If you're ever in southern Arizona, anywhere near Benson, you should make the drive over to Dragoon and visit The Thing roadside attraction, also known as the "Mystery of the Desert." The thing currently known as "The Thing," was originally created by Homer Tate, who "from the 1940s to 1960s crafted mummies, man-animal hybrids and more, selling them to sideshows and carnivals."
According to Scott Craven, writing for AZCentral.com, Tate moved to Apache Junction, AZ in the early 1940s and set up a "museum of the weird." A few years later, "he moved to Phoenix and opened Tate's Curiosity Shop on East Van Buren Street, and he became well-known among sideshows and carnivals." Thomas Binkley Prince and his wife Janet Prince bought the thing now known as "The Thing" in 1950s and began displaying it in their first The Thing roadside attraction on Highway 91 between Barstow and Baker, California. In 1965 they moved the operation to its current location near Benson, AZ.
But this isn't the story told by The Thing's roadside attraction proprietors, who prefer the narrative that "The Thing" was a "discovery made in the cliffs of the Grand Canyon." And the story has recently gotten even more outlandish (and entertaining!). For years "The Thing" (I've seen the creature, but I won't provide any more spoilers!) was housed in a shed behind the Bowlin Travel Center in Dragoon, AZ, which is a combination gas station/souvenir store/Dairy Queen, but a few years ago a proper (and rather impressive) museum was built to house "The Thing." The 12,000-foot museum helps set the context for "The Thing," and provides a new backstory to the mystery.
Bowlin executive Myles Erwin actually created the story, which centers around "warring aliens, rebellious dinosaurs, and the total sum of human history." The museum uses dozens of giant placards and numerous giant sculptures of aliens and dinosaurs to weave a fantastical conspiracy theory about how aliens have manipulated every aspect of history.
Scott Craven, writing for AZCentral.com explains:
The displays of aliens and dinosaurs set up the story of how an advanced race of extraterrestrials arrived more than 65 million years ago to colonize (i.e., steal resources from) Earth. With advanced technology and custom-made saddles, the aliens domesticated the dinosaurs and made themselves at home.
When the dinosaurs rebelled (just go with it), mayhem ensued and in a rather petulant move the aliens hurled an asteroid toward Earth. Spoiler alert: The planet survived.
I've been lucky enough to see The Thing museum twice now, so I have first-hand knowledge of the story on display. Placards ask questions like, "What if The Thing is the last remnant of a prehistoric Cave Dweller?" "What if it was the mysterious cargo that resulted in the sinking of the Lusitania?" "What if it was the ancient alien artifact recovered through a daring mission in WWII?, "What if it is the missing link between humans and aliens from the other side of the galaxy?" and "What if the best way to hide the truth is in plain sight, at an obscure roadside stop in Arizona?"
One sign I saw explained how aliens have re-written history and are controlling our minds and our entertainment:
True to their agreement with the Ammatrria, the Allied leadership from WWII destroyed all evidence related to the existence of aliens. You will not find anything but conspiracy theories and rumors today.
Since the late 1940s, our culture has been obsessed with the notion of life beyond our planet. From the seven wonders of the Ancient World, to the entertainment we enjoy every night.
What if our books, TV programs, websites, and technology come from an outside influence? The human race seems to think we know everything. But, even the most intelligent scientists make new discoveries every day.
How could so many people across the globe invent these ideas without some shred of truth leaking out? How could these ideas proliferate our culture so completely? How can man come up with so many technological advancements in such a short time? What if these mysterious beings are controlling our minds, just as they did with the dinosaurs? Wil the truth ever be revealed? What if aliens make themselves known one day, and if they do, what will happen?
As Craven explains:
All the usual conspiracies are explained. The Bermuda Triangle? Aliens. The assassination of JFK? Aliens. The immense popularity of Elvis? Oh yeah, aliens.
It all culminates inside a darkened cavern where The Thing rests in its Plexiglass tomb. If you ask, "What the heck does the Thing have to do with dinosaurs and aliens?" you haven't been paying attention.
I can say from experience that after weaving my way through the 12,000-foot museum, finally approaching "The Thing" at the end of the journey was equal parts exhilarating and disappointing. I mean, how could it live up to its hype? I firmly believe that a trip to The Thing roadside attraction is a must, however, at least once in a lifetime, if purely for the incredible kitschiness of it all. You can read more about The Thing roadside attraction here, and you should definitely put it on your list of places to visit.