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This summer is the perfect time to forgo museums and art galleries in favor of something more unconventional. Since extraordinary art can be found in the strangest of places, U.S. travelers are in for a treat when they travel by car. When creative freedom is coupled with outdoor space, it often results in large-scale works of art that are totally unique — and totally free of charge! For the road-tripping art lover, here are 18 eccentric installations that can be found across America.
Universal Chapel (Fort Smith, Arkansas)
Spanish painter and sculptor Okuda San Miguel turned an abandoned home in northwestern Arkansas into an upbeat symbol for the community. Dubbed the Universal Chapel, the building was painted using the artist’s signature style, with neon colors, geometric shapes, and international symbols. The project was presented during an art festival in 2016, and thanks to its creative display of bold colors and shapes, it has since become beloved by community members. Visitors are invited to interact with the building from the outside by taking photos of the vibrant artwork from all angles. Since it was renovated and repainted, the interior of the Universal Chapel is now used as a cultural center for local children, in a continued effort to improve the community.
Skeleton Man Walking Skeleton Dinosaur (Murdo, South Dakota)
If you’re driving on the highway near Murdo, South Dakota, look out for Skeleton Man Walking Skeleton Dinosaur. Installed near Exit 170 on I-90 westbound, this art installation was designed and built by the Hullinger family, who also founded the nearby Original 1880 Town. Although the idea was conceptualized by the patriarch of the family, Clarence Hullinger, the construction of the three-dimensional sculpture was completed with assistance from his sons. Road-trippers are known to pull over to snap a photo of the primitive pet on the side of the highway, but the dynamic duo can also be spotted safely from the Original 1880 Town.
PennDOT Road Sign Sculpture Garden (Meadville, Pennsylvania)
This ingenious roadside art installation was cleverly nicknamed “Read Between the Signs,” as it uses hundreds of roadside markers from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT). Running the length of a quarter-mile road in the town of Meadville, the sculpture was crafted by art students from Allegheny College who wanted to repurpose old roadway signs. The result is a highly creative and conceptualized piece that includes tidal waves crafted from blue hospital signs, a red barn created out of stop signs, and an interactive Ferris wheel constructed from a hodge-podge of roadway symbols.
Carhenge (Alliance, Nebraska)
Forget crossing the pond to see Stonehenge — Nebraska’s very own Carhenge is a masterpiece in and of itself. Conceptualized and built by local architect Jim Reinders as a posthumous monument to his father, Carhenge replicates the famed world wonder with 38 junkyard cars from the 1940s and '50s. Although the replica is not built to scale, the sheer size of the art installation is astonishing. Since it’s quite a long hike from Route 80 in Nebraska, this attraction is more remote than others — making it all the more worthwhile to see.
Seven Magic Mountains (Sloan, Nevada)
Approximately 10 miles south of Las Vegas stands Seven Magic Mountains, an eye-popping art installation amid the barren Nevada desert. Designed by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone and installed in the spring of 2016, Seven Magic Mountains consists of locally sourced boulders that have been painted in neon colors and stacked into towers. Although the concept may be simple, the piece is dramatic and distinctive, transforming Seven Magic Mountains into a sought-after attraction for tourists visiting Vegas. In fact, the temporary installation proved to be so popular that its sponsors are prolonging the outdoor exhibition. As of now, Seven Magic Mountains will remain open until the end of 2021 — so go while you can.
Prada Marfa (Valentine, Texas)
Prada Marfa is more than just a roadside attraction — it's “a site-specific permanent land art project.” Situated on a barren roadway near the small town of Valentine, Texas, the replica of a Prada boutique was conceptualized by a Berlin-based artistic team. Constructed with biodegradable materials, the art piece is intended to eventually return to the Earth. When coupled with the luxury handbags and shoes on display within the building’s interior (which are not for sale), the entire piece is a commentary on commercial materialism. This thought-provoking art installation is lit up in the evening, meaning it’s open to the public 24/7.
Barber Marina (Elberta, Alabama)
In addition to being a full-service marina, with high-speed diesel pumps, showers, and a laundry facility, Barber Marina goes above and beyond a typical boatyard. After it was constructed in 2004, the marina installed several noteworthy sculptures throughout the property. The marina’s most famous installation is the Lady of the Lake, a giant woman who is partially submerged in the water, with her head and knees visible. The property also contains massive steel spiders, life-sized dinosaurs, a replica of Stonehenge, and medieval knights hidden in the woods. Even if you don’t have a boat, it’s a fun place to explore while road-tripping through Alabama.
Horse at Water (Bensalem Township, Pennsylvania)
Located on the grounds of Parx Casino and Racing in an outer borough of Philadelphia is a one-of-a-kind sculpture named Horse at Water. Depicting a horse drinking from an invisible water source, the bronze piece reaches 35 feet in height and weighs an astonishing 25 tons. Despite its heft, the sculpture is seemingly balanced on the horse’s nose, giving it a floating effect that is undeniably unique. The art installation was created by equestrian sculptor Nic Fiddian-Green, and it was on display in London when it was discovered by the owners of the racetrack. The owners were so mesmerized by the piece that they had to have it for themselves. Horse at Water is now permanently installed on the casino grounds.
Queen Connie (Salisbury, Vermont)
Although Vermont is blissfully free of billboards, it still has a few tricks up its sleeve when it comes to art installations. Located along Route 7, in between the towns of Leicester and Salisbury, stands a giant concrete gorilla holding a Volkswagen Beetle high above its head. The piece is affectionately referred to as “Queen Connie,” and it’s installed outside the now-defunct Pioneer Auto Sales lot. Designed and constructed by local artist T.J. Neill in 1987, the eccentric sculpture was intended to draw visitors to the car lot — and the ploy worked. Queen Connie has silently officiated weddings, been featured in magazines, and drawn plenty of travelers to Route 7 over the years.
Galleta Meadows Estate (Borrego Springs, California)
Two hours west of San Diego lies Galleta Meadows Estate, a barren parcel of land in the Anza-Borrego Desert. In 2008, landowner and billionaire Dennis Avery (of Avery labels) commissioned artist Ricardo Breceda to create large metal sculptures to be installed throughout the property. As the creator of Perris Jurassic Park, Breceda was accustomed to welding massive dinosaur sculptures, and he used similar skills to create over a dozen mind-bending creatures for Galleta Meadows. The property’s most notable pieces include a scorpion and grasshopper face-off, a fiercely terrifying saber-toothed tiger, and a 350-foot-long sea dragon. A detailed map of the property's sculptures can be found on the Galleta Meadows Estate website, currently run by the Under the Sun Foundation.
Lightrails (Birmingham, Alabama)
In an effort to revitalize an underused part of Birmingham, artist Bill FitzGibbons designed and installed Light Rails inside a defunct city tunnel. Nicknamed the “Rainbow Tunnel” by locals, the tunnel has been decked out from floor to ceiling with multicolored lights, transforming the dark space into a three-dimensional prism. The old railway tunnel, which was once a dark pathway that intimidated passersby, has since become an interactive piece of art that is both calming and exhilarating. The project was completed in conjunction with a city community foundation, in an effort to create welcoming city streets and to encourage pedestrian traffic.
Wild Horses Monument (Quincy, Washington)
Although it’s officially referred to as the Wild Horses Monument, artist David Govedare originally entitled the piece “Grandfather Cuts Loose Ponies.” The Chewelah sculptor’s goal was to create a giant woven basket to accompany the herd of steel animals. As a nod to the Great Spirit, the basket was meant to represent the horses’ grandfather, as he set them free in the wild. After donations for the installation dried up, the project halted and could not be executed to the artist’s vision — the basket was never constructed and only 15 out of 18 horses can be seen roaming the Washington landscape. However, the sculpture is still incredibly arresting, especially when viewed from afar along the Columbia River.
Enchanted Highway (Regent, North Dakota)
In 1989, the movie Field of Dreams inspired a retired man to create the Enchanted Highway. Located 30 miles from I-94, the small town of Regent, North Dakota, was becoming endangered due to its declining population. With the phrase “If you build it, they will come,” fresh in his mind, local artist Gary Greff taught himself how to weld in order to build and install metal sculptures alongside Highway 21. Featuring the likes of giant grasshoppers, roaming deer, prairie pheasants, and former President Teddy Roosevelt, the sculptures depict famous images from North Dakota’s history and culture. Travelers began veering off the main interstate to view the Enchanted Highway's seven sculptures, thereby putting Regent on the map.
Point of View (Salt Lake City, Utah)
In 2016, Salt Lake City wanted to create an interactive art installation that would become synonymous with city sights, similar to Cloud Gate (the “Bean”) in Chicago. Out of 26 proposals received for the art installation, Maine artist Aaron T. Stephan triumphed over the competition with Point of View. Situated outside the Salt Palace Convention Center, the work of art consists of varied street signs that feature contrasting words, such as “desert/ocean,” “wide/narrow,” and “high road/low road.” The center of the piece proclaims “You Are Here” in bold red, with a red bench to match. Visitors are encouraged to use the piece as a backdrop for thought-provoking, fun, or meaningful photos, interacting with the provided diction as a way to find inspiration.
Field of Corn (Dublin, Ohio)
It’s not uncommon to see fields of corn while driving through Ohio, but the town of Dublin takes cornfields to a whole new level. This unique art installation was commissioned by the Dublin Arts Council in 1994 in a nod to local farmers and the Ohio agriculture community. Composed of 109 ears of corn, each made of concrete and standing six feet tall, the installation was inspired by the rows of gravestones at Arlington Cemetery in Washington, D.C. So while the acres of giant corn ears may seem silly at first, Field of Corn is intended to memorialize and honor Ohio’s history as a corn mecca. Often referred to as “Cement Corn” by locals, the artwork initially received criticism as a waste of tax dollars but has since become a revered local landmark.
Coral Castle (Homestead, Florida)
Coral Castle is a reminder that beautiful things can be created from heartbreak. After a failed engagement left Edward Leedskalnin reeling, he departed his home country of Latvia and journeyed to the U.S. in 1918. Born into a family of stonemasons, Leedskalnin began pouring all of his pain into a stone monument he built for his lost love. With no assistance from other humans or machinery, he created Coral Castle (also known as Rock Gate Park) using 1,100 tons of coral rock. This feat is made even more incredible by the fact that Leedskalnin stood no taller than five feet and weighed only 100 pounds. Today, visitors to the city of Homestead, Florida, can walk through the coral sculpture in person and marvel at such an astonishing monument to Leedskalnin’s one true love.
Jimmy Carter Smiling Peanut (Plains, Georgia)
In Georgia, some might say that peanuts and Jimmy Carter go together like peanut butter and jelly. At least they do in this art installation that was used as a ploy for votes during the 1976 presidential election. Since former President Jimmy Carter’s home state of Georgia is renowned for its peanut production, the Indiana Democratic Party thought that a giant peanut bearing Carter’s toothy grin would appeal to local voters. As it turns out, the stunt worked and Georgia went blue for Carter on Election Day. Standing for over 40 years, the smiling peanut remains popular with locals and visitors alike, although it’s been moved from its original location to a permanent spot along Highway 45.
Isak Heartstone (Breckenridge, Colorado)
This much-loved art installation was constructed by Thomas Dambo, a Danish artist who took part in the 2018 Breckenridge International Festival of Arts. Dambo built the 15-foot-tall troll with help from volunteers, using only recycled materials, such as wooden pallets, scrap lumber, and reclaimed wood. The artist’s intent was to demonstrate the hidden potential in materials that people usually toss into the junkyard. Inspired by a heart-shaped stone that he received from local schoolchildren, Dambo named the gentle giant Isak Heartstone, placing the special rock in the center of the troll’s chest. Isak Heartstone was originally installed along a forest trail in Breckenridge, but in 2019, it was dismantled and permanently moved to the Illinois Gulch Trailhead, so it could be more accessible to the public.
Garden of One Thousand Buddhas (Arlee, Montana)
When you step into the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas in Arlee, Montana, you might feel transported from the Rockies to the Himalayas. Nestled in the stunning Jocko Valley, this art installation was created under the guidance of an incarnate Buddhist lama from Tibet. The rows of statues are arranged according to the sacred eight-spoke wheel of Dharma, an enduring Buddhist symbol. The hand-cast sculptures are aligned to surround the Great Mother, who represents wisdom in physical form. Whether or not you follow Buddhist principles, this art installation is a tranquil spot at which to stop along the road. Since it’s located on the property of a meditation center, it also could be the place where you achieve enlightenment.