ILX Drive: “The Thing” in Dragoon, Arizona

Odometer (Legend):  529,490


Odometer (ILX):  79,440


Trip Distance:  358 Miles


I’m such a gigantic sucker for tourist traps.


How did it take me this many years to succumb to the temptation and check out “THE THING”?  I’m not sure, but I finally took the opportunity to visit a roadside attraction that I’ve passed by dozens of times.  It’s located along the remote reaches of Interstate 10 in southern Arizona, in the desert landscape between Tucson and El Paso.  I took my 2013 Acura ILX for a day-trip on Saturday to see what this place was all about.


Leaving the Tucson area eastbound, motorists are assaulted right away by bright yellow billboards in rapid succession, advertising this so-called “Mystery of the Desert.”  It’s enough to make you wonder, “What in the heck is it?”  And that’s exactly what the entrepreneurs who run “The Thing” want you to do!  By the time I arrived at Exit 222 for Johnson Road about 40 miles later, I had counted upwards of 15-20 billboards with various messages luring me in.


You really can’t miss this place.  Just when you start zoning out as the interstate makes its way through some rocky outcroppings, your eye is caught by the giant yellow structure.  There might as well have been a fishing line reeling my ILX into the parking lot because I had taken the bait big time.  I plunked down $1 cash and told the cashier, “One adult admission please.”  The man pointed to a door against the back wall and said, “Go through the door.  Follow the yellow footprints.  The Thing is in the third building.”  And off I went toward the entrance.



I thought that the entrance door would lead me into a dark, enclosed room of some sort.  My eyes were blinded when it instead opened up to the outside.  The adventure just kept getting weirder.  Yes, there were yellow painted footprints on the sidewalk ahead of me, so I followed the cashier’s instructions to see where they’d take me.  It felt like some sort of treasure hunt.  Each of the 3 buildings was a giant warehouse of sorts with artifacts on display.  The first had a couple of antique cars (1932 Buick and a 1937 Rolls-Royce), each covered up in a thick layer of dust.


I picked up my walking speed a little bit.  “What is this stuff?  Take me to The Thing already!” I thought to myself.  I paused just momentarily to check out a few other things.  Mannequins, an old phonograph, various vintage pieces of furniture, guns, and Indian artifacts.  Cool, but I wanted to see The Thing.  Continuing on I went:  Building 1, then outside, then Building 2, then outside, then, I entered Building 3 at last.  A colorful banner told me that I’d arrived.  I felt like Clark Griswold when he finally spotted the perfect family Christmas tree.


There it was.


“It’s A Wonder!”

Yes, indeed.  So, there was The Thing in all its glory, enclosed in a cinderblock vault with a plexiglass cover over the top.  So, what was it?  I think I’m going to be a tease and let the secret remain.  Hahaha!

I grabbed a mushroom Swiss hamburger at the Dairy Queen attached to the gift shop before heading back toward Phoenix.  It felt great to finally know what The Thing was.  Here are the rest of my pics from the trip!

Pit stop in Benson, Arizona near Tombstone


Sandstone rock formation on I-10


Exiting at Johnson Road where The Thing is located


From the outside, the warehouses at The Thing are painted vivid colors.


I followed the dirt road around toward the Big Rig parking because I wanted the full experience.


Hype?  Yeah, lots of it.


In we go.


Souvenirs galore.  Yes, this place is a definite tourist trap.


Here are those yellow footsteps.


Building #1


The 1937 Rolls.  Sign reads:  “This antique car was believed to have been used by Adolf Hitler.  The Thing is, though, it can’t be proved.”  Clever.


More footsteps leading to the next building.


This one felt like a museum.


Edison phonograph.  “Plays Cylindrical Records,” the sign said.


What the heck?  A bedroom set in this building.


Post-tour lunch @ DQ.


And back to Phoenix I went!  Drive time was about 2.5 hours each way.


Thanks for joining!

12 Responses to “ILX Drive: “The Thing” in Dragoon, Arizona”

  1. THE THING IS – you didn’t tell us what it was! LOL Nice little get away trip. I guess I’ll have to see it for myself one day.

    • If anyone twists my arm hard enough, I’ll post a link to a picture I took of THE THING. Just didn’t want to spoil it in the article itself, in case anyone wants to discover it in person. haha

  2. I have seen both “The Thing” movies (the one from 1951 and the one from 1982. You probably did not run into one of those otherwise you would not have been able to write this article 🙂

    • Haha, I didn’t even realize there was such movie! Now I’m going to have to check it out. As it turns out, “The Thing” was pretty harmless but just due to all the creepy stuff in those museums (mannequins and such) I probably wouldn’t want to be there at midnight. Under a full moon. Alone. Without a flashlight.

  3. Tyson, you have to check out both movies. If you have Netflix, put them on your queue. Both movies are legendary. The one from 1951 is black and white and the 1982 one is in color. They are science fiction monster movies. That is why I was concerned when i saw that box at the end where the thing is located. There was also a large piece of frozen ice shaped like a box in both of those movies.

    • Ok, thanks for the tip! I don’t have Netflix but I have friends who do. Gotta check those out. Also, for those who are absolutely dying to know. Here’s a pic of The Thing. SPOILER ALERT, DON’T CLICK HERE UNLESS YOU WANT TO SEE IT! 🙂

  4. I thought by your title you went to see a VW thing

    • Haha, I didn’t even think of that! I haven’t seen a VW Thing in a very long time. They’ve probably all been picked up by crazy collectors by now.

  5. You’d love Gatlinburg, TN if you like tourist traps!

  6. I’m glad you kept the code of The THING? going!

    Gatlinburg is rather scary with the sheer volume of roadside crap there. And of course, the center of the whole thing is Dollywood!

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