The automobile trip from the bleak cities of the Northeast to the sunny shores of Florida via I-95 takes two good days of driving. Halfway there, as you speed between endless miles of pine forest, visible heat rising up off the road, a huge alien sombrero nearly 200 feet high suddenly appears in the distance. Have heat, fatigue and eight ceaseless hours of auto bingo and childrens’ hands grabbing at your sunglasses shredded your senses like old retreads on hot asphalt?
You grin, speed up, and quickly turn off at the next exit, as if compelled by some otherworldly force. The sombrero is, in fact, Sombrero Tower, landmark of the South Of The Border tourist complex. After enduring an accelerating onslaught of 120 billboards for more than 200 miles, this is what you’ve waited to see.
South Of The Border (or SOB, as it’s known to insiders) is a unique amalgam of Dixie and Old Mexico. At first you wonder what all this Mexican stuff is doing in South Carolina, thousands of miles from its natural habitat. But in a remarkably short time you’ll accept SOB as a neon yellow and pink Tijuana, with the added benefit that its inhabitants speak English and its water is safe to drink.
[The abandoned castle at the site of Heritage USA, a now-defunct Christian theme park in Fort Mill, S.C.]
Opened in 1978, Heritage USA was run by Praise The Lord Ministries. By 1986, the park was one of the top attractions in the country. Its run at the top was short-lived, though, as the scandal surrounding Jim Bakker caused attendance to drop.
The park sustained major damages during Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and closed shortly thereafter. The site’s remnants are now a haven for suburban explorers.
Invariably, the site will eventually be converted to become another housing development in suburban Charlotte.