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 Texas : Trips : Drives

CADILLAC RANCH

Photos and text by M.M.Harris

“Art is a legalized form of insanity, and I do it very well." - Stanley Marsh 3

Who would have thought that burying ten old Cadillacs in an Amarillo dirt farm in 1974 would make such an indelible mark on Texas roadside attraction maps? The product of helium millionaire Stanley Marsh 3’s eccentric mind, Cadillac Ranch was designed with a California-based artist collective called Ant Farm as an homage to the Golden Age of American Automobiles (1949-1963) and to the historic Route 66 which passes by Marshs’ palatious West Texas ranch.

(Stanley Marsh 3 inspired the creators (Trey Parker and Matt Stone) of the television cartoon South Park to name one of their main child characters after Marsh.)

With the distinctive fins of the cars prominently displayed, the cars are buried nose-down “at the same angle as The Great Pyramid of Giza”, the only remaining structure of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Cadillac Ranch Texas sunset
Panhandle Sunset
I went out to see the caddies myself on Wednesday, December 5, 2007 just before sundown. The setting sun made for a stellar backdrop to view the legendary vehicles and I perused the lanes carefully reading all the impassioned messages sprayed on about who loved who and who smelled like what and why. I was surprised to find that the few people who came and went while I was there were from all over the world, including Berlin, Montreal, Detroit, Los Angeles and even a couple of local artists from Amarillo.

Purchased for around $200 each, the cars were rescued from junk yards across the country and were either hoisted into their holes, or driven head-first into their final resting places. In the beginning, the cars held onto their original classic paint jobs, but visitors were compelled to etch their names or spray paint slogans onto the sides of the cars. The practice has become a tradition, and today, one can find the grounds surrounding the cars smattered with spray cans, markers and paint brushes.

Since I was little, I have been enamored with the idea of the Cadillac Ranch. What would motivate a person to do something so extraordinary? Why are tourists drawn to it? What is the world’s secret fascination with the absurd? Now, twenty-five years after first hearing about Cadillac Ranch, I stood in awe of the sheer craziness of it and somehow felt a little weight lift off my shoulders, as if the art was saying “Life is crazy. Enjoy it and don’t sweat.” I smiled an easy smile all the way back to my car, parked 100 yards away at the gate.
Cadillac Ranch sign, Amarillo Texas
Texas Whimsey and Bodies by Fisher
Layers of anthropological fingerprints in the form of spray painted love notes, etched “Kilroys” and inane scribblings on the famed caddies. Over the years, the cars have been painted and repainted many times. In 2002, the cars were transported back to their original colors, and in 2003, they mourned in flat black to commemorate the passing of the founder of Ant Farm.

In 1997, urban sprawl forced an exhumation of Cadillac Ranch and a replanting two miles away in its’ current location of I-40 just west of Amarillo. Not only were the cars moved and replaced in exactly the same situations, but the trash and surrounding debris was also moved and scattered about the new location.
Cadillac Ranch Amarillo Texas
Earl Schieb's Nightmare
Cadillac Ranch Amarillo Texas
So many Cadillacs - so little time.
Cadillac Ranch Amarillo Texas
The usual suspect.
Stanley Marsh 3, himself, is subject to almost as much rumor and arm-chair speculation as his art installations. Claiming that “III” is too pretentious, Marsh opted instead to use the number “3” behind his name. Marsh is also responsible for the Ozymandias Legs, a statue of pseudo-ancient legs in the middle of a cow pasture based on a Percy Bysshe Shelley poem and complete with a convincing pseudo-historical marker, and Dynamite Museum, a continuing art installation consisting of mock traffic signs, random pictures and phrases scattered through out the city of Amarillo. Further, Marsh has had some interesting run-ins with local police, including holding an 18-year-old boy hostage in a chicken coop in his back yard in 1994 for stealing one of his Dynamite Museum art signs.

It seems that eccentrics across the country liked Cadillac Ranch well enough to copy it for themselves. Alliance, Nebraska features Carhenge and Berwyn, Illinois has Cars-on-a-Spike. My favorite offshoot has to be Combine City located (where else?) in Amarillo, which features several combines (or farm tractors) sprouting from the earth as if grown like the wheat they thresh.

Note: If the presentation seems a little static, visitors can liven it up by spinning a tire (or hub). The rear axles have been adjusted so that when you spin a tire on one of the cars, opposite tire will spin in the opposite direction.

Copyright M.M. Harris
"They shoe horses, don't they?" December 15 , 2007 Guest Column

Tom Jones at the Cadillac Ranch:

Line of Cadillacs, Cadillac Ranch Amarillo Texas
If those odometers could only talk.
See also Tom Jones at the Cadillac Ranch.

Conway Bugg Ranch:

Photographer's Note:
I first spotted pictures of the Conway Bugg Ranch on Google Earth and put it on my Must See List. It is a real rival to the Cadillac Ranch - Barclay Gibson, July 2009
Painted cars in Bugg Ranch, Conway Texas
Bring your own paint.
See Conway Bugg Ranch
Cadillac Ranch Area Accommodations:
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