9 Wackiest Places in the United States You Should Know About

Posted by: Sara Huzar, Public Affairs Section Intern

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Happy April Fool’s Day!  In the spirit of fun, we’re highlighting nine crazy U.S. destinations you’ve probably never heard of.

The World’s Largest Artichoke
The World’s Largest Artichoke

1. The World’s Largest Artichoke
Castroville, California

After miles of rolling green farmlands, travelers south of San Francisco may be surprised to see a different large green attraction out their windows.  Castroville, California, appropriately nicknamed the “Artichoke Center of the World” is home to a twenty-foot tall, twelve-foot wide artichoke sculpture – the largest in the world.

Artichokes constitute a $50 million dollar industry for the town, and are celebrated with an annual artichoke festival, complete with the coronation of an artichoke queen.  The first queen was a young girl named Norma Jean Baker, but she’s best known by the name she later adopted: Marilyn Monroe. http://www.weirdca.com/location.php?location=39

Gravity Hill
Gravity Hill

2. Gravity Hill
Prosser, Washington

On an isolated stretch of road north of Prosser, Washington, there’s a hill where drivers can stop, put their car in neutral, and roll uphill instead of down.

There’s no proven explanation for why this happens, but many suggest that the surrounding landscape tilts one way, while the road tilts another, and the different angles trick your brain into thinking uphill is down.

Whatever the explanation, gravity hill has captured the imagination many Americans, and is one of the strangest places a traveler to the states can find. http://weirdus.com/states/washington/road_less_traveled/gravity_hill/index.php 

The International Cryptozoological Museum
The International Cryptozoological Museum

3. The International Cryptozoological Museum
Portland, Maine

Tucked away in the town of Portland, Maine, is the world’s only museum dedicated to the niche science of cryptozoology.  Cryptozoology literally means “the study of hidden life” studies mysterious animals like sasquatches, yetis, mermaids, and more.

The museum boasts attractions like hair from an Abominable Snowman, footprint casts of a Thylacine – an ancient marsupial thought to be extinct – and an entire exhibit dedicated to Lake Monsters.  Whether you’re a skeptic or a believer in its legendary creatures, the museum is full of things you won’t find anywhere else. http://cryptozoologymuseum.com/

The World’s Tallest Filing Cabinet
The World’s Tallest Filing Cabinet

4. The World’s Tallest Filing Cabinet
Burlington, Vermont

On the southwest edge of Vermont’s state capital, rising out of a field of weeds stands a forty-foot tall tower of rusty metal filing cabinets.  Artist Bren Alvarez created the structure in 2002 by welding eleven cabinets together to make the rickety-looking stack.  The tower contains thirty-eight drawers, one for every year of bureaucratic work required to get the project started. http://www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/8782

The World’s Largest Holstein Cow
The World’s Largest Holstein Cow

5. The World’s Largest Holstein Cow
New Salem, North Dakota

Towering over the flat fields of North Dakota, atop the only hill visible for miles stands an unusual landmark.  Salem Sue, the world’s largest Holstein cow, has been a staple of the New Salem, North Dakota skyline since she was erected in 1974 as a monument to its booming dairy industry.  Sue’s fiberglass frame is thirty-eight feet tall, fifty feet long, and weighs 12,000 pounds, so large that she had to be carried uphill in three separate pieces and assembled at the top.

Sue isn’t alone.  North Dakota is known for its larger-than-life sculptures, including the world’s largest buffalo, the world’s largest baseball bat, and a twenty-six foot tall turtle named Tommy riding a snowmobile. http://www.newsalem-nd.com/salem-sue.html

Aurora Ice Museum
Aurora Ice Museum

6. Aurora Ice Museum
Fairbanks, Alaska

Always dreamt of seeing the world’s largest year round ice structure?  Aurora Ice Museum certainly looks like something from a dream.  Chandeliers hang from the ceiling, changing color to imitate the northern lights.  Visitors walk among chess sets and jousting knights all sculpted from nearly 1,000 tons of ice and snow.

Originally, the museum was supposed to be a hotel, and it still has three ice rooms with ice beds to sleep on.  No one, however, has managed to stay a whole night. http://www.atlasobscura.com/places/aurora-ice-museum

World’s Largest Peanut Monument
World’s Largest Peanut Monument

7. World’s Largest Peanut Monument
Ashburn, Georgia

Georgia is nuts about peanuts, something fans of Jimmy Carter, the only president born in that state, may have noticed.  Therefore, it should come as no surprise that Ashburn, Georgia boasts the World’s Largest Peanut Monument.  This nut is not, in fact, dedicated to former President Carter, though his hometown does have one in his honor.  Instead, it stands in memory of Nora Lawrence Smith, a pioneering female journalist who called the state home. http://www.roadsideamerica.com/story/2071

Mütter Museum
Mütter Museum

8. Mütter Museum
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Philadelphia holds a lot to tempt tourist, but one attraction you might not have heard of, is the Mütter Museum.

The Mütter Museum markets itself as a “museum of medical history,” but locals know it as the place to see some of science’s strangest sights.  Inside, you can see a the conjoined liver of famous Siamese twins Chang and Eng, a collection of 139 human skulls, and preserved sections of Albert Einstein’s brain.  Those who aren’t too squeamish to visit come away, as the museum puts it “disturbingly informed.” http://muttermuseum.org/

The Center of the Universe
The Center of the Universe

9. The Center of the Universe
Tulsa, Oklahoma

For centuries, physicists have pondered mysteries at the center of the universe.  Who among them could have guessed it would be an concrete circle in downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma?  Locals gave this unassuming patch of the city its auspicious name because of an acoustic phenomenon.  Someone who stands at the center of the circle and makes a noise will hear it echoed back to them several times louder but anyone outside the circle won’t be able to hear it at all.

Some theorize that the echo results from sound bouncing off the raised planters nearby.  However, there are those that think the distorted sound is the byproduct of our dimension colliding with a parallel one. http://www.tulsaworld.com/weekend/music/what-is-tulsa-s-center-of-the-universe-landmark/article_9b843716-a654-54d4-8591-f29dc7fd5513.html

An American in Ukraine: Reflections on the Anniversary of the Birth of Taras Shevchenko

Posted by: Pauletta Walsh, Assistant Information Officer, U.S. Embassy Kyiv

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Taras Shevchenko museum, Kyiv, 2017For the habitual voyager, arriving in a new country is the ultimate traveling experience.  The sights and smells, the vistas of fresh landscapes, the architecture, all officially announce an adventure has begun.  Diplomats may be some of the best explorers in history, from Ibn Battuta, to Machiavelli, and Benjamin Franklin.  They leave their homeland in the service of their leaders, and depart with a profound understanding of other citizens and cultures.

I arrived in Ukraine just in time for the New Year.  Bundled against the cold, I began my exploration of the city.  With encouragement from colleagues at U.S. Embassy Kyiv, I will blog about my discovery of Kyiv and Ukraine.

Taras Shevchenko museum, Kyiv, 2017
On March 9, Ukrainians celebrated the 203rd Anniversary of the birth of Taras Shevchenko, the beloved poet, writer and civil activist who is often called the father of Ukrainian literature.  To mark the occasion, U.S. Embassy diplomats recorded some of Shevchenko’s verses. With an Embassy group that included Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and her mother, Miss Nadia, I toured the Shevchenko Museum to discover more.
Taras Shevchenko museum, Kyiv, 2017
The Taras Shevchenko Museum is located in Shevchenko’s beloved Kyiv in a mansion formerly owned by a wealthy sugar magnate.  This juxtaposition of housing the most comprehensive collection of artifacts, paintings and memorabilia from Shevchenko’s life, surrounded by such opulence is ironic and poignant.  For Ukrainians, Shevchenko is the premiere national hero.  Son of a serf, at once a novelist and a painter, a poet and a prisoner, Shevchenko was a celebrity and political figure, who finally returned home to the area near the town of Kaniv, to be buried after his death.  To a new generation of Ukrainians, those born after the Soviet era, raised with a unique identity, and who came of age in the era of EuroMaidan, Shevchenko’s dream of Ukrainian freedom resonates with renewed vigor.  The museum provides an opportunity for foreigners and natives alike to make his acquaintance and to draw lessons from his writings on the past and future of Ukraine.
Taras Shevchenko museum, Kyiv, 2017The museum is housed in one of the many beautiful buildings that grace the cobblestoned streets in the old city.  It opens on to a modern glass atrium, with ample room for a collection of modern art.  Progressing up the marble staircase to the second floor, I walked through room after room adorned with paintings, drawings, and books.  I learned of the Cossack history of Ukraine, and then was led step by step through the various stages of Shevchenko’s life.  Shevchenko’s life story is well known in Ukraine.  Born in 1814, Shevchenko grew up in poverty, was orphaned at the age of 11, and yet managed to acquire an education working as an apprentice to a teacher and deacon.  His early life was dictated by the whims of his masters, yet his time in Vilnius was productive in providing him with an artist’s training.  His subsequent travel with his master to the Russian capital of St. Petersburg changed his life.  Shevchenko was accepted to the Imperial Academy of Arts, and was able to study painting.  More importantly for the history of Ukrainian literature, he began to write poetry.  He also became acquainted with other Ukrainians diaspora artists, one who bought him his freedom in 1838.  In 1840, his first book of poetry, “Kobzar” was published.  This was the beginning of a new chapter, one that would bring him into conflict with the Russian Imperial family and others in the ruling class whose patronage he needed to survive.  Subsequently he penned poems in Ukrainian, where he was critical of the system of serfdom and of the regime of Tsar Nicholas I.  Shevchenko’s last prison sentence was serving six years at a penal colony in Novopetrovsk. On his release, he returned to St. Petersburg where he continued writing until his death at the age of 47 on March 10, 1861, seven days before the emancipation of the serfs.

Taras Shevchenko museum, Kyiv, 2017But what exactly did the Russian Empire fear?  I looked for those verses that resonated then as now, to understand the Ukrainian identity and their heart that longs for freedom.
When I am dead, bury me
In my beloved Ukraine,
My tomb upon a grave mound high
Amid the spreading plain,
So that the fields, the boundless steppes,
The Dnieper’s plunging shore
My eyes could see, my ears could hear
The mighty river roar.

When from Ukraine the Dnieper bears
Into the deep blue sea
The blood of foes … then will I leave
These hills and fertile fields —
I’ll leave them all and fly away
To the abode of God,
And then I’ll pray …. But till that day
I nothing know of God.

Oh bury me, then rise ye up
And break your heavy chains
And water with the tyrants’ blood
The freedom you have gained.
And in the great new family,
The family of the free,
With softly spoken, kindly word
Remember also me.

Taras Shevchenko
1845, Pereiaslav
Translated by John Weir 

Information about visiting the museum: website, FB, VK

50 States in 50 Days: The Wild Wild West of Arizona

Posted by: MAJ Sven Olson, Bilateral Affairs Officer

Cowboys Up The Creek (Sedona AZ)
Photo by Sven Olson

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It is such an honor to have the opportunity to introduce the 48th State, Arizona, to our readers of “50 States in 50 Days”! I often tell friends around the world that Arizona is a wonderful place to go home to, and I truly mean it from the depth of my prickly pear soul. In all my explorations of the world, Arizona stands apart as one of the most magical. It never stops giving me breathtaking moments and unforgettable adventures. When I close my eyes I immediately think of cowboys and Indians, and in Arizona, those dreams are our reality! The brilliant sunsets and sharp desolation of the desert and cactus are wonders of the world that each of us should have the privilege to see some day. Whether in a city like Tucson, or in a long deserted ghost town, the mysteries are boundless in sights, sounds and smells. One of the most unforgettable scents on earth is the wet desert mesquite after a hard summer rain. It’s a freshness so unusual that no one can describe it better, than just experiencing it for yourself.

Monument of Time (Monument Valley, AZ)
Photo by Sven Olson

There are 21 unique and amazing tribes of Native American Indians in Arizona. Their lands are now protected and their cultures preserved by Pow Wow’s and patriarchs of ancient family bloodlines. Continue reading “50 States in 50 Days: The Wild Wild West of Arizona”

50 States in 50 Days: New Mexico – Land of Enchantment

Posted by: Eric Salzman, Economic Officer

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The state bearing the motto “Land of Enchantment” presents a fascinating mixture of the ancient and the futuristic within its borders.

Taos Pueblo residential complex, probably built between 1000 and 1450 A.D. (Photo by Luca Galuzzi)

Out of the Past

Native cultures flourished in New Mexico beginning around 1,200 BC, giving rise to the Anasazi civilization, which built fortified cities and cliff dwellings for defense and roads for commerce. “Anasazi” is a Navajo term to refer to the “Ancient Ones” who once lived in what later became the Navajo territory (encompassing large parts of what is now New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado). The Anasazi were forced to abandon their stone cities, perhaps due to a 300-year drought, but the ruins have become National Monuments and Cultural Parks at Bandelier and Chaco Canyon, and their descendants may still live on in the Pueblo, Hopi, Zuni and other tribes that call New Mexico home. Every August, New Mexico hosts the Gathering of Nations Powwow, which features exhibitions and competitions in dance, music, and traditional crafts of native peoples from throughout North and South America.

White Sands National Monument

Into the Future

In 1942, the Los Alamos National Laboratory was founded in New Mexico as part of the Manhattan Project, with the goal of developing the atomic bomb. Today, twenty years after the end of the Cold War, the Laboratory continues to conduct cutting edge research in all branches of science. Continue reading “50 States in 50 Days: New Mexico – Land of Enchantment”

50 States in 50 Days: Wyoming – Like No Place on Earth

Posted by: Jerrold Frank, Regional English Language Officer

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Grand Geyser, Yellowstone-Nationalpark, USA, photo by Stefan Pauli
Grand Geyser, Yellowstone National Park, USA, photo by Stefan Pauli

With its sweeping plains, high deserts and majestic mountains, the state of Wyoming typifies the Great American West. As the ninth largest in terms of land mass but the least populated state in the United States, those seeking solitude in vast wide-open faces can find it here.  The state offers countless outdoor recreational and sightseeing opportunities and is home to the first national park in the United States, Yellowstone National Park. Within more than 2 million acres comprising Yellowstone National Park, visitors can view up close some of the most unique geothermal features in the world – including perhaps the most famous geyser in the world, Old Faithful. So interesting are the features of this park that the first published reports of the region in 1807 describing the Yellowstone area were thought to be fictional. Nobody could believe the other-worldly descriptions of the geography and geology found there. In addition to Yellowstone National Park, the state also boasts Grand Teton National Park, Devils Tower National Park and Fossil Butte National Park. Each of these parks is special in that they house one-of-a-kind natural landscapes that everyone should visit at least once in their lifetimes.

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming
Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Wyoming is a state of many firsts. Aside from having the first national park in the United States, Wyoming was also the first state to grant women the right to vote and to serve on juries. In addition, the country’s first female governor was elected in Wyoming back in 1924. This has lead the state to become known as the Equality State.

With so few people living in such a large land mass, naturally there is room for an abundance of wildlife in Wyoming. Some of the more famous non-human inhabitants of Wyoming include grizzly and black bears, gray wolves, elk, pronghorn deer, antelope, moose, mountain lions, eagles, and yes, American bison.  Also, keep on the lookout for rattlesnakes! If you’re out hiking in the Wyoming wilderness, best to wear some ankle high hiking boots. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also find game such as elk or bison on the menu of some local restaurants.

In terms of crime and personal safety, Wyoming has one of the lowest crime rates in the country. The biggest danger in Wyoming is the sheer size and emptiness of the place. Visitors must be sure to plan ahead when trekking into the great open spaces of Wyoming. Winters can be especially fierce so you don’t want to get caught in a blizzard in the middle of nowhere. That being said, the middle of nowhere offers the outdoor-minded opportunities to fish, hunt, ski, snowmobile and camp. Just be sure you know what you’re doing.

If you’ve ever watched a cowboy movie and yearned to explore the open spaces of the Great American West then Wyoming is for you. Who knows, once you visit you may not want to leave.

50 States in 50 Days: South Dakota – Great Faces, Great Places

Posted by: Samuel Gabel, Public Affairs Section Assistant

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South Dakota is a land of natural beauty and diversity. The types of landscapes found here range from, rolling hills, oceans of waiving grass, and lakes that cover the eastern part of the state, to the alien beauty of the Badlands, to the majestic granite peaks and pine forests of the Black Hills. Here the Midwest meets the West. Here, one can find both fields filled with amber waves of grain, as well as cattle ranches and cowboys. This is the land where the proud and fierce Sioux tribes once roamed. It is also the setting for some of the most dramatic History of the Old West.

Mount Rushmore
Photo by Dean Franklin

My Experience Here

South Dakota is my home state. Here I have passed many memorable childhood summers, boating, hunting, fishing, walking through the tall prairie grass, driving old tractors and setting off fireworks on Independence Day. I like the sense of security that people have here, the friendliness found in the various small towns, the wide-open landscapes and the way the sky seems bigger and more beautiful here.

Rolling hills and wide open sky near Pierre

People and Cultures

My family, and a fair sized portion of the population, are ethnically German. However, probably the most distinctive ethnic group is the Sioux Nation (also known as the Lakota or Dakota). It is from these people that the state gets its name. South Dakota’s native tribes make up a relatively high portion of the population (even greater than in Oklahoma). Traditionally, the Sioux were a nomadic warrior people. Today, most live in several reservations scattered across the state. The Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center, near Chamberlain offers an opportunity to learn about the history and traditions of the Sioux. There are also a number of powwows (tribal gatherings generally involving dancers in costume) all across the state. A number of them welcome visitors (provided said visitors are respectful).

Continue reading “50 States in 50 Days: South Dakota – Great Faces, Great Places”

50 States in 50 Days: Washington, D.C. – A Capitol City

Posted by Natalya Smith, Consular Officer

View of the Washington Monument from Kennedy Center rooftop

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My name is Natalya Smith, and my favorite city in the world is Washington, D.C. It is commonly referred to as the District, short for the District of Columbia. DC is not a state, but rather an administrative area located on the land donated by the state of Maryland along the Potomac River. It’s the capital of the United States, and is famous for its monuments, museums, the White House, the Capitol Building, and its universities and historic sites.

My absolute favorite thing to do in Washington is to visit the Kennedy Center (the National Center for the Performing Arts) after work, getting a bite to eat at the rooftop cafe, and enjoying the view of the city, the Potomac river, and the planes coming in for landing at the Reagan National Airport. And then, I can enjoy an evening full of opera, ballet, or classical music performed by some of the best musicians and entertainers in the world. If residents or tourists cannot afford full price tickets, every evening there are also free shows at the Millennium Stage welcoming everyone to enjoy and appreciate the art of singing, dancing, and music.

The National Mall is a cluster of monuments, museums, and historic sites in the heart of Washington, D.C. On the one end of the Mall is the Capitol Building which houses the legislative branch of our government. It is open for visitors and provides a thrilling opportunity to watch members of Congress debate and vote on what may become U.S. law.

Lincoln Memorial and the Replecting Pool

On the other side of the Mall are the Lincoln Memorial and its reflecting pool — an impressive tribute to the President who lead the nation at the turbulent time of the Civil War. But when I think of the Lincoln Memorial, I immediately envision Dr. Martin Luther King during the civil rights movement, addressing thousands of Americans against the background of the Lincoln Memorial with his famous “I Have a Dream” speech and painting the future of a more just, equal, and tolerant nation. Continue reading “50 States in 50 Days: Washington, D.C. – A Capitol City”