A big country that offers an incredibly diverse variety and vast number of sites for the dark tourist ranging from rather exotic things like the underground coal fires of Centralia
, to immensely popular and well-developed attractions such as Alcatraz
. The range of sites also covers the full scale from the ultra-serious and deeply dark (e.g. the US Holocaust Museum
) to rather quirkier and exotic aspects (such as the Barringer Crater
or the Titan missile museum
A comparatively large proportion of dark sites in the US revolve around the Cold War
, in particular the development, testing and deployment of nuclear weapons, which makes the US the absolute No. 1 destination for nuclear tourism (the No. 2 being Kazakhstan
I've been to the USA a few times, including three extensive field trips to do research for this website – one to the north-east from New York to Ohio, another to the south-west, from Texas to Nevada, and most recently one to the far west and north-west, from California, via Washington State to Chicago
in the Midwest.
Of course this huge country is such a treasure trove for dark tourists that I will have to return again to do even more fieldwork, especially in the Deep South, where I have so far never been.
Here's a list of all the US sites covered so far on this website (some still only stubs), roughly ordered north-east to south-west, and beginning with the big cities:
- "Hindenburg" crash site
, Lakehurst, New Jersey
ghost town & burning coal fields, Pennsylvania
- Harrisburg Three Mile Island plant
- West Virginia Penitentiary
, Moundsville, West Virginia
- Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum
, Weston, West Virginia
- The Greenbrier nuclear bunker
, West Virginia
- the US Air Force Museum with the "Bockscar"
, Dayton, Ohio
- National Civil Rights Museum
, Memphis, Tennessee
- the Hanford Site
, Washington State
- Mount St Helens
, Washington State
- Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum
- National Museum of Funeral History
, Houston, Texas
- Los Alamos & Bradbury Science Museum
, New Mexico
- National Museum of Nuclear Science & History
, Albuquerque, New Mexico
- Trinity site
, White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico
- El Paso
- Titan Missile Museum
, near Tucson, Arizona
- AMARG plane 'boneyard' and Pima Air & Space Museum
, Tucson, Arizona
- the Barringer meteor crater
- the NTS
- Atomic Testing Museum
, Las Vegas, Nevada
Note that some of the USA's possessions in the Pacific
, most importantly Hawaii
, have their own separate entries on this website.
Travel to the USA
involves a degree of bureaucracy and restrictions – esp. since the terrorist attacks of 9/11
, but that shouldn't deter tourists (only terrorists). Once you're let in, travel is easy and pretty relaxed. Except for some of the big cities, a car is a necessity for getting around and to the places covered here (one notable exception is the Greenbrier
, which can be reached by train, despite its rural location!).
Driving in the States is comparatively calm and smooth-flowing – mainly thanks to low speed-limits, good roads and cruise control, that quintessential American automotive feature by which you can set a given speed to auto so that you can take both feet off the pedals and only have to keep a finger on the steering wheel in order to stay in lane. I found that all this makes a marked difference compared to driving on motorways in Europe, which can be a lot more stressful (esp. in Germany
with their racing car speeds and aggressive driving habits). In the US, driving long distances is nowhere near as nerve-grating.
Navigation without a satnav (GPS) is a slightly different matter, as signposting is not always the clearest and on multi-lane expressway intersections/exits lanes can confusingly branch off in all directions at once (literally left, right and centre), so it's crucial you know which lane you have to be in. I tried to get by the traditional way, just with good preparation and map reading, and got lost several times. Since then I've always taken a satnav (GPS) along and found it a massive relief.
Hiring a rental car isn't as expensive in the States as it can be in many other countries and fuel is still comparatively cheap too (no matter how much the Americans moan about rising prices) – although, on the other hand, some of the cars can still be right gas-guzzlers at the same time, especially all those unnecessary SUVs and big pickups clogging up city streets.
Note that drop-off fees charged when returning a hire car in a different state from the one you picked it up in can be astronomical. When I picked up a car in Seattle and dropped it off in Chicago, this cost me more than the car rental cost for two weeks (and that was one of the better deals – some companies would have charged as much as $800 extra!).
Accommodation options in the US vary greatly, from top-end luxury at crippling rates to grotty budget motels. Price is not always an accurate gauge but an indication. At the lower end of budget motels things are more down to a matter of luck – I found some very cheap motels of quite superb quality contrasting with rather grottier experiences at the very same price level. A common recommendation is to have rooms shown to you before settling on staying at a given motel. At least in the Northeast I also found that there was always plenty of choices along the main routes, which aids flexibility when travelling around without a fixed itinerary.
In culinary terms, too, the USA can leave an impression of extreme ambivalence, i.e. ranging from admirably high standards to mind-bogglingly abominable. But if you stay away from the omnipresent fast food you can have some fantastic culinary experiences – at least in the big cities. Especially in the cities covered in detail here I enjoyed some fantastic culinary delights, and that in a range of international (as well as regional) cuisines that is nothing short of stunning (see under food & drink
I wish I could say otherwise, but I have to admit that on one occasion I found myself having to cave in to eating at one of those outlets with the world-dominating Golden Arches – if simply for want of any other alternatives at the time and place (still, I didn't have the willpower to just go hungry instead; so yes: I'm guilty …). At the other end of the spectrum I had one the best culinary highlights of my life ever at a Cuban gourmet restaurant in Philadelphia
And as for drinks, the ambivalence continues. Tap water can range from being a health hazard (Washington D.C.
) to being as pure as it gets (e.g. Santa Fe). Soft drinks are mostly fizzy concoctions loaded with sugar (or artificial sweetener), while coffee culture is overburdened with marketing gimmicks, but in some parts fresh fruit juice comes like running water.
When it comes to alcohol, the USA offers some of the best of the best, both in wine (not just California!) and spirits (especially bourbon!), while cocktails are something quintessentially American and rightly renowned.
These days America also leads the world in terms of beer. Yes, indeed, but forget mass-produced tasteless brands such as the one with a name stolen from the Czechs. Such lowest common denominator beers still dominate by bulk of production, but quality craft beer has conquered as much as a quarter of the overall market share by now.
The current craft beer revolution originated in the US (California in particular), and by now in many places the American beer culture has become paradise on Earth. This is especially so on the West Coast, but also in e.g. Denver, Chicago
or New York
. The sheer number of microbreweries that have sprung up over the last few years and the huge variety of high-quality brews is almost overwhelming and covers every conceivable style, from the rediscovered traditional to the experimentally weird. The trend has gained a foothold in Europe and other parts of the world too, but nowhere can compete with the US on this front yet.
One aspect of the US that is a bit tricky to get used to from a European perspective (esp. mine as a German) is the ubiquitous display of "patriotism" that so characterizes the States, especially in the form of the millions of stars-and-stripes flags you see just about everywhere – and find them on sale by the heapload in supermarkets and even pharmacies (so that you have to wonder whether they are indeed supposed to be of medicinal value).
I can't be sure it's more than in the past, but I've been to the US five times now, in 1990, 2002, 2010, 2012 and 2015 and I can't help but getting the impression that all this flag-flying has indeed become much more prevalent. To me it conveys the feeling that the national trauma of 9/11
and the continuing terrorist threat (real or perceived or insinuated) may have turned the home of the brave into the abode of the intimidated.
What hasn't changed, though, is the openness and friendliness of the people – there simply is no denying this: they are mostly a bunch of really nice folks! I may have issues with US patriotism and politics, but the average people redeem the place for me … I know, many Europeans regard the Americans' amiable friendliness as superficial, but I find this aspect of the US genuinely very likeable (and it's always a bit of a shock coming back to Austria
and finding its general grumpiness still in place).
Having mentioned politics – I wouldn't recommend foreigners press for discussing politics when in the States. Unless you can be sure of being with exceptionally well-informed people I'd rather say leave it.
One last thing: travelling in the US requires time – it really is a BIG country and there is so much to see, spread out over such a vast area. Especially out in the large states of the West, travel times can be really significant. But then again, it is THE country of (auto-)mobility, with an infrastructure to support it, so time-intensive as it may be it's never too difficult to get from any A to any B within the US of A.
- US patriotism sets
- USA 01 - the most classic US symbol of them all, made in France
- USA 02 - skyscraper and flag
- USA 03 - national architectural symbols
- USA 04 - ancient building
- USA 05 - the great outdoors, Shenandoah National Park
- USA 06 - trigger-happy country
- USA 07 - the biggest established pro-gun clubs
- USA 08 - school bus and prison
- USA 09 - bizarre approach to healthy eating
- USA 10 - twisted
- USA 11 - it is a manly world out in twister country, Great Plains
- USA 12 - classic road
- USA 12 - on the road again, partly going backwards
- USA 13 - out in the Wild West
- USA 14 - the South-West is a hot territory
- USA 15 - chillies galore
- USA 16 - adobe architecture in Arizona
- USA 17 - rattlesnake perched on a cactus
- USA 18 - not completely lone rider
- USA 19 - grand view of the Grand Canyon
- USA 20 - Colorado River
- USA 21 - Hopi house
- USA 22 - the modern artificialness of Las Vegas
- USA 23 - artificial New York in Las Vegas
- USA 24 - liberty drifting away
- USA 25 - Pacific evening time
- USA 26 - Spanish legacy in California, San Juan Capistrano
- USA 27 - classic Big Sur view
- USA 28 - surfing
- USA 29 - Pigeon Point lighthouse
- USA 30 - rulers of the seas, aircraft carriers at base in San Diego
- USA 31 - half-empty reservoir in drought-ridden California
- USA 32 - agriculture in the desert
- USA 33 - Sequoia National Park
- USA 34 - largest tree in the world
- USA 35 - High Sierras
- USA 36 - hops grown in Yakima valley, Washington
- USA 37 - tall rocks
- USA 38 - Hwy 14 snaking through a canyon
- USA 39 - toxic colours
- USA 40 - wild west kitsch
- USA 41 - Wall, South Dakota
- USA 42 - Badlands National Park
- USA 43 - endless grassland with bison
- USA 44 - once millions of buffalo roamed the prairie
- USA 44 - prairie dog
- USA 45 - evening in the Badlands
- USA 46 - endless corn fields in North Dakota
- USA 47 - giant harvesters