The Thing, The Mystery of the Desert

October 22, 2020By Amy

Mystery of the Desert

Billed as The Thing, this roadside attraction has intrigued travellers on Interstate 10 in Arizona for many decades now. Dozens of yellow signs stretch for miles and simply display “The Thing?”. These signs repeat over and over in either direction. The strategy is genius and builds the sense of needing to know... what exactly is this so-called Mystery of the Desert?

Despite having lived in Arizona for over a decade and the mystery revealed to me years before, I never have made the stop to this location to see it with my own eyes. I would see the exit time and time again heading to and from other destinations but never quite had the time to stop. I really needed to see it for myself! Well, we changed that and finally visited the recently revamped attraction.

Billboard atop building advertising The Thing

History of the Mystery

The Thing was originally a small stop owned by Thomas Binkley Prince and his wife Janet in Barstow in the 1950s. As many tales from that era go, an interstate was built bypassing small attractions and towns which in turn suffered and closed. Not to be deterred, Prince packed up and headed out to Arizona. Situated between Benson and Willcox on Interstate 10, the Thing has sat intriguing visitors for years.

After Thomas passed in 1969, the attraction was run by Janet for numerous years until the property was sold to Bowlin Travel Centers Inc, an Albuquerque company with numerous properties in the Southwest. Travelers still would stop and pay a buck or two to follow yellow painted footsteps to gaze at the Thing before getting back on the road.

However, Bowlin had bigger plans. The attraction was once merely a collection of storage sheds housing strange wood carvings, antique vehicles and other oddities culminating with The Thing. In 2018, the museum reopened after a massive renovation and is now a 12,000 square foot museum and full fledged tourist trap in absolutely the best way.

Statue of an armed alien riding a dinosaur

Aliens vs Dinosaurs

After the renovation, The Thing is currently a large complex with a huge gift shop, Dairy Queen, gas station and well laid out museum. The gift shop offers plenty of the usual roadside mementos as well as art and handmade crafts and jewelry. If you don’t find something that catches your attention here, it likely doesn’t exist. It really is that big.

The exhibit itself underwent the biggest change. What once was a hodgepodge of items now has an immersive story that guides you through the halls. Visitors will be introduced to a backstory about aliens on a dying planet seeking out a new planet and their interaction with dinosaurs. Guests then will be posed with questions about the possibility that aliens have guided humanity throughout the ages.

One can certainly fly through the exhibit stopping to look at these amazing dinosaur sculptures. There’s nothing wrong with that, however, if you make the trek to this location, do yourself a favor and read the signs. It becomes very clear that a lot of time, thought and creativity went into creating a deep and extensive backstory that ties everything together. I found it enhanced my experience and I was making connections at every turn.

Female figure faces glass case with specimen inside

The Thing? What is it?

At the end of the exhibit lies what is the Thing. What is it? Well, if you would prefer to visit and find out for yourself, consider this your spoiler warning here.

After meandering through hallways and reading the backstory about a mysterious finding in the desert of Arizona you will come across what appears to be the mummified remains of a woman and child. Originally visitors could get a closer look and gaze down directly at the body. After the renovations, a rope keeps guests at a distance as they gaze at the illuminated glass case.

The origins of The Thing has been through much scrutiny and speculation. Was it created? Is it natural? Where did The Thing come from? Some theories state that the body is real and that of a migrant mother and child who passed away in the desert. A more common story is that it is a fabrication of Homer Tate, a man known for his “mummies” made from papier mache and dead animals. Many sideshows, carnivals and tourist stops purchased these creations. If you want to see and try to decide.... well, you'll just have to watch our video and see yourself!

Interested in learning more about The Thing? Consider checking out our video, or get directions, pricing info, hours of operation and much more on our information page. Links below.

Camping Near The Thing