.

(Hey, those mining profits will come in handy for the rest of the trip!)

Hot Springs National Park

Rather worn out after all that diamond mining, a trip northeast to Hot Springs sounded like just the thing. With thermal hot springs, miles of hiking trails, and an abundance of historical landmarks, you could easily spend a few relaxing days in this mountain town.

But first, a quick stop at McClard’s Bar-B-Q (est. 1928) to feast on the saucy and fry-slathered (yes, fry-slathered) ribs they call “Ribs and Fry.” After all, when a genius like F. Murray Abraham says something like, “I just don’t understand why there isn’t a McClard’s everywhere I go,” you have to check it out.

Delightfully full, we made for Hot Springs National Park to kick back and soak away our stress at one of the many spas. Ahhhh …

After a day of recharging, we set out on the town, hitting up the Gangster Museum and Magic Springs & Crystal Falls, a popular water and theme park.

Next we headed north, bound for Buffalo River National Park. But not before passing through the state’s capital city, Little Rock.

Little Rock

The sight of Little Rock on the horizon set a few stomachs growling again, so we stopped off at Flying Fish to try out some Southern seafood. Mudbugs anyone!? (Don’t worry; that’s just the local term for crawfish.) Onward and northward!

Ozark Folk Center State Park

What trip to Arkansas would be complete without a little culture? To get our fix, we headed to this “living museum,” which teaches visitors about traditional pioneer skills and offers concerts featuring songs and music from America’s past. And once we’d jigged our hearts out, we headed for the Flying Pig zip line at Loco Ropes. Flying pigs!? Crazy ropes!? How could we say no to that?

Blanchard Springs Caverns

From high in the sky to deep underground — our next stop was Blanchard Springs Caverns. Located deep in the Ozarks, this underground world is the only developed cave system operated by the U.S. Forest Service. The limestone caverns offer guided walking tours and adventure tours (for those who aren’t scared of cave monsters). Check out the stalagmite- and stalactite-packed photo gallery!

Buffalo National River

The perfect place for outdoor lovers, this scenic waterway offers waterfalls, caves, natural bridges, and canyons. Canoe, raft, go horseback riding, or fish and enjoy the beauty around you. What better place to end our epic road trip through our great new state of Arkansas?

Got some more Arkansas gems? Tell us! Leave a comment or visit our Facebook page.

Tell your friends

If you have friends or family in Arkansas, let them know we’re there. If you’re from Arkansas yourself, check out our Arkansas car insurance facts.

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The Physics Behind Seat Belt Safety

Who hasn’t looked at a seat belt and wondered, “Can such a small piece of material really make that much of a difference?” To put it mildly, you bet your britches it can! The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that wearing a seat belt in the front seat reduces your risk of car-accident fatalities by 45 percent.

This begs the question, how are safety restraints so effective? The simple answer is: they hold us in place during sudden braking or accidents. But the physics that make it all possible are a bit more intricate than that. Allow us to explain.

The physics of seat belt safety

When you’re sitting in a moving car, it’s easy to feel as if you’re one with your vehicle. But in reality, you and your car are 2 separate objects moving in the same direction, at the same speed, through space.

Now, if you hit a vehicle or other obstacle, your car will stop. You, on the other hand, will continue to move forward until another object stops you. (For you science minds out there, it’s just the law of inertia — or an object’s resistance to changing its speed — at work.) If you’re not wearing a seat belt, that object might be a dashboard, side door, or windshield (ouch!). Even colliding with an air bag might cause severe injury if you’re sans seat belt.

If you’re buckled up, however, the object that slows you down is your seat belt. See, with a safety restraint on, you’re no longer separate from the car. Instead, the crash forces of the vehicle spread up through the seat belt and connect with the stronger parts of your body (chest, rib cage, etc.). That way, your momentum is absorbed by the car instead of by the windshield or pavement 30 yards down (most would agree, that’s a very good trade off).

Why seat belt material makes a difference

A big reason why having the seat belt absorb your inertia is better than having, say, the dashboard do it is because of the seat belt’s flexibility. The restraint’s webbing has a little give in it, so when you come to a sudden stop the force isn’t quite as abrupt. Additionally, the strap spreads over a large area of the body, thus spreading the impact of a crash so it can’t do as much damage. (Think of it as strength in numbers.)

Recently, some carmakers (like Ford) have started using inflatable seat belts. When the car senses a crash, the belt fills with cold, compressed air and expands sideways. This creates even more coverage, extending stopping force to an area of the body 5 times larger than normal restraints do. And the wider that impact is dispersed, the less damaging it’ll likely be.

That said, it’s not just the latest and greatest seat belts that boost safety. No matter what type you have (even a one-strapper over the waist), any seat belt is better than none at all.

You don’t have to be scientist to appreciate seat belts

Years of safety tests now make it possible to design vehicles that absorb the majority of car-accident force, giving passengers the maximum amount of protection.

All you have to do is remain safely attached to your seat with that deceptively small engineering wonder (and lifesaver) called the seat belt.

Related links

The history of the seat belt
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New Study (Politely) Suggests Women Are More Prone to Road Rage

When it comes to stereotypical gender traits, men typically get the rap for being more likely to speed or drink and drive. When it comes to getting wound up on the road, however, women’s gears tend to run a bit tighter than men’s. In a poll of nearly 4,000 motorists conducted by Harris Interactive, 61 percent of women admitted to having road rage.

That’s not to say that men came off looking like easy riders. Males reported road rage at 56 percent. But while this 5-point difference may not seem like a lot, it is outside the study’s margin of error (translation: the results are legit).

Why women are more prone to road rage

According to some experts, this gender divide isn’t a random occurrence. Rather, it likely stems from women’s possible subconscious need to break free of society’s expectations (well … of course).

In case your eyes just glazed over like Krispy Kremes, let’s rephrase in plain English. Essentially, they’re saying women might feel forced into a nurturing, non-aggressive role in public. This can result in pent-up frustration — frustration that comes out behind the anonymity of the wheel.

More road rage statistics

Harris Interactive’s poll doesn’t just focus on gender differences. Here are some other road rage patterns the study revealed.

Road rage by age

If you’re stressed about getting older, here’s one thing you can look forward to: a much cooler temperament behind the wheel. Only 47 percent of those 55 or older admitted to having road rage (making them the most Zen age group overall). Meanwhile, drivers between the ages of 25 and 34 appear much shorter-fused — 68 percent of them reported incidents of anger on the asphalt.

Road rage and commute time

Taking the “Most Obvious Conclusion” award is this: driving stress gets worse the longer you’re in the car. But anyone who’s ever sat in traffic could tell you that.

What might surprise you, though, is just how little extra time it takes for tempers to flare. For instance, only 37 percent of drivers with commutes of less than 5 minutes reported road rage. But that number jumps to 54 percent by extending the commute just 5 minutes more (sheesh)!

Summer’s effect on driving mood

Could road rage be seasonal? According to Harris’s poll … possibly. Seventeen percent of motorists believed their freeway fury went down as the mercury rose. This is compared to only 10 percent of drivers who thought summer worsened their stress. (To venture a guess, we’d say the latter group does not have working AC.)

Road rage and your car insurance

Whether road rage is a result of gender, season, or age, one thing remains true — it’s always a no-no. Not only can it be extremely dangerous — 9 percent of those polled said they actually had physical brawls with other drivers(!) — it can also be bad for your car insurance.

Drivers convicted of road rage (a criminal offense in many states) are typically viewed as high-risk by car insurers. Find out how road rage can affect your car insurance rates here.

Related link

How to defuse aggressive, road-raging drivers