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Hit the Road With Chet Garner

Used Cars

Visit Amarillo’s Cadillac Ranch to leave your mark on an art shrine

If you used a can of spray paint in an art museum, you’d be escorted out immediately. If you visit Amarillo’s most iconic art installation without paint, you will be left out, with no way to leave your mark on the ever-changing sculpture known as the Cadillac Ranch.

Fueled by steak and eggs from the stockyard cafe inside the Amarillo Livestock Auction, I set out in search of cattle—cattle-acks. That is, the 10 Cadillac sedans half-buried nose down in the Texas prairie in 1974 by the art collective known as the Ant Farm. This automotive Stonehenge has become a must-stop destination for travelers on historic Route 66.

The Cadillac Ranch is unmissable. The distinctive tail fins are the only thing taller than a fence post on the southern horizon just west of town. A dozen vehicles parked nearby confirm that this is my stop. Since painting the Cadillacs is encouraged, I grab my spray paint and head into the field to see this High Plains anomaly firsthand.

Vibrant coats of fresh paint cover every inch of the classic Caddies. The cars are so beat up that the layers of paint might be the only thing holding them together. I felt like I was exploring a junkyard and a holy shrine, a sensation possibly caused by the fact that the cars are buried at the same angle as the sides of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

After a few minutes of contemplation, I pondered what timeless contribution I could add to the sculpture. Knowing that anything I sprayed would soon be covered by another pilgrim’s paint, I wrote my name and reveled in the knowledge that once it does get covered, it will be forever entombed in one of Texas’ most famous sculptures. That alone was worth the trip.

 

Chet Garner shares his Texplorations as the host of The Daytripper on PBS.