Americans have been taking road trips across this big beautiful land from east to west and back again for centuries. It all started with the pioneers. Of course, those hearty souls did it without actual roads. Fortunately, our highway system (and vehicles) have come a long way since those horse-drawn wagons with wooden wheels. Our Globetrotting Grandmom drove a sporty Ford Mustang on this Texas road trip. And she saw the iconic Cadillac Ranch, a one-of-a-kind roadside attraction.
Funky roadside attractions? Yes, please!
Roadside attractions have always fascinated me. Maybe it stems from all the road trips I took with my family while I was growing up. If there was something strange along the way, my family would find it. Or maybe it’s because I happen to like funky unexpected displays of strangeness. Whatever the reason, I’m a sucker for quirky roadside attractions.
On a West Texas road trip, I found the granddaddy of them all: Cadillac Ranch.
I’d heard about Cadillac Ranch for years but until recently, I had never seen it for myself. And, I must admit, when I learned that I could spray paint my own “art” on the Cadillacs that comprise Cadillac Ranch, I kind of geeked out with excitement. But, what I learned about Cadillac Ranch surprised me.
Why Would Anyone Bury Cadillacs in the Dirt?
I never really gave a lot of thought as to why someone would bury 10 classic Cadillacs nose down in the dirt in the middle of a field along historic Route 66. Seriously, who spends time thinking about those kinds of things? Perhaps I should have.
Cadillac Ranch is the brain child of a group called the Ant Farm based out of San Francisco. Founders, Chip Lord, Doug Michels and Hudson Marquez often made use of popular American icons to display the trends in current cultural imagery. The Cadillac Ranch project was sponsored by and installed on the property of Texas millionaire Stanley Marsh 3. He is described as a philanthropist but also a prankster. (As the third in his family to be named Stanley Marsh, he preferred the moniker ‘3’ rather than ‘III’ because he thought it less pretentious.) Ownership of the property was transferred to a family trust just before Marsh’s death in 2014.
To create the Cadillac Ranch, 10 Cadillacs were driven into one of Stanley Marsh 3’s fields. Then they were half-buried, nose-down, in the dirt (supposedly at the same angle as the Great Pyramid of Giza). They face west in a line, chronologically from the 1949 Club Sedan to the 1963 Sedan de Ville, their tail fins held high for all to see. The exhibit is a tribute to the rise and fall of American culture – just like the rise and fall of the Cadillac tail fin.
So Maybe They Aren’t What They Used To Be, But Who Is?
When the Cadillacs were buried in 1974, minimal thought was given to preservation. As a result, most of the cars no longer have doors, tail lights, bumpers and other not-so-necessary parts. Initially, people would scratch their names into the paint. Today everyone brings spray paint and adds their own interpretation to this iconic exhibit of Americana.
People from all over the world come to view the Cadillacs, make their own personalized mark with spray paint and take home a memory like none other. No one really knows how many people have been to Cadillac Ranch. But it’s estimated that more than 40,000 cars travel through Amarillo every day. More than half of them drive by the Cadillac Ranch, which is visible from the highway.
Hand Over the Spray Paint, It’s My Turn
With a touch of spray paint, I added something that vaguely resembled a heart. But I’m quite certain it disappeared within hours because there were plenty of other visitors waiting to make their marks. As you might imagine, the paint is pretty thick on these old Cadillacs.
If you can’t bear to leave without taking a piece of the Cadillac Ranch home with you, stop by Lile Art Gallery on Historic Route 66 where artist “Crocodile Bob Lile” creates artwork and jewelry from the paint chips he gathers at the Cadillac Ranch.
And just so you know, the Home Depot closest to the Cadillac Ranch sells more spray paint than any other Home Depot in the country.
Road Trip Tip
To get to Cadillac Ranch, take exit 64 off I-40 West and travel west along the I-40 Frontage road. The first stop should be at the Home Depot to buy a can (or more) of spray paint. Then head west and watch for the Cadillacs. Park beside the field off the road and let yourself in the gate.
What I Drove
As far as I’m concerned there are only two vehicles worthy of a Texas road trip: a pick up truck or a sports car. A truck makes sense because it’s what everyone drives in Texas.
But there’s something sexy about hauling you-know-what down the road at the generous Texas speed limits in a fabulously cool sports car. Enter the Ford Mustang 2.3L Ecoboost Premium Coupe dressed in “Competition Orange” with ebony racing stripes.
No contest, I was taking that Mustang. Besides, the Ford Mustang is part of my personal history. My first car was a ’66 Ford Mustang. It was white with a baby blue interior, 3-speed manual transmission, air conditioning and a radio that would tune in to any AM radio station my heart desired.
What you need to know about the new Mustang
- Creature Comforts: Leather seats, dual climate control
- Back Seat: Not very big! The Mustang is best for couples, a solo traveler or a girls’ trip with your BFF. Possibly a small family, but the back seat is a tight fit, so it would only be comfortable for a child (preferably one who can get in and out by herself; getting into the back to buckle a kid could be a challenge).
- Technology: Two USB Ports work just fine for that couple, solo traveler or BFF girls’ trip. Apple CarPlay let me access my favorite songs and easy to use navigation kept me from getting lost on those lonely Texas highways.
- Safety Package: Blind sport warning, rain sensing wipers and adaptive cruise control make this an easy, safe road trip warrior.
- Trunk Space: Surprisingly spacious for a sports car, just don’t travel with an overpacker.
- Gas Mileage: Dealer estimates were on target, 25 in the city and 32 on the highway. I averaged 28 overall.
- Price: The top of the line version I drove retails for less than $40,000.
Maybe I’ll drive it on up to Nebraska and take a look at Car Henge—the addiction is real.