Route 66 traverses the city of Amarillo, mid-panhandle Texas, about halfway between Albuquerque and Oklahoma City. For motorists getting their kicks on the Mother Road, a mandatory stop is the Cadillac Ranch. A few miles west of the city, ten Cadillacs, vintages 1949 to 1963, are half-buried at an angle, in line, nose down, tail fins pointed skyward.
The scheme was hatched by a group of San Francisco hippies who formed an art and architecture collective, embracing the sixties-youth values of communal living, sexual freedom, hallucinogenic drugs, and utopian ideals. They called themselves the Ant Farm. The eccentric Amarillo millionaire, Stanley Marsh 3, financed the project, whose purpose was to befuddle the Texas populace. He called it “a monument to the American dream.” The derelict Cadillacs were purchased in 1974 from junkyards and car dealers, at an average cost of $200 each. The cars were planted in a field, a couple-hundred yards from Interstate 40. (I-40 follows the old U.S. 66 alignment leaving Amarillo.) The installation is open to all, day and night, and has been the recipient of incessant vandalism, typically the spray-paint variety. Legions of visitors have sprayed their timeless messages and photographed themselves in front. “Timeless” in this case means about a day, until the next art lover with a spray can comes along.
After an exhilarating visit to the Cadillac Ranch, another Amarillo monument awaits. The Big Texan Steak Ranch offers a free meal. Free, that is, if you can eat 72 ounces of beefsteak and all the trimmings within an hour. If you can’t, you pay $72.
Stanley Marsh 3 died in 2014. His legacy as a patron of whimsical
public art had been tarnished by lawsuits and accusations of sexually abusing teenage boys in exchange for drugs, alcohol and money.
The lawsuits were settled, but then came criminal charges. Marsh died before any resolution of these. “It is unfortunate Stanley died before he had the opportunity to clear his good name,” Marsh’s lawyer said. There have been calls to demolish the Cadillac Ranch because of the accusations against the installation’s benefactor. The adverse publicity has not diminished the attraction’s popularity so far.