“Well, there she sits, buddy, just a gleaming in the sun,
There to greet a working man when his day is done,
I'm gonna pack my pa and I'm gonna pack my aunt,
I'm gonna take them down to the Cadillac Ranch.
Eldorado's fins, whitewalls and skirts,
Drives just like a little bit of heaven here on earth…"
-Bruce Springsteen, Cadillac Ranch, 1980
It was early March 2019 and a cold, cloudy, windy, and sometimes rainy day. Not one to spend a lot of time outside on miserable weather days, there I was, along with a host of others, parking my car on the side of the frontage road off I-40 (Historic Route 66). I found myself unable to resist the curiosity that drew me in and joined fellow road travelers in spending a few minutes experiencing Cadillac Ranch. As I huddled into my jacket, I looked around in surprise at the number of people there that cold day and wondered what motivated everyone to come out to see a Cadillac graveyard. We each had our reasons. It didn’t much matter what those reasons were, and this is precisely what Stanley Marsh 3 had wanted. Forty-five years after its birth, Cadillac Ranch appears to be as popular as ever.
Stanley Marsh 3 had the empty canvas in his land off Route 66, originally 8 miles west of Amarillo. Marsh, an eccentric artist and businessman, wanted to create something on this land that would make people stop and notice. He reached out to the architectural art group Ant Farm for a collaborative venture. When the members of the Ant Farm visited Marsh’s wheat field, they said it looked like waves rippling in the wind. That initially made them think of dolphin fins sticking up out of the waves of wheat. Eventually, the fins turned into Cadillac tailfins, and the iconic creation became a reality in June of 1974.
The group selected 10 Cadillac’s, all different models, from the years 1949 through 1963 for the project. They then buried the cars, nose first, into the ground, leaving the tailfins sticking in the air. The vehicles were placed in a straight line facing west in chronological order by year. The intent was to show the evolution of the tailfins through the years. Due to the ongoing expansion of Amarillo, the Cadillac Ranch was eventually moved two miles west. The Ranch’s new home was on another piece of land owned by Marsh.
It did not take long for the public to show its creative side when visiting the Cadillac Ranch. Being so open to the public and not regularly staffed, visitors quickly began to leave graffiti on the cars during their visits. People also tore off pieces of the vehicles to take as souvenirs. Although it has ruined the cars, the ritual of painting them over the decades has become part of the appeal. Stanley Marsh 3 and Ant Farm were tolerant of this at first, then later came to encourage the creativity.
Stanley Marsh 3 passed away in June of 2014. An article written in 2014 by James Queally in the Los Angeles Times indicates the land occupied by the Cadillac Ranch was transferred to a trust and will remain as it currently exists. The car display is still in the car of the architectural art group Ant Farm.
The one thing that deeply disappointed me on my visit to Cadillac Ranch was the amount of trash that is being left behind at the site. This is especially so since there were trash bins provided near the entrance. It doesn’t take much effort to drop the trash in the containers on the way out yet would show respect to the sponsors.
Cadillac Ranch is located about 10 miles west of Amarillo. It is on the frontage road just south of I-40 between Hope and Arnot roads. There is no admission fee.
- Bruce Springsteen. “Cadillac Ranch.” (1980). Album: The River.
- Jessica Dunham. “Route 66 Road Trip.” (2019). Detour: Cadillac Ranch, Page 191.
- Los Angeles Times, James Queally, “Stanley Marsh 3 dies; quirky philanthropist backed Cadillac Ranch.” (June 17, 2014). Retrieved from https://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-stanley-marsh-dead-20140617-story.html
- Texas Monthly, Anne Dingus, “Meanwhile Back at the Cadillac Ranch.” (July 1994). Retrieved from https://www.texasmonthly.com/articles/meanwhile-back-at-the-cadillac-ranch/
- Texas Monthly, Sonia Smith, “Forty Years of the Cadillac Ranch.” (June 12, 2014). Retrieved from https://www.texasmonthly.com/travel/forty-years-of-the-cadillac-ranch/