“Atlas Obscura” Takes Travelers to Bizarre Attractions Around the World
Photo: Q’eswachaka rope bridge in Peru by @skaremedia on Instagram.
On your next travel adventure, leave the tried-and-true attractions behind. Atlas Obscura, an online and print guide to the wonders of the world, has thousands of suggestions for bizarre sight-seeing stops.
Among its unusual entries are the Cathedral of Junk, the Baby Head Cemetery, and the Cowgirl Hall of Fame (all in Texas). At the Good Vibrations Antique Vibrator Museum in San Francisco, you can learn all about the popular sex toy. Prefer real penises? The Icelandic Phallological Museum has plenty of specimens on display. Can you guess what necropants are? If not, turn to page 105 in your guidebook; there you’ll find details on where to see a pair.
“If you’re traveling because you want to experience the world, because you want to have interesting experiences, you’ve got to open yourself up to seeking out some of these more unusual, wondrous places,” says site co-founder Dylan Thuras. Rather than check off the same items on a generic travel bucket list, Atlas Obscura urges travelers to get out of their comfort zone. “I think the kind of places in the book and on the site are places where you’ll remember your experience. They leave a strong impression. That’s really what travel is about,” Thuras says. “So much of our lives is on rails and prescribed for us. What we hope to do is show people how big and strange and amazing the world is.”
Thuras authored the guidebook with the site’s co-founder, Joshua Foer, and its associate editor, Ella Morton. In addition to their deep knowledge bases, the threesome asked their website visitors for submissions. The resulting guidebook is a hefty 450 pages organized by location and indexed by categories like Disembodied Body Parts, Curious Contraptions, Fiery Places, and Giant Holes. The site currently boasts 10,000 destinations.
Because it would take more than a lifetime to visit all things Atlas Obscura, we, along with Thuras, hand-picked a few favorites.
The Museum of Death
This homage to mortality has been a Los Angeles attraction since 1995. Morticians’ tools, coffins, and body bags are some of the milder items displayed; photographs of mutilated bodies and videos of autopsies are among the grisliest. Exhibits recreate morbid fascinations like the electric chair and the Heaven’s Gate mass suicide. Take the hour-long tour if you dare, but consider bringing along a barf bag.
The Oasis Bordello Museum
Take a guided tour of this Wallace, Idaho brothel and you’ll see the lingerie, magazines, toiletries, and groceries left behind by the hookers who once put in (and put out for) 16-hour shifts in the establishment. The working girls fled the scene in 1988 after hearing word of an imminent FBI raid. The property was locked up and uninhabited until the madam sold it to a couple five years later. Realizing they had a ready-made museum on their hands, they opened it as such and have maintained the, ahem, “integrity” of the seedy milieu. A price list for services is still posted, timers stand at the ready, and an Atari remains untouched.
The House on the Rock
This sprawling 240-acre estate in Spring Green, Wis. is filled with so many oddities it takes about four hours to walk through it. During your visit, you’ll encounter a massive sculpture of a squid fighting a whale, watch a spinning carousel with the world’s largest number of animals (269, none of which is a horse), and pass through the Infinity Room, a hallway cantilevered over the valley surrounding Deer Shelter Rock. The seemingly theme-less museum includes collections of airplanes, armor, antique guns, brewery parts, self-playing instruments, and hot air balloons, among many, many other things. Late creator Alexander John Jordan Jr. is said to have been an eccentric man who lived in a modest apartment in Madison and commuted to the site via private plane until health conditions led to the loss of his pilot’s license.
The Last Inca Bridge
Step back in time–and over a gorge–by crossing what is considered the last Inca bridge, called the Q’eswachaka or Keshwa chaca (pictured at top). Located three hours outside of Cusco, Peru, this woven grass bridge measures 118 feet in length, is suspended 60 feet above a rushing river, and can support up to 50 people at once. When the bridge begins to rot, the villagers come together to weave a new one, letting the water whisk away the old bridge.
“This bridge was a working piece of the Inca road infrastructure,” Thuras says. “Besides being this feat of engineering and the wild factor, it represents 500 years of unbroken cultural history.”
World’s Quietest Place
If your ideal vacation involves peace and quiet, you can find it tucked inside the unassuming Orfield Laboratories in Minneapolis, Minn. The company’s anechoic test chamber was declared “the quietest place on Earth” by Guinness World Records. After a few minutes in the room, your ears get tingly and your body begins to sound like a “crazy, riotous organ,” Thuras says. “By the end, I swear I could hear my eyebrows move. I could hear the crinkling and the moving of my scalp. That was a weird, wild thing.” Who knew silence could fall into the “be careful what you wish for” category?
Your Own Backyard
Ultimately, the founders and authors of Atlas Obscura hope that their work will be used not just as a travel guide but as a way of life, a commitment to curiosity. “We hope that the atlas is a nudge to start looking at the world through this framework, to start saying, ‘I wonder what that is. I wonder what’s in there. Maybe I should go in and ask a question about it,'” Thuras says. “It’s amazing what you can find that way. The world is weird and wondrous, not just far away, but very close to home as well.”