If you think that Arizona is all desert and tumbleweeds, you’re wrong. The state boasts lush trees against red mountains and even snow in the north. But if you patiently drive down the long, lonely highways, you’ll encounter some unexpected sights.
Abandoned domes. A bridge to nowhere. A pumpkin filled with toxic chemicals. All of these and more can be found in Arizona if you know where to look. Here are the most unusual and fascinating sights throughout the state.
A Ghost Town Of Abandoned Domes
There are some mysterious structures in Casa Grande: decrepit, caterpillar-shaped domes. With their crumbling roofs and graffiti, these creepy structures have sparked many theories from hauntings to cult gatherings. In truth, they were built for a tech company.
In 1982, InnerConn Technology began building a site to assemble circuit boards. Just a year later, they defaulted on their loan, and now a local communications company owns the property. Even so, they’ve made little changes to these old, decaying domes.
Giant Concrete Targets
Near Casa Grande, there are enormous cross-shaped targets that span 16 miles in each direction. You can see these strange structures through Google maps. While they might seem eerie, these are calibration targets leftover from the Cold War.
During the 1960s, the U.S. Army launched the Corona satellites. These targets were built to calibrate those satellites. Originally, there were 145 targets, all a mile apart from each other. Two of them have disappeared over the past 50 years.
Tumbleweed Christmas Trees
Although Arizona includes lush trees and snowy mountains, some people still joke that it’s too dry to host any life. The city of Chandler makes this joke part of the holiday season. Every year, residents decorate Christmas trees made from native tumbleweeds.
Tumbleweed trees have been a tradition in Chandler since 1957. In each tree, about 1,000 tumbleweeds are hooked around a wire frame. Then, they’re coated in 65 pounds of glitter. And don’t forget the lights!
Between markers 148 and 149 on Highway 93, there’s Nothing. It’s an abandoned town with no buildings to see and no activities to do. When driving there, you’ll encounter a rotten wooden sign that ominously spells “Nothing.”
Founded in 1977, the town had four inhabitants who ran a gas station and garage. Other companies, including a pizza shop, have opened and closed in the following decades. As of 2012, Nothing is just as its name implies: an abandoned, lifeless town.
A Bridge To Nowhere
If you travel along Route 95, you might find a bridge. Cross it, and you’ll end up…nowhere. This is the McPhaul Suspension Bridge in Yuma. In 1929, the bridge was built over the Gila River, but it had to be replaced in 1968 because of the way automobiles were changing.
After the bridge received a replacement, the new bridge was torn down. Now, only the Bridge to Nowhere remains. You can drive its entire 798 feet to find nothing at the end.
Next to the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, you’ll find thousands of abandoned airplanes. The Boneyard, as it’s called, is the largest airplane dump in the world. Since World War II, it has stored military aircrafts such as B-29 Superfortresses and C-47 Skytrains.
The Boneyard’s official name has changed multiple times over the years. Today, it is known as the 309th Aerospace Maintenance Regeneration Group. Over 4,400 aircraft from NASA, the Air Force, the Coast Guard, and the Marines are stored there.
A Toxic Pumpkin Pool
On the floor of the Grand Canyon, there seems to be a giant water-filled pumpkin. Pumpkin Spring is a natural rock formation that constantly leaks murky green water. Although it looks like an inviting pool, it’s toxic.
Pumpkin Spring contains over 1100 mg of arsenic, along with lead, zinc, and copper. Although the water isn’t fatal, you still shouldn’t swim in it. Touching and drinking the water is prohibited, so you should only snap photos of Pumpkin Spring as you tour the Colorado River.
If you ever travel along the I-10 South, keep an eye out for “the Thing?” That’s not a question; that’s the Thing?’s name. This roadside museum contains everything funky and alien, but mostly alien.
It would be a mistake to spoil what exactly the Thing? is. Just know that it’s been there for decades and has collected many antique (but strange) trinkets throughout the years. You can’t miss it, because several billboards advertise the Thing? and its exit.
7,000 Gallons Of Water Spewing Into The Air
The Sonoran Desert one of the biggest deserts in North America. Yet it receives massive spurts of water four times every hour. That fountain is so famous that the surrounded area was named after it: Fountain Hills.
Every fifteen minutes, a fountain spews 7,000 gallons of water up to 560 feet into the air. And yes, it’s manmade and has been operating since 1970. When the wind picks up, the fountain will automatically turn off (thank goodness!)
A Desert-Colored Waterfall
Drive 30 miles east of Flagstaff, and you’ll see a chocolate-colored waterfall. The Grand Falls rises 185 feet into the air, taller than the Niagara Falls. The water collects red silt and sand as it floods 70 miles downstream.
Grand Falls was created by a volcanic eruption in the Merriam Crater. As the lava poured down, it carved a waterfall. Today, most of the water flows from melted snow in the White Mountains. If you want to see it, go during March and April.
Ancient Rock Art
If you look in the right places, you’ll find several rock art pieces in Arizona. They’re not in shops or museums, but in their natural habitat. These drawings were carved by the ancients, and you may need a Navajo guide to find them.
One site is 20 miles from Sedona, in the Verde Valley. There, you’ll find petroglyphs made by the Sinagua people around 1150 AD. Twenty-five miles west of Tuscan, you’ll find 800-year-old drawings from the Hohokam people along Signal Hill Trail.
Modern Rock Art
Just outside the town of Chloride, there are the decorated Cerbat Mountains. Artist Roy Purcell has painted whimsical designs along the granite cliffsides. The colorful paintings depict snakes, planets, cities, and everything in between.
In 1966, Purcell began his artwork that now spans 2,000 square feet. The project gained him national attention. You can still visit his work if you’re willing to drive along a bumpy dirt road. As a bonus, these paintings are close to nearby ancient petroglyphs.
A Missile Silo
In Sahuarita, about 25 miles south of Tucson, you can visit a former ICBM missile site. It’s inside a museum called the Titan Missile Museum. If you descend underground, you’ll find the Titan II missile, which is 31 miles tall (103 feet).
Don’t worry, though–the silo deactivated in 1984. After the Cold War, most Titan II silos were demolished except for this one. The surviving Titan II has no fuel or missile inside of it so that you can view it safely.
An Empty Wild West Jailhouse
If you travel along Salt River Canyon, you may see some really old buildings. One of these is an abandoned jailhouse from the Wild West. Because it’s small and wooden, most people wouldn’t recognize it as a jail. But you won’t want to drive by without stopping.
The jail is right next to a tiny gas station. Although it looks like a tourist spot (and it usually is), inside, you’ll find hefty steel bars. Decades ago, outlaws and criminals spent their lives there.
Rock Stars All Over The Floor
Search for Sundad, Arizona, and you won’t find a traditional town. There are no buildings–only foundations of buildings and old construction equipment. But the strangest details are stars, flowers, hearts, and sun rays made from rocks. These random art pieces are scattered all over the ground.
While not much is known about Sundad, it is believed to have been a tuberculosis sanatorium in the 1920s. The art pieces might have been made by off-roaders. If you go there, watch your step!
The Flinstones’ City
If you drive down Route 64 or Route 180, keep your eye out for an unusual RV park. You’ll know it when you see it; it looks like the home of the Flintstones. Bedrock City consists of life-sized Flintstones homes and cars (without the characters, of course).
Bedrock City opened in 1972 in Coconino County. Along with the life-sized Flintstones homes, the park includes rides, statues, and a themed diner. Sadly, Bedrock City closed in the summer of 2019.
Phoenix is a big city. But if you look hard enough, you’ll discover a three-story stone castle. Built in the 1930s, Mystery Castle lies on the foothills of South Mountain Park. The 18-room home comes with a historic story.
According to the tale, Boyce Luther Gulley built the castle for his wife and daughter after learning that he had tuberculosis. Before his daughter, Mary Lou, died, she opened the house up for tourists. You can still visit it today.
A Teepee Motel
In the Pixar movie Cars, the characters visit the Cozy Cone Motel, with cone-shaped rooms. These were likely based on the Wigwam Village Motel #6. Resting along Route 66, the motel features enormous teepees that act as guest rooms.
Each teepee stands 21 feet tall and comes with a toilet, sink, and shower. Next to the teepees are vintage cars. Those don’t belong to anyone; they’re permanently scattered through the property as creative decorations.
A Volcanic Crater
Drive 25 miles north of Flagstaff, and you’ll find several cinder cones. One of those is SP Crater, an active volcano with a 4.5-mile lava flow. Although it’s on private property, the owners allow tourists to climb the 820-foot-tall crater and see the lava.
Volcanologists estimate that SP Crater is between 65,000 and 71,000 years old. Although this crater gets less attention than its neighbor, Sunset Crater, it’s still impressive and can easily be missed.
An Enormous Metal Snake That You Can Drive Through
Tucson is a city known for its public art. One of its most famous pieces is Diamondback Bridge, a giant metal snake that connects Broadway Blvd and Barraza-Aviation Pkwy. If you want to know what it’s like to be eaten by a snake, just drive through it.
In 2002, artist Simon Donovan constructed the bridge. He won a Federal Highway Administration award for his work. Believe it or not, this snake bridge is anatomically accurate. It has the exact hues and gilding as a real rattlesnake.