The old Route 66 across the U.S. is a favorite kitsch thing to follow for a peek back into the way things were in the middle of the 20th century. Part of Route 66 has been replaced by Interstate 40 in Amarillo, Texas. It is there, in the middle of a farmer’s field of crops, about 50 yards from the service road on the outskirts of Amarillo, that I found three tourists from Argentina following Route 66 and gazing at a most unique and unusual sight: 10 “Cadillacs” half-buried nose down in a line, dubbed Cadillac Ranch. If you don’t know where to look, it’s easy to miss, as the installation is just far enough from the roadway that it fades into the horizon. On a recent trip to Amarillo, I found that people from around the world know about this place and visit it as if it were a modern-day Stonehenge.
The snow had just melted from an early season snowfall in October. The sun was barely up. It was cold. The grounds around the Cadillacs were muddy, and ice collected in the tiny puddles that surrounded each burial site. But this did not stop the constant stream of visitors who walked from the roadside to get an up-close view of the Cadillacs.
Some people come with cans of spray paint and add their own touch to the heavily painted cars. A sign at the highway gate onto the farm says, “Do Not Litter,” yet there are spray paint cans strewn all around. Some still have some paint in them. Those who arrive without paint took some of these left-overs to leave their mark.
At the highway, the gate to the farm has also been spray painted, as has the barbed wire fencing and the metal posts for the fence in either direction from the gate for as far as you can see. Two nearby dumpsters remain empty with trash strewn around them. The dumpsters themselves have been spray painted.
The spray painting has obviously been going on a while. You can tell this because some visitors arrive with knives to cut away the thick paint to give themselves a fresh palate on which to do their designs. In places the paint is about an inch thick, so thick that the Cadillacs seem to lose their form and become just cars. It is hard to identify the Cadillacs as Cadillacs anymore.
I was afraid I’d be too late when I had read several weeks prior to my visit that someone had set fire to the installation. Whatever they did, it didn’t substantially damage the site. But it got me thinking, “Who would want to set fire to this place? What is the point?”
It’s all in good fun, I think. I look at it as an art installation by some creative people who convinced a random farmer to allow it. Truth is it was the brainchild of an eccentric rich man from Amarillo who commissioned a group of San Francisco artists to create a statement about the golden age of the automobile. Currently, it seems to make a point about materialism or elitism. Nevertheless, it’s one of the most popular places to visit in Amarillo, which may mean that Amarillo is hipper than we thought. Several times the cars have been painted to make a specific statement, such as in 2005 when all were painted pink in connection with breast cancer awareness.
The site was installed in 1974 and moved in 1977 to accommodate an expanding Amarillo. Reach the site from the eastbound service road between exits 60 and 62 off Interstate 40. Entrance is free, and the site is open 24/7.