"Those that come before us give our life color." - Jackie Mullen
How many places can you name where you can paint over existing art? In any spray can color you find?
It's 'the' reason to stop at Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas, to leave your mark. Take the time to stop. If you know to bring spray cans you can paint this "town" red, or green, or blue, or yellow. The truly prepared take along a few cans of spray paint and boots for puddles and muddy areas. Park along the street, cross through the gate in the fence (it's free!) and walk a couple blocks through the field to reach the cars.
This travel break is good for any generation. Kids will love running around. Teens will love their allowed graffiti experience. Adults will love both the art and the memories the cars evoke.
You reach a stretch of old Route 66 just west of Amarillo on I-40. From the east, pull off exit 60; from the west, exit 62; and take the service road. Look out your windows and you'll see an unusual art installation. You may even be able to distinguish a tail fin or two. Ten Cadillacs have been half-buried in this pasture, nose-first into the ground.
Cadillac Ranch began as an art collaboration. Millionaire Stanley Marsh commissioned San Francisco's 1970s art collective, The Ant Farm. Marsh funded the ten Cadillacs, reportedly purchased from local dumps. The cars' disrepair became part of the discussion. The loss of the golden era of automotive travel on Route 66 as the highway system allowed faster transit. They've been moved only once since 1974. Due to Amarillo expansion, in 1997, and under Mr. Marsh's watchful eye to the current location.
The graffiti was not intended by the original artists. But Mr. Marsh was said to think it looked better all the time. Just take a picture of your work before someone sprays over it with their own interpretation.
Tip: Go at sunset for the best photographs when the spectacular light bathes the cars and makes the art pop.
The cars were painted for charity, all pink for breast cancer in 2005, and black for a funeral. Savvy parents buy white paint to create a blank palette for their children to paint upon.
The famous Texas heat affects the paint, too. Some of the paint layers meld together and drip off the cars. Reminiscent of stalactites seen while spelunking. Local industrious artists are allowed to use "the drips" for art they later sell.
Kids of All Ages Run to Paint the Cadillacs at Cadillac Ranch
Kids love this stop. They spray to their hearts' content. And will be long gone by the time someone sprays and covers their art after them. There are a couple garbage bins on the road. They're usually packed, so please take your empty cans to dispose of elsewhere.
Tip: check the wind direction before you start. If it comes from the south, you may be breathing more fumes than you expected.
There were groups of 2 to 20 on the day we went, most with spray cans, some without. Someone had music playing – 'Band on the Run' and 'The Air That I Breathe' and 'Wild Thing', all released in 1974.
We took our photos, admired the art, laughed at some shenanigans, and got back in the car. Check both Google and Atlas Obscura when you travel. They offer great places to stop to stretch your legs or give the kids a break. The next leg of our journey? Up to the Wigwam Motel in Litchfield Park, near Flagstaff, Arizona.