Monday, January 9, 2017

Roadside Attractions Amarillo Style: nose down Cadillacs and ungainly legs

Roadside attractions are an American phenomenon.

It's an endearing phenomenon that towns many think are in the middle of nowhere become somewhere when people exercise creativity, put tongue in cheek and take advantage of that wide open space.

The best part is when those efforts take on lives of their own that their makers never anticipated.

Cadillac Ranch. Photo by Judy Wells.
Count on the Good Girls to seek these out so our first stop had to be the Cadillac Ranch. It used to be on Rte 66 but a growing Amarillo prompted a move in 1997 few miles west to a spot off Interstate 40. Just look for the cars parked along a side road.

The installation charting the evolution of Cadillac's tail fins (1949-1963) was the brainchild of Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez and Doug Michels, part of the Art Farm group of architects and artists. They approached millionaire Stanley Marsh 3 of Amarillo, who had a penchant for non-traditional art, and the rest is history. And 10 Cadillacs partially buried nose down supposedly at the same angle as the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt.

The afternoon we arrived it was relatively quiet for a weekend when 2,000 to 4,000 people are likely to drop by. During the week numbers are 1,000 to 2,000
 visitors.

Take a colorful ride into the imagination. Photo by Judy Wells.
The adults of a Hispanic family were looking closely at the tipped cars while their younger sons were "sitting" in one pretending to drive it and the oldest one spray painting others.
Spray on. Photo by Judy Wells.

It's what you do at the Cadillac Ranch. Spray painting is what people have been doing since the installation was finished in 1974. The cars have been all white for a commercial, pink for the birthday of Wendy, Stanley's wife. All were painted black when Doug Michels died and in 2012 the installation became a rainbow to commemorate gay pride. Sometimes a coat of paint is added to give visitors a fresh canvas. It was about time for that when we visited.

Focusing on art. Photo by Judy Wells.
We chatted briefly with a couple from Connecticut. She was taking snaps while over and over, he positioned his tripod for exactly the image he wanted. That's something visitors do, too; take pictures.

What I did was marvel at how people from all over the world had made a line of oddly placed cars their own. I doubt if any of its creators had any idea how it would be received or that the public would want to add their names, colors, thoughts or scribbles to its "bodies." The Cadillac Ranch has transcended itself and truly is a living work of art.
Cadillac Ranch jewelry by Bob "Crocodile Lile.
 It is only natural that visitors would like a souvenir to take home. There's a guy who is often at the site who sells tacky ones out of the back of his van, but there is a much better option. Artist Bob "Crocodile" Lile at Lile Art Gallery in Amarillo creates beautiful jewelry from paint chips he finds on the ground at the Ranch. Opaline silver pendants, bracelets, rings and earrings are tasteful, unique works you will be proud to wear. Trust me, no one will suspect their "stones'" origin.



It isn't the only art installation the late millionaire Marsh gifted to Amarillo. I saw one of the bogus street signs that make up the "Dynamite Museum," but there are many more that survive the wear and tear of weather and paint-overs.



We didn't see the "Floating Mesa," another Marsh-funded project, a little north of Amarillo because atmospheric conditions were not right.
Floating Mesa.
When the sky is the same shade of white as the band of plywood panels across the side of the mesa, it appears to be floating.

Then there are "The Legs."

Photo from afar by Judy Wells.
I don't remember where we first heard about "the big legs" but everyone we mentioned them to, shook their heads and muttered, "You want to see those things?"

Yes, we did, even after being told it was a joke and the official-looking plaque wasn't. We persisted despite wrong turn after wrong turn. Not knowing exactly what to look for, we were driving right by them.


The Ozymandias legs. Photo by Debi Lander.
At first glance, the old Peggy Lee song, "Is that all there is?" came to mind and we understood the discouraging comments.

Then I saw the official-looking plaque and started reading. And laughing. Shelley might be rolling in his grave although he wasn't above pulling a prank or two himself.  Perhaps we were both laughing.


Here is what the plaque says:

In 1819, while on their horseback trek
Over the great plains of New Spain
Percy Bysshe Shelley and his wife
Mary Wollestonecraft (author of
"Frankenstein"), came across these
ruins. Here Shelley penned these
Immortal lines:
                         "Ozymandias
I met a traveler from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of
stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose
frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold com-
mand
Tell that its sculptor well of those passions
read
Which yet survive stamped on these life-
less things.
The hand that mocked them and the heart
that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear.
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and de-
spair!'
Nothing beside remains round the de-
cay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away. "
                                                      (1819)

Added in explanation:

"The visage (or face) was damaged by students from Lubbock after losing to Amarillo in a competition. A stone cast of it will be replaced when ready. The original is on display now in the Amarillo Museum of Natural History. Souvenir hunters have scraped off the bottom of the pedestal but archeologists have determined that it was as Shelley described it."

Can't you just imagine a group of beer-drinking students, surely an English major and an art major among them, sitting around coming up with a roadside attraction of their own?


Photo by Judy Wells.
I understand the crew sock marking and some graffiti was added by someone after installation so the legs may evolve into something deeper than an elaborate student prank. In the meantime, thanks for the laughs, kids. Also, now we know there is a rivalry between Amarillo and Lubbock which explains the Lubbock sign from the Dynamite Museum.

Not all roadside attractions are equal but even the worst make for interesting detours and bring a touch of whimsy to otherwise ordinary road trips.

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