Everyone’s heard the song with the catchy chorus “get your kicks… on Route 66”, but few know where this mythical road is and what cities it connects. I was counted among the majority for whom the name is a mere cultural reference to a time past until we left Flagstaff, Arizona and I started noticing signs that said “Historical Route 66”. This required some further research. While staying over in Albuquerque I looked for info on the old route and found way more than I really needed. Turns out the original Route 66 went from Detroit to Los Angeles passing through Albuquerque and Las Vegas as well as a bunch of hole-in-the-wall cities like Amarillo, Texas. And although the original route is no longer the main thoroughfare from point Motor City to point the City of Angels the modern highway system runs parallel with it for long stretches, merges with it at times and there are signs pointing you to the historical route when the two diverge too much.
But what’s so special about this road anyway? Like I said it used to be the shortest route from the North East to the South West and it runs through what can only be described as a whole lot of nothing. So why all the legends and nostalgia? The answer lies hidden in the hundreds of weird cultural remnants left by the beatniks, hippies and other societal fringe dwellers that made this road their common home. One such relic is the bizarre installation called Cadillac Ranch found along the freeway on the west side of Amarillo.
OLD CARS, NEW PAINT
On paper there isn’t that much to it: Cadillac Ranch consists of ten old Cadillacs buried front down at “the same angle as the Kheops pyramid” in a row in the middle of a field. The cars are gutted and completely covered in graffiti – something that is encouraged by the owner, Helium millionaire and artist Stanley Marsh 3 who created the art piece back in 1974. Sounds pretty stupid, right? Well, it does until you get there.
Standing in front of the cars you can’t deny that this is art in one form or another. It is a feat in itself to bury one car like this up to its windshield at such a weird angle. But to put down ten in a row at precisely the same angle is impressive and shows that the artist put a lot of time and effort into it. The piece is also something of a satirical comment on modern day consumer and automotive society. These cars are not cheap and burying ten of them like this sends a pretty strong message about how our society is built around disposable items and how the automobile for all its usefulness is reduced to a massive hunk of steel and rubber once it’s rendered useless.
That’s my perception anyway (I can totally see my mom rolling her eyes at this and mumbling something about how art is really just a big hoax). But to me this is meaningful and it is art. Not to mention it makes for damn cool pictures.
Considering that Amarillo really is a tiny pile of nothing with only one other attraction – The Big Texan Steakhouse – I’d say Cadillac Ranch is a must-visit if you’ve accidentally or intentionally made your way into the middle of nowhere, USA.