Disappointing photos of roadside attractions in real life

Nick Theissen / FlickrThe largest ball of twine, Kansas.
  • If a road trip packed with roadside attractions is on your bucket list, be prepared for the occasional disappointment.
  • Overcrowded sites and underwhelming curiosities are often the reality.
  • The Mystery Spot, for example, isn’t all that mysterious.
  • Lucy the Elephant, the oldest roadside attraction in the US, is essentially in a New Jersey parking lot.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

Natural wonders and oversized objects enliven overseas travel and the great American road trip alike.

But the picturesque images you may have in your head don’t always align with how things look in real life.

From drab landscapes out west to big crowds at Stonehenge, these photos show the disappointing reality of roadside attractions in the US and abroad.

Hawaii’s steam vents create a dynamic landscape.

Matthew Dillon/FlickrSteam vents on Hawaii’s Big Island.

On Hawaii’s Big Island, steam vents give the landscape an otherworldly look. Steam is released when ground water trickles down to hot volcanic rocks.

But up close, they aren’t so impressive.

Flickr/Malcolm MannersA roadside steam vent.

Without steam, it’s just a hole in the ground.

Salvation Mountain in California beckons with its bright colours and psychedelic artwork.

Flickr/BrainSalvation Mountain, California.

People from all over the country flock to the Colorado Desert in Southern California to explore this colourful religious shrine and work of art.

In reality, its just a little painted hill in the desert.

Chris M. Morris / FlickrSalvation Mountain, California, from a distance.

The site (a mere 150 feet wide by 50 feet tall) requires gallons of paint, and constant maintenance and upkeep due to the harsh desert environment it calls home.

You might feel like you’re on a lunar expedition at Craters of the Moon in Idaho

Bureau of Land Management/FlickrCraters of the Moon, Idaho.

Idaho’s Craters of the Moon are the product of lava eruptions that took place between 15,000 and 2,000 years ago.

Or not. In most lighting, the lava field looks pretty drab.

Flickr/David WilsonThe craters are kind of boring to look at.

Without the aid of Photoshop or a professional camera, the lava field looks much more humdrum.

Those seeking the elusive Fountain of Youth can find it in Florida.

Jim Moore/FlickrA sign commemorating the Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine, Florida.

You’ll find it (or a facsimile, at least) at Ponce de Leon’s Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park in St. Augustine. The attraction is named for the eponymous Spanish conquistador who colonised Florida in the 16th century while allegedly searching for the fountain.

But it’s not much to look at.

Jim Moore/FlickrThis fountain hardly looks magical.

This Fountain of Youth resembles a glorified storm drain – where’s the water?

Mystery Spot is billed as a gravitational anomaly.

Tshrinivasan/Wikimedia CommonsThe entrance to Mystery Spot, Santa Cruz, California.

Described as a “gravitational anomaly,” the Mystery Spot sits in California’s Redwood Forest. The attraction challenges basic laws of gravity and physics; objects roll uphill and visitors lean over their toes without falling over.

But the “mystery” is actually based on optical illusions.

Yelp/Cristina P.The slanted house at Mystery Spot.

Like all of Mystery Spot‘s features, the “gravity-defying” house is based on an optical illusion. The source of the sleight is what’s known as a gravity hill – an area of land in which a downhill slope appears to curve uphill.

Many stop by Blarney Castle in Ireland to kiss the infamous Blarney Stone.

psyberartist/FlickrBlarney Castle, home of the Blarney Stone.

The hunk of Carboniferous limestone purportedly gives those who kiss it the gift of the gab.

But the stone is really just a germ-ridden wall.

Wikimedia/Brian RosnerA person kissing the Blarney Stone.

In 2009, TripAdvisor named the Blarney Stone the most unhygienic attraction in the world. Forget about the power of eloquence – you might just ingest a Petri dish’s worth of bacteria instead.

If you’re driving through Kansas, you can see the world’s largest ball of twine.

Nick Theissen / FlickrThe world’s largest ball of twine in Kansas.

In Cawker City, Kansas, you’ll find the world’s largest ball of twine, which is comprised of at least 8 million feet of twine and weighs over 10 tonnes.

Besides just being a ball of twine, it’s also less impressive from farther away.

Larry Porges/ShutterstockIt’s just an orange mound.

Despite its impressive stats, the twine ball is really nothing more than a large, brownish orange mound. Over the years, the massive sphere has gradually lost its round shape.

More of a seaside attraction than a roadside one, the Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen is one of the city’s most popular sites.

Ppictures / ShutterstockThe Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The sculpture, unveiled in 1913, pays homage to Hans Christian Andersen’s classic mermaid tale.

But the sculpture is so popular that you’ll have to wait your turn to snap a photo.

ShutterstockThe crowd at the Little Mermaid statue, Copenhagen, Denmark.

She’s only four feet tall, but the Little Mermaid draws quite the crowd.

The Desert of Maine may not be a true desert, but it’s still a popular destination.

Flickr/daveyninCamel statues at the Desert of Maine.

Near Freeport, you’ll find the 40-acre Desert of Maine, an attraction frequented by 30,000 tourists each year. Although it’s not a true desert – the region gets too much precipitation -the sand and silt formed naturally from large glaciers that eroded during the last ice age.

But it mostly looks like a depressing sand lot.

Daderot/Wikimedia CommonsThe so-called desert.

Natural marvel or not, the Desert of Maine is basically a depressing beach with some greenery.

Stonehenge fascinates archaeologists and tourists alike.

iStockSunset at Stonehenge, Wiltshire, UK.

As one of the Wonders of the World, the prehistoric (and mysterious) group of stones known as Stonehenge – parts of which were built as early as 3,000 BC – fascinates archaeologists and tourists alike.

In reality, you’ll have to fight crowds to get close to the stones.

Flickr/Ann WuytsLarge crowds spoil the view at Stonehenge.

The iconic British monument attracts 800,000 tourists a year, which means that your view of the stones could be spoiled by hordes of people who are likewise trying to see the structure. Not to mention the fact that there’s an entrance fee to see this ancient wonder.

It’s Christmas all year round in North Pole, Alaska, where you’ll find the world’s largest Santa Claus.

Kuruman/FlickrThe Santa Claus House in North Pole, Alaska.

As the home of the world’s largest Santa Claus, this charming Alaska town (which isn’t actually located at the North Pole) is filled with Christmas cheer throughout the year.

But Santa himself doesn’t look so jolly.

Flickr/KurumanThe world’s largest Santa.

St. Nick stands 42 feet tall, but he’s fenced in off the side of a road… like a reindeer at a petting zoo.

Who doesn’t want to take a detour off of the Atlantic City Expressway to climb inside a six-story elephant?

wikipedia commonsLucy the Elephant, New Jersey.

Lucy the Elephant is a National Historic Landmark, and the oldest roadside attraction in the US, having been built in 1881.

In the middle of a parking lot is not the most scenic of stops.

Cambodia 4 kids / FlickrLucy the Elephant, New Jersey.

At least you don’t have to get out of your car for an up-close look.

Many stop at Abbey Road to walk in the Beatles’ footsteps.

Claudio Divizia/ShutterstockAbbey Road, London.

Beatles fans the world over make the pilgrimage to London’s Abbey Road in order to recreate the band’s iconic album cover.

But the street isn’t just for pedestrians.

Flickr/Chris WhealWatch out for buses, cars, and motorcycles when crossing Abbey Road.

Just because it’s a tourist destination doesn’t change the fact that Abbey Road is open to vehicles. You might risk getting run over when you pose like the Fab Four.

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