An iconic roadside stop just outside of Amarillo, Texas, Cadillac Ranch is worth the stop. We visited during our 2021 cross-country road trip to move my friend out to Arizona. I’ve passed by this place two times prior and I wasn’t going to miss it a third time. For those unaware of what the heck a “Cadillac Ranch” is, it’s more or less a car Stonehenge (if you’re interested in reading about the real Stonehenge, you can check that out here Stonehenge: Not Just a Pile of Rocks. 🤪). It’s located in a large, flat, cow pasture, and you can see the “ranch” from the interstate. However, the cars are actually located quite a ways into the field and appear rather small from the interstate. Officially located at 13651 I-40 Frontage Rd, Amarillo, TX, it could be easily missed if you weren’t paying attention and especially if you didn’t know it was there. It’s hours are listed as simply “daylight hours”.
The “ranch” is the creation of Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez, and Doug Michels, who were all part of an art group called Ant Farm. It was created in 1974 and consists of 10 Cadillacs (all made between 1949 and 1963) buried nose-first deep into the ground. If you’ve ever watched the children’s movie Cars, or ridden the Cars ride at Disneyland California Adventure, you’ve seen an artist’s rendition of these very Caddies. They routinely make the list of America’s most famous roadside attractions and have been painted over so many times that there is probably a 10-inch-thick coat of paint over every car.
The cars were originally located somewhere else, in a wheat field, but quietly moved in 1997 to their present location. This was due to Amarillo growing and requiring more space, so they thought best to move it outside city limits. Both the original site and the new site were owned by local millionaire, Stanley Marsh III, who funded the project. While the cars have their almost footlong coating of paint, they are still routinely repainted to give passing motorists a clean canvas or to represent a special event (painted black when Doug Michels passed, painted in rainbow colors to commemorate gay pride day, and painted black again in June 2020 with the words “Black Lives Matter”). They were once painted their original colors by the motel chain Hampton Inn, for a public Route 66 landmark restoration project, but the cars didn’t last even 24 hours before being branded with graffiti once again.
While there is no sign explicitly allowing people to paint the cars, it’s not exactly forbidden, and even seems encouraged. You can either bring your own can of spray paint or you can find discarded spray cans that are littered basically everywhere (not great). Many still have plenty of paint left in them. We found multiple spray cans that were still somewhat full and used those to brand our initials and leave our mark on the cars. We then walked around admiring the assortment of messages and, uhhmm, “well-crafted” designs left by those before us.
Speaking of discarded spray cans, the trash around Cadillac Ranch is quite ridiculous. There is a large graffitied dumpster right outside the gate, yet there was sooo much trash strewn about, not only near the dumpster and road but also around the actual Cadillacs. It’s appalling and disappointing. Please, if you go to these places – literally any place – be decent and just take your trash with you (or at least throw it away, especially if there’s a giant dumpster 10 feet from the gate).
Overall, in my opinion, Cadillac Ranch is well worth the stop. I believe that it should be a “must see” staple on any good cross-country round trip. Number one, it’s free. Number two, it’s a famous roadside landmark that I promise will make any “I-40 road trip must do” list. I strongly suggest getting there as early as possible, as we arrived around 7:30am and there was barely anybody there. But people were certainly beginning to arrive. Also, the sunrise was beautiful and made for some pretty epic pictures. It’s a quick, fun, stop – don’t pass it up!