I'm not entirely sure why, but I've always considered Cadillac Ranch something of a mecca for roadside tourists like myself. Perhaps it's because it was one of the first offbeat roadside attractions I ever became aware of as a kid. Perhaps also, while being so easily and widely recognized, it has just as much to do with its famous association with my home state of Texas. But, whatever the reason, I one day realized how strange it was that I had never seen it in person and so figured it was about time.
And if Cadillac Ranch really is to be considered a true roadside mecca, then the full and tedious six-hour drive from Fort Worth makes for an appropriate pilgrimage — a journey both long and with not much to see in between. Farm after farm, dotted with the occasional pre-burger herd or corrugated-steel Quonset hut. Nothing at all passing by at 75 miles per hour with regular speed zones allowing drivers for a short time to admire nothing at all passing by at a much slower pace.
But, at the end of this nothing, just outside the relative something of Amarillo, is where Cadillac Ranch makes its home. Ten trunks, forged between 1949 and 1963, thrust stoically above the barren landscape like a queue of Kubrickesque monoliths — a row of ten perfectly aligned classic vehicles that would today be coveted collector's items had they not been buried grill-first in the dry soil of the Texas panhandle and left to rust.
Several myths are perpetuated about the origin of Cadillac Ranch, probably the most popular of which recounts how an eccentric Texas millionaire would buy one automobile after another, burying each of them in succession as they would eventually give out.
The truth, however, isn't nearly as far-fetched, though there is the eccentric millionaire. His name is Stanley Marsh 3 — he feels that "III" is too pretentious — and is a driving force in unusual artistic endeavors in the Amarillo area.
In 1973, Marsh invited an artists' collective called Ant Farm to help in the creation of a unique work of art for his ranch. They developed a concept, sprung from imagery of tail fins and dolphin's backsides sticking up from oceans' waters. A budget was proposed and Marsh approved.
The group then set about acquiring used Cadillacs. The collection, eleven in all, ranged in model year from 1948 to 1963. Holes were dug and ten of the Caddys were nudged headlong into the ground. (No word on what happened to the remaining vehicle.)
On May 28 of the following year, by Marsh's generosity and love for the absurd, a legend was born — or buried, however you want to look at it. The final result would represent the rise and fall of the classic American tail fin.
In 1997, Cadillac Ranch was exhumed and replanted about two miles to the west in order to escape the encroaching city, but it has otherwise remained the same ever since it was erected. That is, of course, except for its coloring, which changes almost continuously. Visitors come from all over the world to leave their mark and to add to the years of ever-thickening paint, which at this point, may be the only thing keeping the cars together.
And if we're lucky, it will remain together for decades to come. But, you never know — one swift twister and the whole thing could be sucked into the sky and lost forever. So, don't wait like I did. Get there as soon as you can. And be sure to bring a fresh can of Krylon.
Update: May 29, 2002, saw the restoration of Cadillac Ranch to its original coloration, though it didn't last long. Find out more.
Update: On June 22, 2003, Cadillac Ranch was painted over once again, this time in flat black, in response to the passing of a founding member of Ant Farm. Find out more.
Update: On June 21, 2004, fans of Cadillac Ranch celebrated its 30th anniversary. Find out more.