Amarillo, Texas: The Cadillac Ranch


As I reached the outskirts of Amarillo, I consulted my trusty guidebook to find Route 66’s original route across the city.  I began to follow it, along slow city streets with lots of red lights and traffic.  I wasn’t making good time, and I began to realize that if I stuck to the Route, I wouldn’t make it to Amarillo’s number one Route 66 landmark: the Cadillac Ranch.

Even before I started on this trip, I knew that I wanted to be in Amarillo for either sunset or sunrise, to see the line of ten Cadillac cars, half buried in a cow pasture.  But as I drove across the eastern side of the city, I realized time was slipping by, and I wasn’t going to make it.  So, I bailed on the Route, and made my way back to I-40 for the trip across town.  It’s a good thing I did, because I made it just in time.

There they are, standing alone in the middle of a field.  Ten monolithic tributes to the machines that made road trips possible, and Route 66 a necessity.  You’ve seen them in movies, commercials, and music videos, but there’s nothing quite like seeing them for yourself.

The Cadillac Ranch was assembled and installed in 1974, by a group of artists called “The Ant Farm” based in San Francisco.  Cadillacs dating from 1949 to 1963 were buried nose-down in a wheat field, and tilted at an angle meant to correspond to the Egyptian pyramids.  As Amarillo expanded, the horizon surrounding this display of Detroit’s finest was becoming cluttered with buildings, so in 1997 they moved the whole thing from that wheat field, to a cow pasture two miles away. 

Park your modern, still-functioning car along the side of the frontage road (there’s plenty of room), pass through a gate, and make yourself at home.  The cars are a short walk from the road.  Generally, you’re free to do whatever you want here–walk up to the cars, climb inside (although that would be a little uncomfortable, I’d imagine), and of course, add your tag to the layers and layers of spray-painted names and messages.

Did I mention this is a cow pasture?  It came as a surprise to me, that I’d be admiring these ten Cadillacs amongst a heard of a hundred cattle.  Never before had I ever seen a picture taken here, that had a cow in it–yet I was having trouble taking a single picture that didn’t.

Count on the cows all staring at you like you’re crazy.  Why on earth would you be out here in their field?

The cows might not understand the human attention they receive, but they sure do enjoy the cars.  Nothing satisfies a cow’s itch like the rusted wheel of a Caddy.  And when a cow goes for a scratch, those wheels still turn.

As the sun went down, I became aware that it was getting dark, and I was all alone, in the middle of a pasture, surrounded by cattle.  It’s a weird and wonderful feeling.  Everything is quiet, then suddenly, a cow kicks one of the hundreds of empty paint cans that clutter the ground, and you realize it’s time to go find a motel room.

You can find the Cadillac Ranch on the south side of Interstate 40.  Use exit 60 or 62 and make your way onto the south frontage road–the gate and parking area is between Hope and Arnot Roads. 

In the EZ-66 guidebook, author Jerry McClanahan makes it clear that the Cadillac Ranch was never on Route 66.  The old Route actually runs along Indian Hill Road, which is just slightly north of I-40.  I think he’s splitting hairs a bit–since Indian Hill Road is only about 1/10 of a mile away.

The Cadillac Ranch property is owned by local millionaire and eccentric artist Stanley Marsh 3 (he prefers the number “3” over the Roman numerals).  Marsh has created some strange and offbeat road signs that are scattered throughout the area.  You can see a collection of them here.
While in Amarillo, you should stop by the Big Texan restaurant.  This is the restaurant that offers a free 72oz. steak to anyone who can finish the whole thing in an hour.  The current location along I-40 is not a Route 66 landmark, but the restaurant did get its start at another location, which was along the Mother Road.

After leaving the Cadillac Ranch, I decided to call it a night.  I had thought about driving further west, since there’s not a lot of excitement between Amarillo and the New Mexico border.  Tucumcari, New Mexico would have made a great overnight stop, but it’s more than 100 miles from Amarillo, and that would have meant missing a lot of the old road. Not to mention, I had already driven about 400 miles on Day 4.  I was so tired, I didn’t venture into downtown Amarillo.

Note: This trip was first published in 2008.

No comments

You might also enjoy this...

Astoria, Oregon

Before you say goodbye to Oregon and head north, crossing the mighty Columbia River into Washington, it’s good to stop in a small city that ...