“The key to understanding any people is in its art: its writing, painting, sculpture.”
― Louis L'Amour
When I’m on the road, I always make time to stop at interesting roadside attractions. Sometimes I get lucky and find something right off the highway, while other times I’ve had to venture into backroads and follow handwritten directions from a local to find my destination.
Either way, it’s always exciting to to find art in the outdoors. Wide open spaces are inspiring, and provide a backdrop unlike any art museum.
Here are my 7 favorites so far:
Galleta Meadows Estate — Borrego Springs, CA
Galleta Meadows Estate is in Borrego Springs, California — a town completely surrounded by Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. It is also the home to over 130 metal sculptures along the sides of the roads. A philanthropist, Dennis Avery, owned the land, and commissioned artist Ricardo Breceda to create the historic, prehistoric, and fanciful creatures all over his property.
They are massive, and awe inspiring. You can find most of them off of Borrego Springs Rd, through a seemingly never-ending network of dirt roads. There are maps available in town, but I’d argue finding them is part of the fun.
On the way: visit Anza Borrego Desert State Park! Spend some time in Borrego Springs, stop at Kesling’s Kitchen for lunch, or take a picnic to Christmas Circle.
More information can be found here.
Seven Magic Mountains — outside Las Vegas, NV
No, it’s not a theme park, but the crowds might rival one. I’m sure you’ve seen photos of Seven Magic Mountains scrolling through Instagram. But you might not realize that the installation is right outside of Las Vegas — off I-15. Meant to be a two-year installation created by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone, the 30 foot neon rocks are still standing almost three years on.
And still bringing in crowds. I’d try to visit at sunrise or sunset, and on a weekday if possible to avoid the crowds.
On the road: Las Vegas :) It’s also a good spot to stop and take a break between a trip from Zion National Park to Joshua Tree.
More info can be found here.
Noah Purifoy Desert Art Museum — Joshua Tree, CA
During one of my first trips to Joshua Tree, I stayed in an eclectic artist owned camper in the desert. My plan was to spend my days in the park, but my airbnb host highly recommended that I take a detour — to the Noah Purifoy Desert Art Musuem. I am SO glad I did. The Desert Art Museum is made up of several acres of land displaying Purifoy’s assemblage sculptures. He created them all on site from 1989-2004 using all sorts of materials.
There are brochures at the entrance with names and story of each piece that I definitely encourage you to read when visiting. Then meander through the thoughtful and political sculptures, likely without a crowd. This art is meant to be walked in/on — Purifoy was interested in the role the environment would play in the pieces. It is truly unlike anywhere I have ever been.
On the road: Joshua Tree National Park is just a stones throw away.
Read more here.
Cadillac Ranch — Amarillo, TX
This is arguably the most famous roadside art installation of all — Cadillac Ranch. Sitting, er, buried on a cow pasture with an unlocked gate (actually it’s second location), Cadillac Ranch is an ode to the changing Cadillac tailfin. It was created by the San Francisco art group Ant Farm, with funding from local millionaire patron Stanley Marsh 3.
Cadillac Ranch was crowded and strewn with empty spray paint bottles on my visit — but I was still glad I stopped. The interactive nature of the art is inspiring — reading and admiring what others have created on the cars.
On the road: Cadillac Ranch can be found right off I-40 outside of Amarillo between Oklahoma City and Albuquerque. It’s also a stop along the historic Route 66.
Read more here.
Prada Marfa — Valentine, TX
Another famous Instagram location — Prada Marfa. Prada Marfa is not actually in Marfa, but a mile or so outside of Valentine, Texas (pop. 134) and 26 from Marfa. This is one of the rare destinations that is actually more remote than it seems in photos. It is truly in the middle of nowhere, which is the point. Conceived by artists Elmgreen and Dragset, and supported by Miuccia Prada (she hand selected handbags and shoes to be displayed inside), the store is obviously non-functional, and meant to be permanent without repairs.
You find it directly on Highway 90, south of I-10 towards Marfa.
On the road: Marfa is an amazing city full of art and oddities. Visit Food Shark, the Chinati Foundation, and attempt to get a glimpse of the Marfa lights. It’s also a great stopping point on the way to or from Big Bend National Park.
More info here.
World’s Smallest Target — Marathon, TX
There isn’t much known about this one, as no one has ever claimed responsibility. Located 40ish miles east of Marfa on US 90, it is surrounded by… basically nothing. I visited after Prada Marfa and if nothing else it made me chuckle. My kind of tiny store indeed.
On the road: it is outside of Marfa, and about 2 hours North of Big Bend National Park.
Read more here.
Carhenge — Alliance, NE
I spend a lot of time driving through Nebraska, and like their new slogan explains — “it’s not for everyone”. I saw the signs for Carhenge multiple times, but it’s location 2 hours north of the Interstate wasn’t exactly appealing. I took the scenic route to visit Scottsbluff National Monument on a recent trip, so it was the perfect time to stop.
Carhenge is just what it sounds like — a Stonehenge replica made with cars. Built by Jim Reinders in 1987, the site has a visitors center, parking, and other artwork on site. While I don’t know if I would go two hours out of my way to visit, it is an interesting and eclectic stop if you’re in the area.
On the road: Scottsbluff National Monument is about an hour west
Read more here.
This list doesn’t even scratch the surface on roadside art installations, but I hope it inspired you to add one or two to your list.
What outdoor art installations do you recommend? Let me know in the comments :)