Featured in Ripley's Believe It or Not!
The International Car Forest
Near Goldfield, Nevada, the International Car Forest of the Last Church looms with 40 cars, trucks, and vans planted in the desert sands just a few minutes off US Route 95. Balanced precariously on their ends or stacked atop one another, the rusted junkers look more like the capricious handiwork of Paul Bunyan’s son playing with giant Hot Wheels than art.
That is, until you drive or walk closer gaining views of the haphazard and exquisitely rendered psychedelic murals painted on many of the cars’ roofs. The realization is sudden and profound: these automobiles sprouting surrealistically from the ground function as huge canvases featuring edgy portraits, political caricatures, and a cross-section of local and tourist-executed graffiti.
According to co-creator, Chad Sorg, “Most of the original artwork is mine. After I left Goldfield in 2013, other artists showed up, and the art has morphed into new and different things.”
Visitors to the car forest will stumble upon everything from a portrait of Ron Paul to “Kapow,” an explosion “insinuating an alien invasion.” Among Sorg’s other masterpieces is a “red being and a blue being, one looking like a sci-fi alien and the other looking like an angel fighting for domination.” Red and blue represent a duality significant to Sorg’s personal work and one with “deep implications… political, spiritual”—like the exhibit itself.
The other half of the creative team, Michael “Mark” Rippie, conceived the idea for the car forest in 2002 as a means of securing immortality and a world record. While other record holders rely on tried and true methods like growing unnaturally long beards or juggling flaming objects, Rippie capitalized on what he had—80 acres and a collection of inoperable cars, vans, and buses, the recompense for years spent as a ghost-town mechanic. Rippie started plunging vehicles nose-first into the ground, reasoning that enough automobiles face first in the sand meant international recognition. Naturally…
In 2004, Sorg discovered the site and connected with Rippie. Although there were only a few cars in the ground at that point, the larger artistic opportunities available at the site captivated Sorg, co-founder of Reno’s Nada Dada Motel. By 2010, he relocated to Goldfield, jumping into the trenches with Rippie, and they completed the project in 2011. During the process, Rippie and Sorg transformed into expert land and car movers, operating spotlight-accessorized backhoes and trucks at midnight to avoid the oppressive heat of the day.
The International Car Forest of the Last Church soon grew to occupy approximately 40 acres, but record-holding fame proved elusive to Rippie.
“As far as the record, we were simply too lazy with paperwork to make sure that it was true. But from what I have researched, we are the largest car forest in the world.” – Sorg
Ironically, it’s not the scale or the number of cars that draw countless visitors to the exhibit. It’s the inherent mystery and eclectic artistry of a one-of-a-kind creation ensconced in a timeless desert landscape.
Like the Car Forest, twists of fate are nothing new to Goldfield. Located 247 miles southeast of Carson City and 184 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Goldfield was once the wealthiest city in Nevada producing $2,300,000 of ore by 1904 and attracting 20,000 residents at its height. But, you’d never know it today.
Fate conspired against the hotshot metropolis when mine production slowed, several natural disasters hacked away at local structures, and two world wars made gold an inconsequential afterthought. Today, the town boasts 268 citizens, down from 440 just a decade earlier. You’re more likely to hear the whistling of the wind through old power lines or the braying of a grumpy, feral burro than you are any souvenirs of urban life.
But when you do find people, they enthusiastically discuss Goldfield’s history filling you in on its must-see attractions. These include many dilapidated buildings and collected debris retooled into “art.” Once you’ve submerged yourself fully in the local vibe, the International Car Forest of the Last Church makes total sense. Like much of the town today, the car forest represents a natural extension of the Goldfield experience: artistic liberty run amok with desert junk.
Worth a Visit
While Goldfield’s car forest claims no premium on outdoor automotive exhibits (there’s also Texas’s Cadillac Ranch and Nebraska’s Carhenge), Rippie and Sorg’s concept is unwavering in its disorienting vision, mirrored by the site’s official title—a jumble of contradictory references to organized religion and the local landscape. Yet, despite all of the deepness, it’s a fun place to visit, get lost, and maybe even participate. Sorg invites visitors along for the ride.
“Artists are free to continue to paint and decorate the cars as there are no restrictions.”
Intensely blue skies and gorgeous mountain vistas surround the valley of vertical vehicles, providing the perfect playground for artists of all kinds, from painters and muralists to performers and photographers.
No signs mark the site. No explanations are afforded those who wander into the place by accident, and no cohesive theme unites any of it except, perhaps, individualism.
“I am an individualist to the core. So is Mark Rippie… The car forest was the manifestation of individualism. It’s a roadside attraction, meaning that our hope is that it takes people off guard. Our hope is that people stumble upon it and find inspiration in the most unlikely of places. It is a meditation of solitude and selfhood.”
From US Route 95 south of Goldfield, you’ll see a rusty white-and-turquoise school bus pointing at an impossible 45-degree angle from a steep mound of dirt along the horizon. Once you see the bus, turn left onto Crystal Avenue, a gravel road running two blocks into a steep, rocky dirt path. If your vehicle has low clearance, park it. Then, walk for about ten minutes to reach the center of the beauty and chaos.
By Engrid Barnett, contributor for Ripleys.com