Wander off the main highway and discover these unexpected vacation finds

Even the most well-planned vacations can sometimes lead down an unexpected path and introduce you to something different and wonderful. Now, we’re not talking about something as mundane as the World’s Largest Ball of Twine — which is either in Kansas, Minnesota or Wisconsin, depending on how you measure such things — but surprises that can be extraordinary and make your journeys down the roads less traveled truly rewarding indeed.

And the United States has plenty of those roads, in all corners of the country, leading to strange, beautiful and unexpected vacation finds, both natural and manmade. But they’re all worth seeing.

So let’s take a look at some “who would have thought?” sites across the country, beginning with one right here in the metro.

Baps Shri Swaminarayan Mandir

This Hindu temple in Lilburn is the largest of its kind outside of India, built of 3,400 individual pieces that were carved by hand in India, then shipped to the United States and assembled like pieces of a giant 3-D jigsaw puzzle. The result is a dazzling, 30,000-square-foot place of worship serving a Swaminarayan population that’s been growing in the Atlanta area since the early 1980s. The gorgeous exterior offers only a hint of the staggeringly beautiful carvings and sacred images contained within.

Marfa lights

Native Americans and later ranchers were among the first to notice strange lights in the night sky near the west Texas city of Marfa. The lights are often visible on clear nights, dancing off to the southeast of town, in varying shades of red, blue or white. Nobody knows their true source, although one scientist has chalked them up to a certain type of rock creating an electrical charge. The town holds a festival each September celebrating the lights, and there’s even an official viewing area nine miles east of Marfa on U.S. Highway 90.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s college campus

Credit: Florida Southern College

Credit: Florida Southern College

No, not the college he attended, the college he designed. America’s most famous architect first visited Florida Southern College in Lakeland in 1938. Over the next 20 years, he designed 18 unique buildings, 13 of which were funded and constructed posthumously. Beginning with a chapel and continuing with covered walkways, administration and academic buildings and even a model single-family home, Wright created a college campus in harmony with his style that married structures with the natural environment.

Enchanted Highway

Technically it’s known as 100th Avenue Southwest, a strip of two-lane road running between the North Dakota towns of Gladstone and Regent. But it’s better known as the Enchanted Highway, thanks to the seven giant metal sculptures that make this otherwise nondescript stretch a landmark for highway art. Beginning with the 90-foot-high “Geese in Flight” at the Interstate 94 junction, the exhibits include deer jumping a fence, grasshoppers, pheasants and a family of tin men. The creation of local metal sculptor Gary Greff, the artworks add life and levity to this corner of the Great Plains.

Superhero Supply Co.

Ah, New York — the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, Central Park, and of course, the Superhero Supply Co. store in Brooklyn. In addition to all matter of capes, costumes and utility belt items, this store is famed for its cans of superpowers — everything from immortality and inevitability to intelligence and chutzpah. Even better, all proceeds go to a nonprofit that encourages exploration through the power of writing. Books written by students are also available, if you can find the secret door that leads to them.

Cadillac Ranch

The Cadillac has long been a hallmark of wealth and prestige. So why would someone stick 10 of them into the ground nose-first outside Amarillo, Texas? Cadillac Ranch is actually an art exhibit created in 1974 by Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez and Doug Michels, and the cars were models dating from the early 1940s through the early 1960s, all of them at or near the end of their service lives. Painted in bright colors and aligned at the same angle as the Cheops Pyramid, this unmistakable line of half-buried Caddies is located off an Interstate 40 access road east of the Arnot Road exit.

Meteor Crater

Roughly 50,000 years ago, a meteor 150 feet across and traveling at 26,000 miles per hour slammed into the Arizona desert with a force greater than 20 million tons of TNT. The result was a massive crater 400 feet deep, 4,000 feet across and 2.4 miles in circumference. Located near Winslow, Arizona, Meteor Crater — technically Barringer Crater, named after the geologist who first figured out what created it — includes a museum and visitor’s center on its north rim, as well as self-guided trails that snake along its edge.

Neon Boneyard

Las Vegas has seen plenty of changes as the city has been transformed from a dusty outpost into an entertainment capital. And those changes are evident in the Neon Boneyard, the main collection of the Las Vegas Neon Museum, where, since 1996, many of the neon signs of Las Vegas’ past have been collected — and still light up at night. The exhibit of 200 items includes the neon marquees from long-gone hotels like the Stardust, the Riviera and the Sahara, the neon guitar from the recently leveled Hard Rock and so much more.

Thor’s Well

It seems like a bottomless pit capable of swallowing all of the Pacific Ocean. In reality, Thor’s Well is a collapsed former sea cave in a rock formation off the coast of Cape Perpetua near Yachats, Oregon, that only appears to drain everything around it. Particularly at high tide or during a storm, water washes furiously over the edge and throws sheets of spray into the air. It’s just another of those wondrous, unexpected finds you can encounter when your vacation leads you down an unforeseen path.

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