Here's a story about a road trip that included a visit to see what became of the iconic cars that will road trip no more...
Click the links throughout this post to learn about the history of Cadillac Ranch.
All photographs taken by Christina Owen, Copyright 2014.
Because today is Blue Monday - supposedly the most depressing day of they year, I thought I would inject some brightness into a day largely devoid of same, sitting inside a month that colour forgot entirely. Although the sun came out today in South London, it did nothing to make me believe that the earth will be warm again or that one day I will change out of my thermal socks or *gasp* go outside with even an inch of flesh bared to the elements. So here is a memory (and some photographs of brightly coloured things) to challenge all of that - of that day in the Texas desert last September with the upended, graffiti'd cadillacs.
I say 'in the desert' because this is what the guidebooks will tell you. And the 'Cadillac Ranch' as it is known WILL be in all the guidebooks, because it is a roadside attraction that represents everything Route 66 has grown to be about in recent years - absolute neon nonsense in response to an old institution gone to ruin. Yes! cries the road. I am much neglected where once I was useful and pioneering, but never fear! I will be transformed into something new and exciting! And to prove it, here's a half buried car for no reason whatsoever!
And it's all true, there IS a row of Cadillacs sticking, bottom up, out of the brown cracked earth, but in fact it isn't the desert, which surprised me, because I'd been reading about it for months in the lead up to this trip and I was expecting a much different landscape - one we would eventually come to witness but not until much later - true desert doesn't begin until you're most of the way through New Mexico and nearly into Arizona. Texas isn't like that - the panhandle is full of plains - gigantic fields that roll on and on forever under never-ending expanses of sky. And cornfields. And this is where the Cadillacs are - in a hollowed out patch of cornfield just west of Amarillo. We came across it whilst driving out of Amarillo in the direction of New Mexico and actually, it's only accessible from the other side of the highway. If you're driving eastwards towards Amarillo then you only need to pull up and stop. As it was, we had to drive back on ourselves.
It was a Sunday morning and the earth hadn't really heated up yet. Later on it would be 90 degrees plus, but it was still pleasantly cool and pleasantly quiet when we arrived at around 10am. Being Texas, I can only assume the rest of the world was at church. We instead gravitated towards rainbow colours and abandoned tat. And this was how I became lucky enough to photograph this much-photographed attraction without a lot of pesky people getting in the way. It was just us four, a small group of other tourists that I identified as being from somewhere near Birmingham, and a trio of graffiti artists who were busy spraying a new sheet of colour onto one of the vehicles.
Which seemed sort of ridiculous given that so many layers of graffiti already adorned the metal bodies of these cars that to add anything else was to have your contribution lost in a muddle of years worth of attempted art and expression, largely consisting of the phrase 'Will was here 2013!!!' written over and over again in different shades of orange and by different people all looking for something - anything! - to add that meant their mark would be left here for all eternity.
But the aesthetic effect of this neon confusion was sort of pleasing.
In fact it was peaceful being out there with the Cadillacs in the middle of a large field. In order to get there, you have to take a wide dirt path that's been cut through the field and the cars are situated right out in the middle, away from the road. It was quiet and the rest of the world felt very far away. We had waded out from reality into a new place, one dominated by a rainbow painted on metal, and vehicles no longer used for their original purpose. Stranded there in the middle of the country and the middle of history. I guess if you were going to look for meaning here you could say that these Cadillacs were a representation of what Route 66 itself had become - not fit for the purpose it was originally created for. But still beautiful.
In fact, having been created in 1974 by an art group from San Francisco looking to completely baffle the townsfolk, it's now true that this group of cars, ranging from 1949 to 1963 models, had been nose down in the ground for longer than they had been actual cars. These were cars that were built during the golden age of fins - but the fins on these icons have long been ripped off and taken home by tourists anxious to own a piece of history not available in gift shops.
We stayed at Cadillac Ranch for maybe half an hour, and then it was back on the road for the second half of our epic drive across fields and mountains and deserts. By that evening we would be residing temporarily 7000 feet above sea level in the burnt orange stucco city of Santa Fe, sipping mango margaritas and feeling a million miles away from that morning and the blinding sight of 10 half-cars poking out of the dirt in those flatlands, decorated to within an inch of their now-extinct lives. More than once during this road trip I couldn't remember if what we had experienced that morning had even occurred on that same day, and this was one of those times. It felt surreal, fuzzy, and a long way behind us. And now it's January and it was, in fact, a long way behind me. But it's good to remember that bright colours do exist and that I have seen them, once upon a time (in the west).