The United States is a vast and diverse country. From sea to shining sea there are sweeping vistas and spectacular scenes of nature.
The grandeur of this country is not seen on the interstate highways, but on the back roads and the gravel roads that have woven the fiber of this country.
I am always awestruck by the superb landscapes that one can witness on the back roads. Some of these landscapes, such as the Grand Canyon and the Rocky Mountains, are known by everybody. But there are so many more spectacles to feast your eyes upon.
When speaking of grandeur, perhaps one of my most favorite locations is Monument Valley in the northwest corner of Arizona and the southwest corner of Utah. Located within the Navajo Indian reservation, this amazing natural wonder has been the backdrop for many movies and television commercials. And one can only stand in a location or another and must turn their head from left to right to catch the full glory of this spectacular wonder of nature.
Not too far from there and also on the Navajo Reservation is a much lesser known, but in another way very spectacular sight. Called Coal Mine Canyon, it is a hidden gem off of a two lane highway east of Tuba City, AZ.
Coal Mine Canyon is filled with a variety of HooDoos…ghost like rock formations that can form eerie shadows and spooky formations at night. The view goes on for miles into Blue Canyon. In any other state, this might be a National Park or Monument. It is just one more canyon in Arizona.
Head north into Colorado and take a ride up to Mount Evans north of Denver. Nearly 13,000 feet up, it offers up an amazing view of the mountains and lakes below.
Not to be outdone in the words of grandeur, is the scenic highway that traverses the Bear Tooth Range along the Montana and Wyoming border. I have only been there once and it was in the very early spring on the first day the road was open. There were still piles of snow on both sides of the road. But the expanse of the mountains left me in awe.
But grandeur is not just mountains or spectacular geologic formations. I can drive through the plains of North Dakota or South Dakota and experience miles and miles of grasslands.
I have driven through these great plains in North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska. To some, the drive through these vast grasslands might be considered boring. To me, the vast expanse of grasslands is stunning.
Then there is the grandeur of the oceans. I have been blessed to have been able to see the Pacific Ocean from the northern parts of Washington and Oregon all the way to the coast in Southern California. I have also seen the Atlantic Ocean from points in Maine all the way south to Florida. The amazing sunrises and sunsets over the water provide unspeakable grandeur and a glorious feeling.
Like the oceans, the Gulf of Mexico offers similar sights. Nothing like witnessing the spectacle flocks of pelicans flying in sync overhead.
The most gratifying part of experiencing grandeur for me is that every back road and numbered highway offers a peek at splendid views. One needs only crest to the top of a hill and laid out before your eyes are wonderful scenes like that of Hells Canyon in Oregon, or in Hell’s Half Acre in the middle of Wyoming. Drive along a two Lane highway in the eastern United States in the fall and you get to the top of the hill and see nothing but spectacular fall colors as far as the eye can see.
But the grandeur is not just in nature. From a different perspective, the views of the skyline of a big city offers its own brand you were. Whether enjoying the skyline of Manhattan from across the river in Hoboken, NJ to witnessing the scene of riverine cities such as Pittsburgh or Cincinnati from the top of a hill, one gets a sense of how small they really are.
I am grateful to live in these United States and my heart is filled with joy that I have been able to travel many a back road and experience the grandeur of this country.
With each new road comes a new experience. I still have yet to personally experience the special nature of Yosemite National Park or the giant sequoia trees of Northern California. But I have seen the vast expanses filled with volcanoes in Hawaii or the old volcano cones in New Mexico and Arizona.
I have driven the long highway over Lake Ponchatrain in Louisiana and over the amazing Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. These man-made spectacles still offer a sense of grandeur.
So, get out on the road and experience this country for yourself.
One of the more unique American traditions along the Less Beaten Paths is the recycling of auto parts for art. Indeed, a couple of the most famous roadside attractions in the US are made from cars. This post will look at a few pieces of “car art” that I have seen over the years and, then, at the end, I will note a few others that are out there and worth a visit from all of us — some that I hope to get to over the next couple of years.
Probably one of the two most famous Car Art pieces that I am aware of, this car shish-kabob called “Spindle” and created by artist Dustin Shuler (1948-2010), became ultra famous after being featured in Wayne’s World. It has also been featured in on the cover of a book (called Oddball Illinois: A Guide to Some Really Strange Places), on postcards, state tourist brochures, and maps. It was originally commissioned by the shopping center owner, David Bermant, who donated his BMW car to be placed second from the top of the sculpture.Shuler himself owned the red 1967 VW Beetle that crowned the sculpture.The foundation of the sculpture reached nearly 30 feet into the ground; the cost of erecting it was over $75,000.
The cars on a spike never did res well with some of the citizens of Berwyn, Illinois, and thus in 1990 they voted overwhelmingly for it to be removed. Nevertheless, the Mayor argued that it drew tourism to town and had become an icon. The owner of Cermak’s Shopping Center argued the same. But, alas, in July 2007, it was announced that the shopping center was to be redeveloped and that the site of the sculpture was earmarked for a new Walgreens store. New controversy ensued and finally, in May of 2008 the structure was taken down.
The impaled cars on the spindle, from top to bottom, were:
1967 Volkswagen Beetle, red
1976 BMW New Class, silver License Plate reads “DAVE”
1981 Ford Escort, blue
1974 or 1973 Mercury Capri, green
1978 Ford Mustang, white over blue
1981 Pontiac Grand Prix, maroon or burgundy
1980 or 1979 Ford LTD, light yellow
1981 or 1979 Mercury Grand Marquis, black
When I was at Cermak’s in 2007 I actually made a video of Spindle along with some of the other art at Cermak’s. Here it is….
Perhaps just as famous is the “Cadillac Ranch” near Amarillo, Texas. Like the “Spindle“, this site has had controversy and has been featured in movies, advertisements, comics, etc. It is most certainly one of the most well known Roadside Attractions in the U.S.
It was created in 1974 by Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez and Doug Michels, who were a part of the art group Ant Farm, and it consists of what were (when originally installed during 1974) either older running used or junk Cadillac automobiles, representing a number of evolutions of the car line from 1949 to 1963, half-buried nose-first in the ground, supposedly at an angle corresponding to that of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.
The cars have gone through numerous iterations…completely black, completely white, stc., when used for ads and commercials. But, soon thereafter, the tourists with the spray paint cans make their way to make their marks on the cars. So, this ends up being a “stationary attraction” always in a state of change.
Due to the popularity of Cadillac Ranch, there have been a few imitators, none of which I have been to yet, but hope to get to sometime in the near future. These include:
This place even has their own website (see combinecity.com). According to their site, “Combine City began with one Combine Harvester planted in the ground. Over time, that solitary Combine has welcomed 13 more. In total, 14 Combines are planted, standing as a tribute to the great nature of the West Texas farmer.” Unlike Cadillac Ranch and Slug Bug Ranch, Combine City does not allow folks to come in and spray paint.
Indeed, this is not cars…it is Airstreams, but these are a great addition to this collection. These are located at Bates RV in Dover, Florida and have been the subject for many photos in the past. My good friend, the musician Antsy McClain has actually done a photo shoot here for some Trailer Park Troubadours stuff (see below).
Like Cadillac Ranch and Slug Bug Ranch, the Airstream Ranch has not been without controversy. Neighbors have argued that it was unsightly, but, ultimately, the Tourist Attraction and Art Factors won out.
Like the other sites, this attracts tourists from all over and has been used in advertisements, etc.
The historic value of Airstreams in travel always leads to an interest in these aluminum domiciles on wheels. There are rallies all over the country and one can always see them on the road. Indeed, many are happy to be “Living in Aluminum” and following the Aluminum Rule – “Thou Shalt Enjoy the Ride”
Henry’s Rabbit Ranch is one of those iconic Route 66 stops on the back roads of America. Located just west of Interstate 55 in southern Illinois (and a short drive north of St. Louis), it lies along the old Route 66. Along with tons of Route 66 memorabilia, they have a set of buried cars.
As with the others above, there are buried cars, but, in this case the creators of Carhenge tried to emulate the famed Stonehenge of England. They too have their own website, including a history of the Jim Reinders creation. This 1987 piece of Car Art has 38 automobiles and there are other pieces of Car Art on “Car Art Reserve”. Like the locations above, Carhenge has been the subject of numerous commercials and film productions.
All of the locations above are big tourist attractions for the back roads adventurer seeking the offbeat and quirky. But, there are many other smaller pieces of car art and/or “car displays” around the country, many of which I have had the opportunity to see. Here are a few.
The flattened car (called “Pinto Pelt“) is another creation by Spindle artist Dustin Shuler and is also located in Cermak’s Plaza. This too went the way of the world apparently in the reconstruction project in Berwyn’s once famous shopping center.
The Art Car Museum in Houston, Texas is dedicated to true Art Cars, those cars that have had art added to them. According to the “Art Car Manifesto“, “an art car is a motor-driven vehicle which a car artist alters in such a way as to suit his own aesthetic. In other words, the artist either adds or subtracts materials of his own choosing to or from the factory model or he may renovate an earlier model to revive a beauty and style that once was. The result is a vehicle which conveys new meaning through design, mechanical or structural changes, renovation, and/or the addition of new images, symbols or collage elements.”
The Art Car Museum website has a great Photo Gallery of some of the more unique cars featured at the museum. When I visited in 2010 the museum was not open so I didn’t get a chance to get any good car shots. But, along the way I have found a couple on my own…
Some of the more unique pieces utilizing cars as art that I have come across in my travels:
“The Smoke Sax” was built in 1993 by artist Bob Wade of Austin, TX. It is 70 feet tall and is made of an oil field pipe, an upside down Volkswagen Beetle, beer kegs, canoe, hub caps, a surf board and chrome. Until March 2013 this was located at the Horn Bar and Grille on Richmond Avenue in Houston, TX. However, in March 2013 it was disassembled and will be eventually added to the unique folk art center called the Orange Show Center for Visionary Art. They also are the sponsor of the Houston Art Car Parade.
Clear across the country in Wolf Creek, Oregon an artist has created two Spider Bugs out of old Volkswagens. Roadside America covered these and, it turns out that these are not the only ones around. There are actually dozens of them. The website Weburbanist has a fine page dedicated to a number of these from around the U.S. including Oklahoma, Idaho, California, Ontario, Nevada, Colorado, Iowa and even in the Netherlands and New Zealand.
Heading back eastward one can venture into Kadoka, South Dakota, near the Badlands National Park and see a unique piece of art made from car parts, including a smashed car as a base…
Then there is the old truck with a Giant Potato on it at The Spud Drive-In in Driggs, Idaho
More emulation of Cadillac Ranch can be found at the now closed down Rio Brazos Music Hall in Granbury, Texas
Commerce, Oklahoma, one of those Route 66 touristy towns has used parts of cars for advertising
Then there are the places with Cars on roofs and signs and walls to draw people in:
Big Daddy’s is located in the heart of NASCAR Country in North Carolina. And to prove it they have a number of cars on their roof and on their lot.
The Route 26 Mart in Scottsbluff, Nebraska touts itself as an Americana Convenience Mart and has on old finned Chevy on its roof to pull you in….
The Pioneer Auto Show in Murdo, South Dakota tries to draw you in with advertising some of the unique cars…
Angel’s Diner in McAlester, Oklahoma uses old cars to advertise their 60’s themed restaurant and Happy Days Motel.
Of course, what would a Car Art post be without limos with Longhorns on their hoods??
I have run across a couple of places where cars have been integrated into the buildings. Here is one example from western Oregon:
I would be remiss if I didn’t include the iconic and well known Nash AirFlyte that sits outside of Antique Archaeology in Le Claire, Iowa, better known as the home of the History Channel’s American Pickers.
The only Corvette Factory in the world is in my home state of Kentucky, in Bowling Green. They are also the home of the Corvette Museum and they have a nice one on a pedestal…
Finally, there are all of those old trucks and cars that scatter the landscape in yards and fields around the U.S. These can be seen on back roads and some are obviously used as yard decor…
I have a dozen more of these, but I think you get the “pictures.” So, get out and Enjoy the Ride and be on the watch out for those old vehicles that helped someone else Enjoy the Ride in the past!!!