Spraying graffiti onto cars in Texas is not normally something Differentville would condone, but at Cadillac Ranch, in Amarillo, Texas it’s positively encouraged – so tool up with a couple of essentials and get ready to hit one of Route 66’s most fun stops.
When I was looking for an image that summed up everything Differentville is about I was stuck.
I needed something eye-catching and that would fit in a really weird, long, thin shape. ‘Strange stuff isn’t panoramic,’ I said to The (sick to death of blog designing by this point) Boyfriend, adding ‘it’s not like there’s much odd stuff stuck in the middle of fields somewhere with heaps of land behind them’
And then I remembered, there’s exactly that just outside Amarillo.
In fact, Cadillac Ranch, and its line of buried Cadillacs sticking out of the ground just off Route 66, is one of the most famous odditys in America.
Why Are There a Load of Cars in the Ground in Texas?
It’s art! Fun art.
Cadillac Ranch was created by an architect and two art students, with the funding of an eccentric billionaire (anyone know where I can find one of those?).
It was put in a field on his ranch property back in 1974 as an art project – I wonder if at that point they had any idea that 40-odd years later there’d be more cars parked on the road outside bringing people to see it than lined up as part of the exhibit!
The original structure was ten Cadillacs plunked nose down in a row at an angle.
Over time, local vandals started scrawling on them and ripping bits off the cars, but, rather than having a huge hissy fit and dismantling the thing, the Ant Farm (as the team who created Cadillac Ranch were known) positively encouraged it as a way of evolving the art.
Admittedly, the site the cars are in now wasn’t their original home, they were moved in 1997, but let’s not let that get in the way of a good tale.
Visiting Cadillac Ranch
We pitched up about 5pm as part of a huge road trip we were undertaking from Dallas, Texas to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Amarillo was a perfect stopping point on our first day – and Cadillac Ranch was the one thing I really wanted to see in the area.
At the time, I hadn’t registered I could spray the cars myself so I was most upset when I got there to find about 40 wannabe Banksy’s all letting rip with spray cans – seriously, if you weren’t in a fun frame of mind before you hit this place, the paint fumes could sort that out in a few minutes – and I didn’t think I could play as I had no paint
However, once people have let out their inner vandal, it seems to let loose their inner litter bug too and partially empty cans are everywhere.
A lot of people complain about this, and at first, I also thought – uggh, but now I kind of think they add something. Especially when you hear that when the site was moved, the Ant Farm team also brought all the rubbish and junk strewn alongside them to add atmosphere!
Plus, if like us you hadn’t thought to bring your own it allows you to join in the fun. It’s just a matter of finding one with some paint left in it and letting your inner vision shine through.
If you don’t just want to see the cars though and you want to leave your mark and actually graffiti the cars – the first thing you have to take to Cadillac Ranch is a can of spray paint!
Where to Buy Spray Paint Near Cadillac Ranch
If you don’t have any, you can stock up nearby – there are two Home Depot just a few minutes drive from Cadillac Ranch (the closest is the one in Soncy Road, just five minutes further east toward the Westgate Mall. There’s also a Walmart Supercentre (which I guess will have some) by McDonald Lake.
Graffiti gurus suggest buying a light paint and a dark paint, so you’ll be able to see your design over the hundreds of others already in place – but, I wouldn’t worry too much – there are so many colours on the cars, you’ll find somewhere your design will fit.
Although saying that I ended up with a gold can which worked really well.
Don’t get too carried away with the art though. There are another 200 odd cars pulling up in the car park who are going to over-write stuff within days.
However, that also means your experience is never going to be the same as anyone else’s which I kind of like.
Every so often the cars also get sprayed one colour, obliterating everything gone by and allowing the cycle to start again.
Check Your Footwear
The second thing you need – welly boots, or something similar if it’s rained recently.
We were lucky as we visited in June so the ground was dry, but if it’s raining before you, wear gumboots (or at least shoes you don’t mind getting muddy), the field the cars are in is now mostly dirt and it turns into something akin to Glastonbury when it rains.
I admit it doesn’t look as cool then as when it’s dry and if you don’t have some kind of shoe you can wash – or don’t mind ruining, you might not be able to get close enough to the cars to spray them.
How to Find Cadillac Ranch
It’s just off the I-40 Highway on the Frontage Road about 11 miles west of Amarillo.
You’ll need to leave the freeway at exit 60 or 62A depending which way you’re driving.
The cars are set further away from the road than you might think so keep an eye out – there are often cars parked out the front to give you a heads up.
There’s no real sign, just a spray painted metal ‘gate’ – that’s an extremely liberal description. You’ll also notice two signs either side of that telling you there’s no spray painting allowed past this point which is kind of a huge clue.
There’s no fee to get in and you’ll only need about half an hour here to take pics, have some fun spraying and head back to the car.
Hotels Near Cadillac Ranch
If you’re on a longer trip, you’d probably want to stay in Amarillo itself – however, because we arrived late and were leaving very early the next morning to head to Roswell (of course!), we literally stayed at a motel on the I-40 highway.
It was actually the perfect stop though.
We picked the Staybridge Suites Amarillo-Western Crossing which had a huge room that I didn’t want to leave, was walking distance to a few different restaurants of the chain (and non-chain variety) an indoor pool and a few nice areas to sit outside.
What Restaurants are Near Cadillac Ranch
We wanted something in walking distance and, coming from abroad, everything American is exotic for us and so we plumped for the Olive Garden… however, if you’re not worn out and excited by US chains AND you want that adds to your search of quirk for the day – The Big Texan is your stopping point.
It has giant cowboy signs, massive cows and a dinosaur in a hat in the parking lot, steaks the size of your head and live music – and it’s home to the 72oz steak challenge where, if you can eat the whole 72oz steak in one hour, you get it free.
Easy you think.
Erm, it also comes with prawn cocktail, baked potato, salad, bread – and butter – and you have to scarfe down every mouthful of the lot to qualify! If you don’t you have to pay the $72 the meal should cost (well technically you pay that upfront and they give you it back if you succeed).
Nearly 10,000 folk have managed this since the challenge began back in 1960. You don’t have to do the challenge, they do a normal menu too!
Oh, if you get there in daylight, have a wander around the next door buildings – the motel has a swimming pool shaped like Texas and there’s a hotel for horses!
If you can face heading into Amarillo itself, a wander around the Historic Sixth Street District will bring you to the GoldenLight Cantina which has been in business since 1946 – with different owners along the way. Check out the chilli – the recipe evolves with each new owner.
Friday, Saturday and Sunday night they also have live music.
Coyote Bluff, Tylers Barbecue and El Bracero Mexican Grill also get good reviews.
If you have more time in Amarillo, there’s a heap more else to do around time. Check out this post from the team over at Texas Travel 365 which picks 15 of the best things to do in Amarillo.
After a long drive from Fort Worth and all our spray can fun though we were shattered and literally sat outside by the fire pit with a beer and flumped.
I’d done what I came to do on this trip to Amarillo and was happy.
What to Read Next
If you’re on a road trip around the US, you might like some of our other US posts.
If Athens, Georgia is on your list, have a look at our post on the spooky Georgia Guidestones and see if you can work out why they are there.
If you’re heading to Las Vegas, and intend to do something other than just visit casinos, have a look at our guide to the cool art you’ll find in and around Las Vegas. If you liked the cars of Cadillac Ranch, you’ll love the colours of Seven Magic Mountains.
Who Writes Differentville?
My name is Helen Foster and I’m a journalist and author living in Sydney.
My travel articles have been published in titles including The Australian, Body & Soul at the Sunday Telegraph, RAC Horizons, Jetstar magazine and more.
I like the weird, the wonderful and anything that makes me jump and down with glee like I’m about three. That’s what you’ll find here.