My 7 Favorite Roadside Art Installations

“The key to understanding any people is in its art: its writing, painting, sculpture.” 
― 
Louis L'Amour

Whoa sign outside of Big Basin National Park in Baker, Nevada (pop. 68)

Whoa sign outside of Big Basin National Park in Baker, Nevada (pop. 68)

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

7 magic mountains

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

cadillac+ranch

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 :)

The Privilege of Sleeping in My Car

"The better you look, the more you see.” ― Bret Easton Ellis

suv modification 1

If you follow me on Instagram , you know I recently converted my Nissan Rogue SUV into a camper with a sleeping platform (post with more info coming soon). I spent most of the summer traveling around the United States and Canada, camping in my car and having the most amazing time.

Well, mostly. 

teton view suv mod

There was a night or two when I was too excited to get to my days destination to plan in advance where I would stay that night. Now, even though I’m camping in the car, I still stay at campgrounds and have reserved them whenever possible. I’m alone and so I value the security even more that comes with knowing where I’ll be overnight. But on those few nights — one in particular — I didn’t have a plan and ended up sort of frantic unable to figure out where I should go, and if anything would be available when I got there. I also had no cell service, I mean this is the Wild West after all, compounding my anxiety.

There was a moment when I almost started to cry in my overwhelm, and actually thought to myself some form of “I understand how people feel when they don’t have a secure place to stay at night”. Umm… luckily, in about two seconds I had to stop myself from taking both my hands off the wheel to slap myself across the face because, no, I have no idea how that feels. 

I am so privileged. I have a car (that I can sleep in comfortably!), I have enough money to get a hotel if I needed to, I have family I can call, I am white, I am decent looking, educated, I have no history of legal trouble, and if I was broken down on the side of the road I am fairly certain every decent person who saw me would have no qualms about stopping to help me.

But that’s not true for everyone. Or even for most people. 

suv mod

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, in January of 2015 there were 564,708 homeless individuals on one single night — but we know the “homeless count” is famously difficult to track so it’s estimated between 2 and 3 million people a year actually spend time homeless. That’s insane. That’s the same as (or more than) the entire population of Chicago. 

That many people actually don’t know where they are going to sleep at night. They can’t just make a reservation online, or use a different credit card, or call their parents, cry to a park ranger, keep driving a few extra hours for an open camp site -- whatever many of us could do. 

So how does this affect me?

suv mod

“Checking your privilege” has become an almost annoying and overused popculture-y phrase that seems to have lost a little of it’s meaning. So let’s go backwards a little. Privilege is just an advantage that you have — earned or unearned — because of some aspect of your life. It doesn’t mean you don’t have struggles, it just means that you have some advantages other people don’t have. Two things can be true at the same time, remember. 

So how do I “check my privilege”? Should I stop doing what I’m doing? Should I spend the money I’m using on converting my car and reserving campgrounds to donate to homeless charities? Should I take a vow of poverty and give all my belongings away? For some people, yes, but I don’t feel led to that. Action that comes from guilt isn’t helping anyone. 

For me, checking my privilege is just a way to reflect. Not so much on my own unearned privilege — because privilege awareness in itself is a privileged position to be in, but I digress — but on the unearned disadvantages that others face. Realizing how bad I felt that night without a campsite then realizing this is literally just a shred of what a truly homeless person would feel is an invitation to more compassion and empathy. 

“Awareness” has become a dirty word of sorts — “but what does your awareness bracelet do to actually help ______?” But awareness is still an important step in the process of becoming a more equalized society. If we don’t know something is off balance, how do we equalize it? We don’t. We continue to live our lives in the secure and safe bubbles we’ve set up for ourselves, and turn a blind eye to those who experience life differently than we do. 

Well I refuse to do that.

I want to know the things that I don’t know. And not confuse empathy with experience. 

taos - new mexico

"My needle is slow to settle, varies a few degrees, and does not always point due southwest, it is true, and it has good authority for this variation, but it always settles between west and south-southwest. The future lies that way to me, and the earth seems more unexhausted and richer on that side." - Henry David Thoreau

There are a few places I've been where I feel most like myself - more alive and understood without saying anything. Taos New Mexico is one of those places.

I have been going for long weekends as often as I can since I've moved back to Colorado and it's the place I get asked about most frequently. It's a 5ish hour drive from Denver so it's a great long weekend destination. Not convinced? Look at these pictures and maybe read my absolutely biased opinions on one of my favorite small towns. 

Taos was incorporated in 1934, and has a population of only 5,731 people. There is a small downtown plaza with neighborhoods of adobe houses surrounding it on mostly dirt and gravel roads. Taos has a distinctly "dirtier" vibe than nearby Santa Fe - part of why I like it. It has over 80 art galleries (seriously), is 81% democratic (seriously), has several ski areas nearby, 3 art museums, is/has been home to Aldous Huxley, Gary Johnson, D.H. Lawrence, Julia Roberts, Donald Rumsfeld and allegedly the "Taos Hum" - a reported widespread low frequency hum in the area that was referenced on Unsolved Mysteries and the X-Files. It is an eclectic place to say the least.

Bordering Taos on the North side is the Taos Pueblo that has been around since somewhere between 1000-1450 AD and is one of the oldest continually inhabited communities in the United States. You can visit the Pueblo (and you should) for a small fee and either catch a tour or roam around yourself. While there are 1,900 Taos indians living in the area there are only about 150 that live in the Pueblo year round. I had some fascinating conversations just wandering around with the people who live and work in the Pueblo. 

One of the best things about Taos is that you can spend a weekend there and never even go into the city. The town is spread out with many interesting abodes. One of the places I come back to often is a geodesic earth dome (below). I've stayed several times and it's the perfect peaceful retreat. I only met the property manager once - briefly - who explained that this area is known as "introvert heaven" and I understand why. I've spent entire weekends here cooking, reading, painting, taking long baths, laying in the grass outside, and not speaking to another person the entire time. Heaven indeed. 

I've also stayed in a couple of tiny homes/airstreams/vintage trailers - this one is in the same area as the dome and was also the perfect place to spend a weekend alone. I read three books, drank wine, watched the sunsets, and then woke up with the sunrise for three days and it was magical. There is something about the sky in New Mexico - I could sit and stare for hours. 

But what if you're not like me and want to leave your weird tiny lodgings? You're in luck - there's so much to do! Hot springs are all over New Mexico but to get the authentic experience you have to go to the free and natural springs on the river. Manby Hot Springs/Stagecoach hot springs are a collection of hot spring pools on the bank of the Rio Grande. It was a location in the movie "Easy Rider" and is popular with locals. The hike down is not too long or difficult but it's a hike so be prepared. The pools are at the bottom and are clothing optional so, again, be prepared :) 

I've found several different (wrong) directions online so here are my hopefully sorta kinda accurate (as much as you can be in this town) directions:

Take highway 64 west from town towards the Rio Grande Gorge bridge and turn right on Tune Rd. Take the road about 4 miles (all dirt) and stay left at the Y. There is an upper parking lot if you don't have a high clearance vehicle and a lot right at the trailhead if you do. The trailhead is a short walk to the left. If I missed a step just go towards the gorge :) 

Not into naked hippies or hiking? Head to Taos Mesa Brewing which is just a short drive from the springs. The original "mothership" is actually in El Prado - an unincorporated Taos suburb - but there is now also a smaller downtown tap room location. It was built in the same sustainable building style of the Earthships down the road (and down this blog post) with salvaged materials and within 5 years it should be totally off the grid. The beer is good, the food is good, they have live music, an awesome outdoor space, and tons of cool people. Also - the best view of the majestic Sangre de Cristos. 

Another 6 miles down the road in El Prado is Earthship Biotecture World Headquarters. An Earthship is a type of passive solar home that is made from recycled, salvaged, and up-cycled materials (tires, bottles, cans etc). You can visit the model home and learn about Earthships as well as rent one for the night - next on my list. The community was started in Taos by architect Michael Reynolds but Earthships can now be found all over the world. It's a fascinating topic and the homes are super artistic and livable. Definitely worth a visit. 

If you're not convinced yet - check out the festival schedule, some of the art galleries, the nearby high and low roads from Taos to Santa Fe, the ski valley, watch this episode of the X-Files, or just listen to this little ditty:

<3

the great great sand dunes

“Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.” - Rumi

From 1st to 4th grade my family lived in Colorado. One of my strangest memories from those years is of a visit to the Great Sand Dunes (it wasn't yet a National Park). I have always remembered images of the visit in my mind but thought that it was too surreal to have actually happened. Because not even my mind could conjure something so incredible.

dunes 1

Since I have moved back to the state I have visited a few times and am in the same state of wonder and amazement as all those years ago. 

A little background on the park: the Great Sand Dunes are home to the tallest sand dunes in North America - 750 ft from base to crest. It was declared a National Monument in 1932 and a National Park and Preserve in 2004. The park covers 44,246 acres and an additional 41,686 for the preserve. The nearest town is Alamosa (35 miles away). 

The dunes started forming through sand and soil deposits from the Rio Grande, the winds picked up the sand and lost power before crossing the mountains. The process is continuous and the shape of the dunes change daily. 

The dunes are accessible for hiking (very carefully in the summer when sand temps can reach 150 degrees!) sand sledding, sand boarding, and there are sand wheelchairs available (so cool) The sand sleds and sand boards are available tor rent in Alamosa at Kristi Mountain Sports or Oasis Campground outside the park. 

The Great Sand Dunes are just shy of 4 hours from Denver. I take I-25 south, exit 52 to US-180 W at Walsenburg, over La Veta pass and into Fort Garland then Blanca. Turn right onto CO - 150, drive about 19 miles and you're there! It is $15 per car (or no charge with the America the Beautiful Pass that I recommend at least once a day). 

Until you get close you'd never know anything was there other than the Sangre de Cristo mountains. 

dunes road

At the main parking area you enter the dunes by crossing Medano Creek - or swimming through in the summer!

sand dunes 3
sand dunes 4
sand dunes 5
sand dunes 6

The dunes are much larger than a picture can convey. Be prepared to walk quite a while through some challenging altitude change if you want to get to the top. Bring water! (and sunscreen - I had a Teva foot sunburn that lasted a year after this picture)

sand dunes 9

I like to climb up somewhere and just sit. I bring a book but it's usually too windy to do anything but take it in. There are no real set trails due to the changing landscape so you can be as far or close to others as you'd like. I prefer far :) Acoustic monitoring has shown that the park has one of the quietest soundscapes in the country! I'm not surprised. So peaceful. 

Again, pictures don't do them justice. You have to go.

Resolution: make a gif ✔️ #sanddunes #cartwheel #gif

See this Instagram video by @emhart11 * 8 likes

If all these pictures haven't convinced you to visit this underrated National Park then I don't know what will. It is an amazing, peaceful, and surreal place that everyone should see in their lifetime.