5. South of the Border
In 1949, Alan Schafer constructed a small beer stand known as the “South of the Border Beer Depot,” located just across from several North Carolina counties that were dry of alcoholic beverages. Naturally, business boomed and this roadside attraction expanded to more than a square mile and grew to include not only Mexican-themed restaurants but two gas stations, a 300-room inn, and a small amusement park, all represented by its trademark, 97-foot-high figure affectionately known as “Pedro.” Today visitors can explore the Reptile Lagoon (the largest indoor exhibit in the country), Pedroland (an amusement park for children complete with two 18-hole miniature golf courses), and Sombrero Tower, which includes a glass-elevator ride to the observation tower 200 feet off the ground. Shoppers will not be disappointed, as South of the Border offers eight different stores that sell everything from Mexican-themed souvenirs and other “kitschy” gifts to leather, antiques, and even fireworks. The site is open daily and is located just off Interstate 95 between Dillon, South Carolina, and Rowland, North Carolina. Just follow the billboards marked with slogans such as “Pedro Weather Forecast: Chili today, hot tamale!” or “Keep Yelling, kids! (They’ll stop).”
4. Ave Maria Grotto
Located on four landscaped acres within the St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman, Alabama, is a collection of 125 miniature models of the world’s most famous religious structures. The display is the culmination of 50 years of painstaking work created by Brother Joseph Zoettl, a quiet and withdrawn Benedictine monk with a hunchbacked figure who shoveled coal at the abbey’s power plant in addition to his religious duties. What began as a hobby in his spare time turned into a daily activity where he transformed everything from discarded supplies, sea shells, and unwanted marble into miniature reproductions of sites such as St. Peter’s Basilica, the Tower of Babel, the Monte Casino Abbey, and scenes from ancient Jerusalem. He also created a variety of secular structures such as the Alamo Mission in San Antonio, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and several spectacular German castles. According to the on-site literature, the overall scales of the models are not exact and many of the structures include towers and buttresses that are either too large or too small. Leo Schwaiger, an on-site repairman who actually worked with Brother Joe before his death in 1961 states, “That’s why the building scale is all wrong, he had nothing to compare it to other than postcards.” Not bad for a man who used his imagination to repurpose cold-cream jars, broken bathroom tiles, and costume jewelry. The site is open daily except for Christmas and New Year’s Day and group tours are also available.
3. Georgia Guidestones
Situated on top of a hill in a cow pasture in Nuberg, Georgia, are four granite slabs, each measuring 16 feet, 4 inches in height and weighing more than 42,000 pounds. Placed in a circle that is aligned with the position of the rising sun of the Summer and Winter Solstices, it is usually referred to as “America’s Stonehenge of the South.” It is a combination of Stonehenge inspiration, time capsule, and Rosetta Stone. The project began in 1979 when an anonymous individual approached a local quarry and requested it build the monument. After $50,000 was deposited in a local bank with highly detailed instructions, the work was completed in 1980 and the man was never seen again. The top stone is carved on all four sides in Egyptian Hieroglyphics, Classical Greek, Sanskrit, and Babylonian Cuneiform, which states, “Let these be Guidestones to an Age of Reason.” The upright stones include carvings (in eight different languages) of the Ten Commandments for the so-called Age of Reason: Maintain humanity under a population of 500 million; guide reproduction wisely; unite humanity with one new language; rule with tempered reason; protect people with fair laws and courts; let nations rule internally; avoid petty laws; balance personal rights with social duties; prize truth; and leave room for nature. Just west of the Guidestones is a flat slab of granite buried in the ground with the cryptic statement, “TIME CAPSULE — Placed 6 feet beneath the spot on (BLANK) to be opened on (BLANK).” Whether there is something buried there or not, one thing is certain: The Truth Is Out There. (Editor's note: Is CNN founder and noted philanthropist Ted Turner the mystery man behind the Georgia Guidestones?)
2. World’s Largest Ten Commandments
Built in 1945 by the followers of the Church of God of Prophecy, this 300-foot-wide reproduction of the Ten Commandments occupies an entire mountainside in the “Field of the Wood,” a Bible theme park located in Murphy, North Carolina. It marks the spot where church founder Ambrose Jessup Tomlinson prayed and received a vision of his new church in the early 1900s. The commandments consist of white-painted concrete letters that are each 5 feet long and 4 feet wide that can be viewed by climbing up the 350 steps between the two tablets. If that’s not enough spirituality for you, the top of Ten Commandments Mountain includes the world’s largest New Testament. This 30-foot-high, 50-foot-wide structure includes an observation deck where visitors can view the Baptismal Pool, the Star of Bethlehem, the hedges cut to spell out “Jesus Died for Our Sins,” and the All Nations Cross, which is 150 feet long and outlined by the flags of every nation where the church has been established. Back at ground level, there is also the replica of the Tomb of Jesus as well as nature trails, picnic areas, and of course, a gift shop that sells everything from T-shirts and books to license plates and sunglasses. The site is open daily and admission is free.
1. Coral Castle
From 1923 to 1951, Edward Leedskalnin single-handedly and secretly transformed more than 1,100 tons of coral rock into a “castle” in hopes of impressing Agnes Scuffs, the love of his life who jilted him on the day before their wedding. More of a sculpture garden than a castle, the attraction in Homestead, Florida, includes tables, beds, and functioning rocking chairs as well as mysterious creations such as a nine-ton gate so perfectly balanced it moves with just a touch of a finger. Leedskalnin never told anyone how he carved and set the high walls, gates, and monoliths that include some pieces weighing approximately 30 tons. Since no one ever witnessed Leedskalnin actually creating the site, some believe that he possessed supernatural powers, although scientists have developed more reasonable theories, involving levers, pulleys and chains. Yet Leedskalnin himself claimed he “knew the secret of the pyramids.” Ray Ramirez, a tour guide at the site, believes that Leedskalnin learned his technique from a wizard in Latvia who utilized extraordinary powers from the alignment of lines and angles. He calls it the “kinesiology effect” that gives superhuman strength to anyone standing at specific points throughout the compound. The Coral Castle is open daily with self-guided audio tours in several languages as well as guided tours. In case you were wondering, Leedskalnin never married. Although Agnes Scuffs was actually invited several times to the site, she never personally saw the great achievement that was originally dedicated to her.