Top 10 Places You Haven’t Stopped At (Yet)
Put away the schedule and indulge in these worthy diversions.
You’ve seen the road signs. You’ve always talked about stopping. But each time you’re in the area, you blow right past so you can just get home. Here are the top 10 overlooked places that are right off the highway and deserve your attention. Trust us, these attractions are time well spent, so ease up on that pedal and pull over. You can thank us later.
Oh Nevada, how we love you. Where else could you find one of the quirkiest and simultaneously impressive roadside attractions ever located on a landfill? A Stonehenge-inspired solar calendar meets aliens in a beautiful garden with a side of vintage railroad cars…and did we mention camels, too? Built by Ryan Williams—CEO of Western Elite Landfill in Alamo—this wild and wonderful attraction should not be missed no matter where your travels take you in the state.
2. Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area
Cruising along U.S. Highway 50, aka The Loneliest Road in America, it’s easy to speed between the far-flung towns in a race to rejoin civilization. However, just 24 miles east of Austin, there’s good reason to stop and visit an ancient civilization, if only for a short while. A family friendly network of trails weaves through ancient petroglyph-laden rock outcroppings, courtesy of the Western Shoshone that lived in the area some 10,000 years ago. Alongside the ancient etchings, you’ll find unbeatable views of Big Smoky Valley and the Toiyabe Mountain Range, picnic areas, restrooms, and 16 free campground sites.
3. Chocolate Nugget Candy Factory
If you’ve ever driven old Highway 395 from Carson City to Reno, you’ve likely seen a giant prospector statue and thought “what the heck?” This gentle sentinel guards one of northern Nevada’s sweetest stops. Chocolate Nugget Candy Factory—a third-generation, family-owned enterprise—handmakes more than 100 varieties of chocolate, along with many other confections including the peanut brittle they began making during the Depression to generate extra income. The family makes most of its treats at its second location in nearby Mound House, which opened in 1989. The two shops carry taffy, brittles, fudge, chocolates, caramel corn, and small gifts.
4. Seven Magic Mountains
Driving in the desert can induce a mirage or two, but if you’re on Highway 15 between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, you’re probably not hallucinating. When you see the seven massive, day-glo rock sculptures jutting from the desert floor, it’s time to stop the car. Created by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone, the formations are locally sourced limestone boulders stacked vertically in groups ranging between three and six rocks. Wander among the 30-foot-tall totems for that only-in-Nevada selfie and reflect on the simplicity and oddity of these fluorescent towers in the desert.
5. Ordnance Museum
Most folks bomb down Highway 95, only slowing for gas or food in Hawthorne before hitting the road again. This is a big mistake. Hawthorne is home to America’s largest artillery base, as evidenced by the myriad bunkers across the valley landscape—and if you’d ever wondered why, it’s time to stop for a visit at the Ordnance Museum. Dedicated to educating and sharing the Hawthorne Army Depot’s contribution to our nation’s security, this museum lets you wander through exhibits of cluster bombs, historical ammunition, vintage military uniforms, plus some of the first drones ever produced.
6. Sentinel Museum
Stop the presses! OK, just stop the car in Eureka for a visit to “The Eureka Sentinel,” which was printed daily from 1879 to 1960. This two-story building hosts the old printing room downstairs, which is so well-preserved it looks as if the editors have just finished their shift. The walls are covered with aged newspapers, and the printing press and original furnishings give a fascinating glimpse into the life of this historic operation. The upper floor houses a museum—filled with everything from Edison phonographs to 1920s gas pumps—that chronicles the town’s history.
7. California Trail Interpretive Center
You’re rushing to get to Elko for dinner at The Star or to attend the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, but pump the brakes for just a moment. The California Trail Interpretive Center—just west of town—is the perfect place to learn about the settlers who traveled some 2,000 miles in search of a better life. Learning about the harrowing journey across the 40-Mile Desert might be just the thing to put that long car trip into perspective.
8. Cold Springs Station
Depending on your destination on the aforementioned Highway 50, you could find yourself without dining options for some time. Cold Springs Station is a great spot to get a meal, shop for mementos and snacks, or check out some Pony Express memorabilia. Ask the owners about the area as you enjoy a hearty dinner or dare to (responsibly) try one of the single-pour drinks.
9. Grapevine Canyon
While traveling State Route 163 just north of Laughlin, you’ll find a turnoff for Grapevine Canyon. Anxious as you are to get to town, pull off and head to the trailhead. Park the car, and you’ll see a great wash, which really doesn’t look like much.
A short hike toward the canyon’s rock walls will reveal the truth: hundreds of panels of petroglyphs created between 1200 and 1800 AD. You can climb up the canyon for more, or just revel in this incredible offering that’s so easy to find you’ll wonder why you never went before.
10. Thunder Mountain Monument
This one is so easy to miss, it’s almost criminal. Located on Interstate 80 in Imlay, this monument is the creation of WWII veteran and artist Frank Van Zant, who started building it in 1969. A self-identified Creek Indian, he built Thunder Mountain as both a shelter from a potential apocalypse as well as a spiritual haven and hostel during the hippie era. The sculptures mainly portray American Indian figures and the injustices they experienced during and after white settlement. Scattered among the buildings and sculptures is a plethora of odd objects. Each one seems to have been thoughtfully placed, whether it is a car windshield concreted into a wall to be used as a window or a plastic doll head stapled to a tree.