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Cadillac Ranch: The Story Behind Texas’ Quintessential Roadside Art

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In Amarillo, just off of I-40 exit 60 in a giant field, lies a road trip legend and one of the most iconic roadside attractions in Texas. For lovers of Route 66 lore, Cadillac Ranch is holy ground. People from all over the world gather in the dusty Texas Panhandle field to make their mark on the nearly unrecognizable cars buried nose first in the dirt. They wield cans of spray paint, take aim and deface the beloved roadside landmark. And the creators of one of America’s most beloved folk art installation wouldn’t have it any other way.

A Billionaire and an Ant Farm

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Cadillac Ranch was created by an art group from San Francisco known as the Ant Farm, made up of Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez and Doug Michels. But they had help from Stanley Marsh 3, an eccentric Texas millionaire who reveled in rattling the Amarillo population. Over the years, Marsh 3 funded a number of public art projects, including a series of fake traffic signs with phrases such as “Road Does Not End” and “Lubbock is a Grease Spot.” Cadillac Ranch was intended to show the evolution of the Cadillac, particularly the “tailfin” feature that defined the cars for a time. The Ant Farm modeled after the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.

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Occasionally, Cadillac Ranch devotees paint the cars different colors to correspond with special events. Folks painted the cars all pink in honor of Marsh 3’s wife’s birthday, all black after the passing of Ant Farm member Doug Michels and rainbow colors in recognition of Gay Pride Day.

A Route 66 Tradition

But no matter what colors the cars are painted, the artistic endeavors don’t last long. On every surface inch of the cars, you’ll find about four decades of spray paint buildup from eager travelers. Thankfully, the creators now encourage the defacement of their public art installation. Cadillac Ranch is a rite of passage for anyone traveling the Mother Road to visit Cadillac Ranch and leave a bit of themselves behind.

I went to the the Cadillac Ranch

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Cadillac Ranch has inspired a number of other vehicular roadside attractions. There’s the International Car Forest of the Last Church in Nevada. And the “Carhenge” of Alliance, Neb. Oh, and the “Truckhenge” of Topeka, Kansas. But a trip to the original weird American roadside attraction should be on everyone’s bucket list.

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Cadillac Ranch: The Story Behind Texas’ Quintessential Roadside Art