Austin isn’t the only city in Texas keeping it weird. With 268,820 square miles of land and 654,923 miles of road it’s no surprise that there are an impressive number of gloriously strange attractions tucked into all corners of this sprawling state. Whether you’re a fresh-faced visitor or a local looking to drum up a new level of Texas pride, the gems below are guaranteed to make your day more interesting.
Located West of Amarillo on Route 66, south of I-40 between exits 60 and 62, rest 10 Cadillacs half buried, nose down, in the hot Texas sand. This piece of public art known as Cadillac Ranch was the brainchild of Amarillo billionaire Stanley Marsh 3 and a San Francisco artists’ collective called The Ant Farm in 1973, and is said to have been conceived as a tribute to the evolution of the Cadillac tail fin. By 1974, the project-which involved acquiring 10 used Cadillac models and planting them with tail fins on display in a line from the oldest, a 1949 Club Sedan, to the newest, a 1963 Sedan de Ville-was complete.
The monument has pulled in a fascinated, if slightly baffled, public since its inception. Visitors quickly began to make themselves a part of the legacy by painting the exteriors and stripping souvenirs (chrome parts, radios, sometimes even doors) from the classic caddies. Though many would consider it defacement, the Ant Farm encouraged the public interaction and Marsh has been credited saying “We think it looks better every year.”
Throughout the years, Cadillac Ranch has gone through multiple paint jobs including a pink period organized as a Valentine’s Day gesture, and a matte black to honor one of Ant Farm’s founding members, Doug Michels, after his death in 2003. All of the vehicles are periodically repainted to give new visitors a blank canvas. So, if you’ve been looking for a way to use the leftover house paint cluttering up your garage, or have been itching to get your hands on a can of Krylon without fear of repercussion, Cadillac Ranch is the answer. Just don’t expect your artistic vision to last for long; a new layer of graffiti is bound to be popping up in no time.
13-Ton Boulder Carved Into John Wayne’s Head
Besides being the hometown of Buddy Holly, there’s another reason to have the small town of Lubbock, Texas on your radar-and it’s a 13-ton boulder that has been carved into the likeness of John Wayne. Appalled that you had no idea such a thing existed? We were too. And while no backstory is really necessary to cement this giant replica of the Duke’s head as a noteworthy sight, Roadside America has the details on Brett-Livingstone Strong, the sculptor behind the art, and how the massive rock came to rest at Lubbock Christian University.
Mystery Lights in Marfa
The first recorded sighting of Marfa’s Mystery Lights-often reported to occur in the sky above Mitchell Flat East of Marfa-comes from 1883. The sighting was reported by one of the first settler’s of the area, but the lights are said to have been flashing earlier still: local Apache believed they were fallen stars.
The Mystery Lights, also called Ghost Lights, appear as glowing orbs seen in pairs or groups that can change in color from white, blue, green, yellow, and red. Multiple accounts tell of the lights moving in patterns, darting across the sky and fusing together. There are numerous theories that attempt to put the mystery to rest, but none are definitive. The only answer may be to spend some time at the official viewing area off Highway 90 to catch a glimpse for yourself.
Toilet Seat Art Museum
We know, we know: “toilet seat” is not normally what you want to preface “museum,” but, in this case, the man behind the museum might be enough to change your mind.
94-year-old San Antonian Barney Smith is an exuberant force. Expect him to greet you at the door with cheerful chatter and give you a guided tour, complete with a VHS tape of media appearances. A former plumber, Smith recalls the moment he noticed the similarity in shape between toilet seats and the plaques his father used to mount trophy heads. After successfully mounting a set of deer antlers on a seat, Smith became enamoured with the unusual, and readily accessible, medium. In a little over four decades the artist has evolved his approach to toilet seat art. Gone are the antlers, but artifacts from nature are still present in Smith’s multi-media collages and paintings. Beneath one specifically memorable lid is a hive of preserved hornets.
In Smith’s growing collection, all manner of found objects can be expected. A few notable examples include volcanic ash from Mount St. Helens, casket handles, arrowheads, and a piece of insulation from the Space Shuttle Challenger. Subject matter varies from pop culture tributes (both JFK and Michael Jackson have been honored with a dedicated seat) to snapshots of Smith’s personal life. So far, Smith has painted over a 1,000 toilet seats and isn’t ready to give up his artistic pursuit anytime soon: “I can’t even eat when I’m hungry or sleep when I’m sleepy when I’m working on toilet seats,” he told the team at Roadside America.
The full collection of elaborately decorated seats are on display in the artist’s garage-turned-museum. And while Smith is quick to entertain visitors with the creation stories behind each one, he’s a bit slower in other areas: “It takes me at least 20 minutes to quit doing what I’m doing and get my shoes on,” Smith has said, so be sure to call before you visit.
The Orange Show
With over two decades of toil, Jeff McKissack, a Houston postman, created the strangely compelling jumble of sculptural assemblage and handmade architecture named The Orange Show. McKissack built the maze-like design, which includes structured walkways, balconies, exhibits, an oasis, a pond and a wishing well, from common building materials like brick and concrete interspersed with found objects like wagon wheels, mannequins, and tractor seats. As the name suggests, The Orange Show exists in honor of the simple citrus fruit. During the Depression, McKissack held a job transporting Florida oranges. Something in the experience must have made an impression because thereafter McKissack was not shy to pronounce that oranges were the world’s most perfect food.
It’s difficult to imagine McKissack transforming an empty East End lot into the labyrinth that exists today without picturing a man driven by obsession, working in a feverish haze. No one can know for sure since McKissack worked in isolation from 1956 until 1979, constructing new corners of his shrine-like monument. Between the brightly-colored exhibits of sculpture, mosaic work and hand-painted details are signs that extol the virtue of recognizing the orange as a king among fruit with simple text that reads “Go Orange, Be Strong” and “Be Smart, Drink Fresh Orange Juice.”
In 1980, less than a year after The Orange Show was completed, McKissack suffered a stroke and passed away. His work, however, is still very much alive today in the form of a non-profit foundation that offers community programs and serves as a center for folk art events.
Cockroach Hall of Fame
Plano, Texas has a hall of fame unlike any you’ve likely imagined. Founder Michael Bohdan opened the Cockroach Hall of Fame inside his pest extermination shop and leads tours while wearing a roach-lined fedora.(For a peek inside, you can take a virtual tour with this video posted on Gadling.) The diorama-like displays Bohdan curates include the oft-despised bugs dressed up in multi-legged costumes. A standout few are accompanied by props, as in the case of “Liberoachi,” who is posed at a miniature piano. Featured celebrities have included Elvis, Britney Spears, and the most satisfyingly named, Marilyn Monroach.