Cohort Sighting: Carhenge – High Plains Junkers

Some things attract greater attention than anyone might initially expect.  Among these is Carhenge, the curiosity which, upon its completion, angered the few people who lived nearby while acquiring fame and drawing visitors from across the country.  Nearly thirty years old, it’s been the subject of mainstream press since the beginning of its existence as well as a well-known attraction for both car buffs and fans of Americana.

Blessed with an arid climate and one of the lowest population densities in the country, it’s easy to see why artist Jim Reinders chose to build his now-famous sculpture on his family’s farm on Nebraska’s High Plains.  Located some four miles from the town of Alliance, Carhenge spent much of its 27-year history under the ownership of a nonprofit, Friends of Carhenge, which protected the structure from locals who initially thought it to be an eyesore.


As it is far from any major highway, 80,000 yearly visits to Carhenge mean its popularity is anything but accidental.  Cohort contributor 625C2 was one of many who have made the slog to the distant monument and has shared these excellent pictures with us.


While its construction is less of a mystery than Stonehenge’s, it’s difficult to imagine how one person cobbled up the resources needed to put the whole thing together.  But after his father’s passing in 1982, Reinders, with the help of thirty family members, had the monument put together in his honor.  In total, thirty-eight cars were added before Carhenge’s completion in 1987, just before the summer solstice.


A 1962 Cadillac, younger at the time of construction than the monument is today, functions as the heelstone at its entrance.  Most of the other cars are also from the fifties and sixties, and there are a variety of appealing classics among them.  A moment’s glance bears a Forward Look Mopar, a Cadillac Series 62 Sedan, a Gremlin and a Vega Kammback, among other models.  There were some foreign cars buried at its base and welded to the top when Carhenge was built, but these have reportedly been replaced with domestic metal over the years.  Three of those imports, incidentally, remain buried at the corner of the property bearing the message, “Here lie three bones of foreign cars. They served our purpose while Detroit slept. Now Detroit is awake and America’s great!”  How much this makes sense depends on one’s viewpoint and when it was written.


Eating their words, Alliance recently purchased the structure, now aware of its value as a tourist attraction.  Located somewhere between Cheyenne, Wyoming and the Mt Rushmore National Monument in South Dakota, the small town struggles, like many similar locales, to retain its population.  Besides being a must-see piece of automobilia, Carhenge’s appeal derives from the remoteness and desolation that define the region.  Popular media love to invoke states like Mississippi or Ohio when describing the American hinterland, but compared to the High Plains, they are teeming with people.


As it seemingly rises out of nowhere, with little human activity nearby, the structure has a mysterious presence.  Since its special brand of eerie kitsch became a tourist attraction, other art installations have been put up alongside Carhenge, forming what’s called the Car Art Reserve.  Among them are the Carnastoga, what appears to be a Ford Country Squire with hoops welded to the roof, and The Fourd Seasons, in which more Fords, painted in pastel shades, are arranged to reflect the four stages of wheat growth.  There are also various sculptures made of car parts and a Cadillac, partially buried by the Alliance High School classes of 1944 and 1945 as a time capsule.


For those interested in visiting, admission to the ten-acre site, some eighty miles north of I-80, is free.  Like Stonehenge, there is no official address, although the Friends of Carhenge is presumably close at 2141 County Road 59, Alliance, Nebraska 69301.  According to Google Maps, this is its exact location.  A quick search will dredge up various accounts of visits to the monument, as well as some semi-official information.  Many CC readers have undoubtedly read about Carhenge, but it’s too rich a topic to leave unmentioned and as always, those who’ve gone are encouraged to share their experiences.

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