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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

All Along the Watchtower - The South's Best Tourist Lookout Towers

If there is one  sure way to draw tourist dollars at your attraction, its to get them up in a lookout tower.  Not only do these towers pop out in the landscape and draw in tourists.  It gives them an opportunity to pay a few bucks to have a gorgeous view of the surrounding area.  Let's take a look at my Top 5 Southern Lookout Towers.

5.  The Space Needle - Gatlinburg, TN

Height: 407 Feet

Erected: 1969

Design: The visual center point of the tourist town of Gatlinburg, TN.  Connected to an arcade a few bucks will get you a trip to the top.  While not the most original design, it gets the job done.

The View:  The view from the top of the Space Needle is impressive.  You get a full view of the bustling tourist mecca surrounded by the Smokey Mountains

4.  The Citrus Tower - Clermont, FL

Height: 226 Feet

Erected: 1956

Design: The Citrus Tower is not well advertised and many may pass by this odd looking tower and not know its function.  The Citrus Tower is a true piece of pre-Disney Florida tourism.  The tower was erected to showcase Florida's citrus industry.  Currently the tower sits on top of a dead mini-mall with no open shops, except for a makeshift stand that sells tickets for the elevator.

One interesting feature is the wishing well, which let's you drop a coin all the way to the bottom of the tower.

The View: Remember that the Citrus tower's function was to show off the citrus industry and the acres of citrus groves that dotted the area.  Sadly, the citrus groves are no more, replaced with condos and Walmarts.

The saving grace of this tower's view may be the unique look it gives you of the President's Hall of Fame, next door.

3. The Prayer Tower - Oral Roberts University - Tulsa, OK

Height: 220 Feet

Erected: 1967

Design: The center point of of the seriously Christian Oral Roberts University is nothing short of breathtaking.  One of the most unique and visibly striking towers on this list.  The observation area is modeled to look like Jesus's crown of thorns and there is an eternally burning flame on the top.

View: Now, full disclosure, when I visited the tower the observation tower was closed, so I did not get a chance to get inside the tower.  Check out THIS video online to get an idea of what the view looks like.  It is apparent that the outside stylization compromised the view.  The crown points block a large portion of the view.  Also, the observation deck was built in the middle of the tower, meaning its not all that high off the ground.  However, the tower was designed to give you a look around the campus, and does show off some of the amazing retro architecture that can be found at Oral Roberts University.

2. The Sunsphere - Knoxville, TN

Height: 266 Feet

Erected: 1982

Design:  The Sunsphere was built for the 1982 World's Fair and has been a iconic symbol of Knoxville ever since.  The Sunsphere was immortalized in the Simpsons Episode "Bart on the Road" were the Sunsphere was shown to have gone derelict and being used to store old wigs, as well as being redubbed "The Wigsphere".  While this isn't exactly factual, the Sunsphere was essentially abandoned for the majority of three decades with no one really sure what to do with it.   Fortunately the observation tower was finally reopened to the public in 2007.

View: An odd design flaw of the Sunsphere is while it is an iconic part of the skyline, it was built in the lowest point in the city meaning the surrounding buildings tower over it.  Because of this the view is mostly restricted to the immediate area and the buildings directly surrounding the Sunsphere.  Take a look at the video below as I take you on a tour of the Sunsphere.

1. The Sombrero Tower - South of the Border - Dillon, SC

Height: 200 Feet

Erected: 1950s

Design:  South of the Border is simply put one of the most iconic roadside attractions in all of the South.  It is easily the most tacky place on planet earth and has served as a roadside oasis for weary travelers since the 1950s.  One of the most iconic sites is their legendary Sombrero Tower.  While traveling along 1-95 a giant sombrero emerges over the horizon and you know that you are in for a treat.  It even lights up in a pure neon glow at night.

The view:  Sadly, getting a chance to ride the Sombrero tower can be rare, as it functions intermittently at best, but I have been lucky enough to ride to the top.  The slightly sketchy experience of sitting in the brim of a giant sombrero 200 feet in the air is a ounce in a lifetime experience.

The view is breathtaking and at the same time bizzare.  If you look out on one side of the Sombrero you look down at the madness that is South of the Border.....

However, on the other side, there is nothing, but a lonely highway and miles and miles of nothingness.

The Carpetbagger

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