When it comes to exploring Arizona, most people tend to go straight for all the popular, mainstream attractions. It’s not hard to see why; these places are picturesque, alluring and timeless. But what about other spots around the state that make you wonder why on earth it was ever created? Here’s a look at some of the strange, less traveled places around the state that may raise an eyebrow or two. As with anything, strange is in the eye of the beholder, so keep that in mind when looking over the places listed below.
Sitting a few miles north of Cordes Lakes is something that you would expect to see in a sci-fi film with its semi-domes and colored walls. Instead, Arcosanti was the vision of Italian architect Paolo Soleri, who sought to create a city with the perfect blend of architectural beauty and ecology. As a former architecture student, Arcosanti to me appears more stunning than weird but I can see how a lot of people would find this place strange.
2. Biosphere 2 (Oracle)
With all this talk about colonizing Mars, if there's any guess what those first settlements may look like, the Biosphere 2 may give some insight. Inspired by Earth, the original biosphere, Biosphere 2 was built as an experiment for potentially living in a foreign world. While it seems idyllic and easy on paper, it turns out the two attempts at running experimental missions were plagued with problems. These days, the Biosphere 2 operates as an open research facility that you can visit.
3. The Boneyard (Tucson)
This place goes by several different names but all you really need to know is that this is the location where old airplanes are laid to rest. Located next to the Davis-Monathan Air Force Base, it is the largest boneyard for aircraft and has a massive collection of different airplanes, making a dream for both photographers and aircraft enthusiasts.
4. Dinosaurs (statewide)
Perhaps one of the strangest sights are the dinosaurs sporadically found across the state. The permanent dinosaur exhibit has sat at the Arizona History Museum in Mesa for years and the dinosaur tracks (both actual and fabricated) in Tuba City are an attraction. But did you know you can also find replicas of these ancient beasts roadside? One T-rex sits outside the McDonald's in Benson and some in Tucson. You'll see some retro versions sitting around Peach Springs and metal versions in Gila Bend. And, of course, Holbrook is bursting out the seams with dinosaurs; you'll find a few scattered along I-40 at the town's outskirts and even more driving into town.
5. The Domes (Casa Grande)
Strange but intriuging, these domes look like they might have been the former set of a sci-fi movie. In reality, they were originally supposed to be part of an electronics manufacturing facility. For a more in-depth look at the domes, check out
our previous article
6. Flintstones Bedrock City (Williams)
Speaking of dinosaurs, here's another place that features even more of those lizard-like (though now we know they were related to birds) creatures. Located north of Williams, the Flintstones Bedrock City is a small attraction sitting south of the Grand Canyon and features life-sized replicas of the popular 1950s TV show. This place is definitely a little strange but is worth a quick look.
7. Longhorn Bar & Grill (Amado)
Although it is now closed, this site combines two images (albeit, stereotypical) of the desert southwest: the bar and a longhorn skull. Together they create a landmark that is striking and difficult to miss. The restaurant's exterior has been featured in movies and television shows, such as “Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore” and “Boys on the Side.”
8. Mystery Castle (Phoenix)
Sitting at the base of South Mountain, Mystery Castle was designed and built in the 1930s by Boyce Luther Gulley. After being diagnosed with tuberculosis, he left his wife and daughter in Seattle and relocated to Phoenix, evidently without telling them where he was going. He died before he had a chance to see his family again but not before leaving behind a castle they inherited. An eclectic construction of stone, cement, and recycled materials, it certainly earns a place on this list for an out of the ordinary destination.
9. Santa Claus, Arizona (Golden Valley)
If you were to look for Santa's workshop and office in the continental United States, would Arizona be your first choice? Sitting alone and abandoned along Route 93 outside of Chloride, Santa Claus is a deserted town that had big plans never realized. Nina Talbot, a real estate agent from Los Angeles, had plans to eventually turn the tourist spot into a resort destination centered around the Santa theme. This plan never came to fruition and Talbot sold the town. It's popularity as a roadside attraction slowly declined and today, it sits deteriorated and vandalized on the roadside.
10. The Thing (Dragoon)
What is needed for an irrestible roadside attraction? A combination of mystery and fascination, something that has certainly driven most people off road to this particular attraction along Interstate 10 near Dragoon. A barrage of signs advertise “The Thing” and its assumed mysteries. For a small fee, you can also investigate the Thing for yourself to see if it is worth the hype.
11. Wigwam Village #6 (Holbrook)
A relic of the Route 66 days, the Wigwam Village was one of many themed, motels offering travelers a warm bed with a unique stay. It is so iconic that a version was featured in Pixar's movie “Cars,” exchanging the tipis for traffic cones. If you fancy a stay, you're in luck because the motel is still in operation and continues to be run by the family that originally opened this location.
What other strange places in the state have you visited? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!