With seemingly endless desert miles separating Arizona's roadside businesses from ready consumerism, the key to economic survival is advertising. More specifically, billboards. As many as one can raise.
Extending innumerably to the horizon, highway signboards advertise things the average person wouldn't normally buy had they not been billed in eight-foot type.
RATTLESNAKE EGGS ... MOCCASINS ... OPAL JEWELRY ... APACHE TEARS ...
The messages bombard motorists relentlessly, tunneling through the daze of highway hypnotism and comforting city folk with reminders of civilization. Their numbing repetition entrances motorists into steering toward a particular exit. The less easily charmed are needled into doing so by the younger, backseat passengers captivated by the signs' garish colors.
The least subtle of these shoulder campaigns, stretching all the way from California to Texas, is the bright-yellow series of billboards calling attention to The Thing. Their furtive delivery teases drivers with the unknown like a sideshow barker.
THE THING? A WONDER OF THE DESERT ... THE THING? MYSTERY OF ARIZONA ... THE THING? HAVE YOU SEEN IT? ... THE THING? DON'T MISS IT!
Shameless taunting it may be, but the I-know-something-you-don't-know tactic works. Every day, hundreds of visitors passing between Benson and Willcox give in and take Exit 322 to discover just what this enigmatic Thing really is.
It only takes a dollar to find out. (Seventy-five cents if you're under 19.) Just pay the cashier, then step through the mysterious doorway and follow the yellow footprints.
Within a handful of sheds, you'll discover a farrago of unrelated crap — old cash registers, bear traps and disturbing driftwood sculptures. Over there, something labeled "piece of mammoth's front leg." Up front, a Rolls Royce "believed to have been used by Adolph Hitler," though admittedly "it can't be proved." As implied by the big blue question mark in the attraction's logo, indeterminate credibility is part of the gimmick.
Finally, past hand-carved figures both miniature and life-size, past gold-dust scales and cracked pottery, you see it. Encased in cinder blocks and guarded by what can only be described as Emperor Bigfoot Horsehead, lies the end to your anticipation. The mystifying ... the remarkable ... the unknowable ... THING. What is it? Is it real? Where did it come from? ... Continued on Page 2