If you’re road tripping and looking to explore some off-the-beaten-path locations in the Southwest U.S. while en route to your destination, here are a few quirky detours to help break up the drive.
1. Original Texas Chainsaw Massacre House – Grand Central Café, Kingsland, TX
If you’re hungry and near Austin, stop at Grand Central Café in Kingsland, a little over an hour west of Texas’ capital city. You might recognize the eerie green and white house as the set for the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1973). It may not seem appetizing to eat in the house where such gruesome stuff went down, but you won’t find Leatherface here — just white linen tablecloths, carnations and breakfast until 2 p.m. The house was built in 1909 in what is now Round Rock, Texas, and was dismantled and moved to its current site in 1998. If your nerves can bear it, go upstairs to see some photos from the movie.
2. Stonehenge II, Ingram, TX
The archeological sites at Stonehenge and Easter Island might seem like a bit of a trek, but you can get your photo op just two hours west of Austin. Stonehenge II in Ingram, Texas, offers free entry and presents a replica of the original — about 90 percent of its height and 60 percent of its width — plus two 13-foot moai modeled after the Easter Island statues. They were created more than 20 years ago in Hunt, Texas, by Al Sheppard and Doug Hill and moved to their current location several years ago.
3. Roswell, NM
Keep heading west and you’ll hit Roswell, New Mexico, home to one of the country’s most notorious UFO mysteries. Visit the UFO museum to read national newspaper clippings from the alleged crash and testimonies from those who were close to the incident, as well as see references to otherworldly life in art from other cultures. You’ll also find expressions of extraterrestrial life everywhere you go in Roswell: murals on buildings, alien-themed lampposts, even the fast-food restaurants and a USPS mailbox suggest something happened in this sleepy town in 1947. By the end of it, you might have your own ideas about what happened — was it a balloon or something more?
4. Sedona and Montezuma Castle, AZ
If you’re at the Grand Canyon or heading west from New Mexico and in the mood for more hiking and picturesque scenery, add Sedona, Arizona, to your itinerary. Sandwiched about two hours from the Grand Canyon or Phoenix, Sedona is a paradise of red rocks and excellent hiking. Take a walk to an energy vortex or simply admire the rich views. While nearby, stop at the Montezuma Castle, just south in Camp Verde, to see an ancient dwelling carved into the side of a cliff by the Sinagua people more than 800 years ago. It was among the original four national monuments designated by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906.
5. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM
East of Las Cruces, New Mexico, and about 15 minutes north of the Texas border, you’ll find Carlsbad Caverns. You can take a guided tour of the rocky tunnels or explore the depths on your own. In the evenings from mid-April to late October, watch swarms of bats stream from the caves as they go off in search of dinner.
6. Bonnie and Clyde’s Car, Primm, NV and Mob Museum, Las Vegas, NV
The drive to Vegas from California can be a long, hot one, but you know you’re close when you hit Primm, Nevada. If you need a break before powering on, stop at Whisky Pete’s to see the car driven by the infamous Bonnie and Clyde. The duo went on a crime spree during the 1930s and was eventually killed during a law enforcement ambush. The bullet-riddled Ford V8 is a free exhibit, and about 40 minutes south of Las Vegas. If you make it to the Strip and haven’t had your fill of crime, check out the Mob Museum in downtown, which traces the history of organized crime.
7. Death Valley National Park, CA and NV
Just west of Las Vegas is notorious Death Valley. It’s home to the hottest temperature ever recorded — 134 degrees Fahrenheit on July 10, 1913 — and also one of the lowest places on earth. Explore the salt flats at Badwater Basin, 282 feet below sea level and the lowest place in the United States; drive through the sand dunes; or admire the mysterious sailing stones, which leave visible trails on the earth behind them in Racetrack Playa. The seemingly Martian terrain is both beautiful and intimidating, and it goes without saying that if you’re planning on exploring the area, it’s important to keep lots of water and a map in the car.
8. Salvation Mountain, Southern California
If you’re heading from Southern California to Phoenix or looking to take a day trip from Palm Springs, check out Salvation Mountain. An adobe mountain 50 feet tall and 150 feet wide, Leonard Knight’s towering piece of folk art is covered in layer upon layer of bright paint. The mountain reads “God is Love” in big, bold letters and is covered with pastoral designs and quotes from the bible. What started as a week-long trip to take to the desert in 1983 turned into a decades-long labor of love for Knight, who died in 2014. Visitors and people from all over donated much of the paint Knight used to create the piece. Salvation Mountain is a little less than an hour and a half from Palm Springs.
— Contributed by Sam Schaefer