'Mystery of the Desert' draws visitors to Arizona roadside attraction for decades

Driving along Interstate 10 between Phoenix and New Mexico, you may notice bright yellow billboards calling out to you every few miles.

DRAGOON, Ariz. - Driving along Interstate 10 between Phoenix and New Mexico, you may notice bright yellow billboards calling out to you every few miles.

“the Thing?” is written in large B-horror-movie font across them.

You may have already heard of it. Thrillist named it the weirdest roadside attraction in Arizona, and Time named it one of the top 50 American roadside attractions.

The signs lead you to a truck stop 17 miles east of Benson that has been there since the mid-1960s.

You can’t miss it. The sign over the gift shop is pretty much a larger version of the billboards.

Even before noon, the stop is filled with people. Some stopped to get gas or food. Others found themselves drawn in by the relentless signs.

“I think we saw maybe five or six of them,” said Katherine Kerstetter, a curious visitor who brought her son, Christopher, to find out what the Thing is.

“Oh, there’s more signs than that, but I didn’t keep track,” said Cathy Davis, who was traveling with Kerstetter.

To get into the museum, you need to pay $1. It’s 75 cents for kids ages 6 to 18.

And don’t bother asking the cashiers what the Thing is. They’ve heard it before.

“Legend has it that it was found in the Grand Canyon, so I can tell them that much,” said Carrie Carroll, the store manager.

The path, marked by ominous yellow footprints, leads you through three sheds, filled with some bizarre items.

Mannequins torturing each other, a car that may or may not have been used by Hitler and a piece of a mammoth’s front leg are just some of appetizers before the main course.

And then you come to it, the great “mystery of the desert.”

When asked about their impression of the Thing after all that buildup, visitors’ responses varied.

Jane Barlow, who’d stopped to get gas, summed up her thoughts about the Thing in one word: “Old.”

“Weird,” her traveling companion added.

“We loved it,” Kerstetter said.

No, I’m not telling you what it is.

It's hard to keep a secret in the age of the internet. Though I won’t tell you what the Thing is here, we all know spoilers are just a click away.

But Carroll says that hasn’t affected business.

“Depending on the time of the year, we can see anywhere up to 200 people come through a day to see the Thing,” she said.

She said it’s mostly the billboards -- spanning about 200 miles in each direction -- that keep people coming.

“They see them for miles and miles, especially children,” Carroll said. “We’ve had parents come in and say, ‘We figured out our kids can read.’”

The Thing isn’t going anywhere. So, before you spoil the surprise for yourself, consider stopping by for a look.

Just follow the signs. 

PHOTOS: Strange sights at the Thing museum 

Copyright 2016 KPNX


JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment