Roadside attractions were plentiful on our drive across the American West this fall. Most were quirky, some historic, a few disappointing. But our favorite was Carhenge in Alliance, NE. We visited at sunrise.
Rising from Great Plains of the United States, Carhenge is a creative spoof of England’s prehistoric monument Stonehenge, featuring cars as the building blocks rather than sandstone boulders. Obviously, the differences don’t stop there:
- The first boulders were erected at Stonehenge around 2,500 B.C., during the Bronze Age.
- Carhenge was built across two weeks in June 1987, during the Big Hair Era.
- The original purpose of Stonehenge is unclear. Maybe it’s a burial ground. Thousands of revelers show up each year during the summer and winter solstice when Stonehenge aligns nicely with the sun.
- Carhenge was assembled by Alliance native Jim Reinders with the help of family and friends as a loving tribute to his father. They celebrated its completion with a family reunion the week of the summer solstice.
- Stonehenge is shrouded in mystery.
- Carhenge is pure fun. Admission to both is free!
The 39 automobiles that make up Carhenge are set in a circle 96 feet in diameter to approximate the scale of Stonehenge. Some are buried nose down in five-foot pits and others are set atop and welded into place to form arches. They are spray-painted gray.
We arrived just before dawn after cruising from our hotel through the darkened and deserted streets of Alliance. The temperature was 24 degrees, and a glaze of frost covered the 10-acre preserve and installation on the north end of town. Sleepy clusters of pigeons, feathers puffed against the morning chill, stood sentry along fenders and rooflines. Otherwise, we were all alone.
The sun broke the horizon with a flurry of feathers as the startled flock briefly rose as one before resettling. The morning was clear, and The Geek and her Canon Rebel sprang into action to capture the sun’s interplay with Carhenge from as many angles as possible. MontaraManDan went back to the car for his gloves.
As under-dressed tourists from California, we found ourselves unprepared for the October morning chill. Cold crept beneath our flimsy puffy vests and nipped at exposed ears and fingers. MontaraManDan grew up in Northern Illinois and met The Geek while both resided in Central Missouri. So, no excuses. We should have known better.
Still, we took the time to circle the installation and check out some of the other sculptures crafted from cars and related parts that round out the Car Art Preserve.
If you’re thinking, “Oh, just like the Cadillac Ranch,” think again. We’ve visited both. Carhenge is much more complex and interesting then the row of 10 Cadillacs buried upright to the windshield just off of Interstate 40 outside of Amarillo, TX.
Alliance, which also is home to a major BNSF Railway coal train processing yard, is 80 miles from the nearest Interstate and 155 miles from the nearest cities of size – Cheyenne, WY, to the southeast, and Rapid City, SD, to the north. So, unless we hop a train we probably won’t pass this way again. But we’re sure glad we stopped by.
Thanks, Jim and family!
This post is the 10th in a series about our adventures on a 6,000-mile road trip across the American West in Fall 2019.
Part 10: Sunrise at Carhenge: Nebraska’s Nod to Stonehenge Revs Our Imaginations