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.
Had heard of it and saw it on the cohort very cool but a bit far away to visit for me.
Wow, pretty cool. Never heard of it, but thanks for sharing, I’m not too likely to ever get to the plains of Nebraska. Does the sun rise over the Heel-illac on the summer solstice? Wonder how the archeologists will interpret the remains 5,000 years from now!
I’ve been aware of it, and have seen a few shots in magazines, but this is my first deeper immersion. Excellent shots, and a rather moving tribute to the age of the automobile.
Carhenge is so cool, right up there with the Cadillac Ranch. I haven’t seen either, but hope to eventually
My name is on one of those!
For a long time, I had Carhenge wallpaper on my computer. It is on my list of weird things that I need to see in person, along with the original Stonehenge.
Weird, there’s something weird about this?! Just kidding, I completely echo your sentiments and Carhenge now occupies a prominent spot on my bucket list. Thanks Perry!
Obviously, the cars most visible along the top were specifically chosen for their particularly distinctive shapes. They aren’t anonymous designs. For example, the 1960 Plymouth being one of the bolder uses of the tailfin. And the Cadillac with the ‘Dagmars’.
I like the way they put metal where the windows were. It makes them look like full sculptures, rather than junked cars.
While residing in Denver, I lived a mere four hours from Carhenge, so of course I made the trip. It’s an interesting place, and I recommend you arrive at sunrise or sunset. The low light and long shadows lead to more interesting pictures.
But DAMN is it far from anything-
Perry noted it’s a mere 80 miles from Interstate 80. What he may not know is that the Alliance exit on I-80 is at LEAST three hours from any signs of habitation.
Here’s a couple of travel times to Alliance- As noted, Denver is 4 hours away, Salt Lake City is 8 hours, 48 minutes away, and Omaha (which is in the same state!) is 6 hours, 52 minutes. According to Mapquest, Sioux Falls (that’s in South Dakota) is closer than Omaha, but only by four minutes.
If you wanted to fly there, Cheyenne isn’t too far @, 2 hours and 39 minutes. But the population of Cheyenne is only 59,466, so you can’t really call it a metropolis- The locals consider that a good thing.
Beautiful pictures that convey the solitude of the surrounding land. How cool would it be to be out there on the rise of a Harvest Moon or at sunset.
“Magnificent Desolation”, indeed!
I would like to think that the 1960 Plymouth Fury 4-dr hardtop was the one I once owned, but Lajoie’s junkyard in S Norwalk, CT paid me $5 for it, so it became a monument to fine dining as it paid for a large pizza and a six-pack of beer.
The western one-third of Nebraska is the prettiest part of the state and the eastern two-thirds is probably the most geographically boring part of the Continental 48 even more so than even the wide open spaces of New Mexico. The day my folks and I went to Carhenge we woke up to the sound of mooing cows in Grand Island because our campsites were near their feeding place. We drove to Sidney, but along the way my folks fell asleep so I then sped up to 85ish because I saw that Sidney was still 20 or so miles away and I was getting annoyed with the lack of scenery. Keep in mind that back then I was used to the East Coast and thought the 232 miles of PA on I-81 was annoying since I just wanted to get to Florida. Sidney is home to a huge-ass Cabela’s filled with stuffed critters and loads of guns not legal in New York. Sidney is also home to a Dairy Queen full of crappy food and it is on the family shit list. We finally made it to Alliance and returned some clothes to the K-Mart we had bought in New York, but had forgotten about. We asked how to get to Carhenge since we hardly ever use GPS guidance during road trips.
Finally made it to Carhenge and the warning signs about Rattlers made me a bit nervous. I quite liked the place including the additions over the years. I guess I am being narrow minded, but The Fourd Seasons is a bit confusing since I have never seen blue or pink Wheat. We just missed the gift shop’s hours and Carhenge looked a bit rough around the edges with some graffiti; I wonder if it has been spruced up since then. It was getting dark and we had to dash to a hotel room near Chimney Rock and Scott’s Bluff to watch the 2008 Vice-presidential Debate otherwise we would have stayed a bit longer. I do not recall seeing the tombstones for the foreign cars, but I remember seeing the time capsule plaques. The next day while walking the Oregon Trail near Scott’s Bluff I saw and heard a Rattler about 10-15 feet away sunning itself on a rock which caused me to swear a lot then run away as fast as my feet could carry me. I now know that reaction is not ideal most of the time. My folks and I found the people of Nebraska and Wyoming to be a friendly lot.
Overall I like Carhenge more than Cadillac Ranch (I visited there 9-29-2012) and I bet a fiver that Carhenge will long outlast Cadillac Ranch. The Caddies are falling apart, surrounded by puddles that smell of cow excrement (some tourists were walking in them barefooted), and being covered with spray paint as well as other things does not help their case in the long run. The weather in Western Nebraska can be crazy and Carhenge would be gone in a few decades if not maintained.
Stopped in Sidney NE 13 years ago on a cross-country trip. Forgot all about Carhenge and have regretted that memory lapse ever since.
I missed out as well…16 years ago (Oct 1997) I drove right through Alliance, guess I didn’t know this was there….I was on my way up from Texas to Rapid City ND. I was taking local/state roads almost the whole trip, I came back through Wyoming and Colorado then New Mexico (wasn’t the most direct route, but I was visiting friends) and I think I was on the interstate less than 60 miles (I 40 between Santa Rosa and Clines Corners NM) the whole trip which I figure was more than 2000 miles. I live in central Texas, and if you look at a map of where I was going there isn’t really a direct shot milage wise that includes an interstate (of course, I’m not counting the over/under pass crossing an interstate on a road that crosses an interstate)
Which in itself might be a good topic for discussion (not about cars per se but about the roads): What is the longest distance you have travelled on a single trip that did not include at least some interstate mileage?
The astronomer in me wonders if the cars are aligned so the sun’s shadow points directly at the car in the center on the winter and sumer solstice.
I think that is the idea.
There’s not much in Alliance except a large BNSF Railways yard, used to service the coal trains out of the Powder River basin west of there. I took these pictures when I was there to study the train movements for my job, but I decided to make the most of the trip and drove to the other side of town to see it. I’m glad you liked tbem. (I got some decent train photos too, though they’re not quite Trackside Classics as they are all pretty recent.)
Me and my brother visited there two years ago on the way back from the Black Hills, lots of fun, definitely stop if you are in the area.
We are driving from Los Angeles to Rapid City in August and will be driving real close to Carhenge, so a little detour will be now taken! I’ve not heard of this before. Another monument is near Cadillac Ranch too, I found it a few years ago.
That 1967 Oldsmobile is probably a Ninety-Eight and it probably had a perfect rear bumper: UGH.