Unusual Wonders of the United States


Explore America: Unusual

Described as a "weird and scenic landscape", Craters of the Moon certainly lives up to its reputation. It was established in 1924 to preserve the unique volcanic features of this enormous lava field. The 750,000-acre monument contains a diverse array of volcanic features including volcanic rifts, cinder cones, spatter cones, shield volcanoes and lava tubes (caves). A surprising number of plants and animals have adapted to live in the harsh volcanic and high desert environment. It is an excellent site for hiking, bird watching, photography, backpacking and caving.

The Wow Factor: The monument served as a training spot for US astronauts in the 60's.

Cost: $8.00 per vehicle. Those entering by bicycle, motorcycle or foot pay $4 per person

Explore America: Unusual

Vince Hanneman has taken the slogan "Keep Austin Weird" to a whole new level in his own backyard. In 1988, Vince started assembling the Cathedral of Junk. Lawnmower wheels, ladders, cables, bottles, circuit boards, bicycle parts and more make up the walls, floors and chairs of this incredible space. Hanneman says that the space was created just for fun and until he stops having fun with it, visitors can continue to scope out his absurd backyard space.

The Wow Factor: Wander through each section and make a point to climb up to the very top for a great view!

Cost: The cost to view the Cathedral of Junk is free, but donations are accepted.

Explore America: Unusual

Crater of Diamonds State Park, the only diamond-producing site in the world open to the public, stands out as a unique geological "gem" for you to explore and enjoy. Here, you are invited to prospect in the park's diamond search area, a 37 1/2-acre plowed field that is the eroded surface of an ancient volcanic pipe that 95 million years ago, brought to the surface the diamonds and some of the semi-precious stones lucky visitors find here today. Along with the diamond search area, the park has hundreds of acres of natural forest featuring a diversity of flora and fauna and offering visitors interesting things to do.

The Wow Factor: Unlike other diamond mines, our park has a policy of "finders keepers." Any diamonds, semi-precious stones, rocks or minerals you unearth are yours to keep, regardless of their value.

Cost: Adults: $7.00; Children (ages 6-12): $4.00; Children under 6 years old are free

Explore America: Unusual

Known as the "Alligator Capital of the World," Gatorland features thousands of alligators (including white alligators), crocodiles and exotic birds residing in a 110-acre wildlife preserve and theme park. Beginning as a roadside attraction in 1949, Gatorland is one of Central Florida's oldest attractions and features a petting zoo, bird sanctuary, mini water park, eco-tour and daily alligator wrestling shows. For more information, please visit gatorland.com or call 407-855-5496.

The Wow Factor: Gatorland hosts the world's largest collection of giant white alligators.

Cost: $22.99 for adults, $14.99 for children ages 3-12 and free for children under 3

Explore America: Unusual

"Mobile is not only recognized as celebrating the first-known American Mardi Gras celebration in 1703 (yes, even before New Orleans), but also as home to the ""America's Family Mardi Gras"" delighting both young and old from around town and across the nation. This magnificent celebration lasts for over two and a half weeks and culminates on Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent.

For weeks, the streets of downtown Mobile are filled with the sights and sounds of live marching bands, brilliant-colored floats and of course teeming crowds of parade goers. The floats are glowing spectacles manned by masked riders festooned in satin and sequins, and armed with crowd-pleasing ""throws"" such as beads, moon pies, doubloons and candy. Mardi Gras must be experienced to be fully understood and Mobile is the perfect place."

Explore America: Unusual

The Enchanted Highway is populated with amazingly large metal sculptures of a family, grasshoppers, pheasants and more. The "folk art" figures are spaced along a stretch of highway from the I-94 south to Regent, which also is home to the Enchanted Highway gift shop featuring miniatures of each statue. Watch for the sculpture of giant geese flying over a setting sun on I-94 at the Gladstone exit. The 32-mile stretch of highway in southwestern North Dakota is home to the large metal structures. There are pieces such as "Geese in Flight," "Deer Family," "Grasshoppers in Field," "Pheasants on Prairie," and "Teddy Rides Again."

The Wow Factor: These sculptures take you by surprise not only because of their size, but the immaculate detail that went into each structure.

Cost: Free

Explore America: Unusual

Rhyolite is one of the most photographed ghost towns in the West. The crumbling mining town is in central-western Nevada near the entrance to Death Valley, and the arid desert climate has preserved the town in a state of arrested decay. Visitors are welcomed to the town by the Goldwell Open Air Museum, a collection of lifesize -- and larger than life -- sculptures depicting the town's history. Be sure to check out the famous Bottle House, constructed of 30,000 glass bottles (mostly Busch beer bottles).

The Wow Factor: The Cook Bank cost $90,000 to build at the turn of the century. The floors were made of marble imported from Italy, and the interior was built with mahogany and boasted electric lights, telephones and indoor plumbing.

Cost: Free

Explore America: Unusual

The Underground Gardens are the life-long devotion and hobby of Baldassare Forestiere, a Sicilian immigrant who came to America in 1901 to escape the iron rule of his wealthy father and pursue his own dreams. The Gardens are a subterranean complex of patios, grottos, and garden courts interconnecting with passageways that encircle the living quarters of the self-taught artist and builder who sought to escape the brutal heat of Fresno summers.

The Wow Factor: Each room in the house was created for a specific purpose. Don't forget to ask your tour guide about the unique purpose of each room you visit, you might be surprised!

Cost: $12 per person

Explore America: Unusual

Explore America: Unusual

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