Panhandle Texcentricity

Monday, December 24, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Westward Ho, Days 50 & 51:  Amarillo, TX to Oklahoma City, OK

Our searches for letterboxes in the Amarillo area on Sunday led us on the trail of some Texas eccentrics.  Since big and bold seem to be the Texas manner in all things, it comes as no surprise that the state produces an abundance of folks who march to the beat of their own drummers.

The first 'Texcentric' whose handiwork we encountered was one Charles Marsh 3—yes, that's Marsh 3 because the oil fortune heir found Charles Marsh III to be a bit too pretentious.  Since the family fortune doles out all the income he needs, Charles has devoted his time and creativity to projects that he thought would enhance his native Texas panhandle.

Cadillac Ranch
Described as a public art installation, the Cadillac Ranch consists of ten old model Cadillacs half buried nose-first in the ground.  The angle of their tilt is said to mimic that of the Great Pyramid in Egypt.  Moved in 1997 to a field adjacent to I-40, the Caddy ranch attracts many visitors, all of whom are welcome to bring their own can of spray paint and become part of the art.

Creating a black canvas for her message kept it from getting lost.
Another of Marsh 3's project that we visited to locate a nearby letterbox doesn't seem quite as successful.  Apparently, the idea behind the Floating Mesa was that if you paint some plywood boards a sky color and place them near the top of a mesa, it will create the optical illusion that the top of the mesa is floating.  Perhaps on those rare days when the sky is exactly the color of the boards, it works—the day we visited, not so much.  A wee bit of time on the computer, however, makes quick work of his objective.  On the right is Marsh's mess of a mesa with this day's sky color.  On the left is the effect he was trying to accomplish, executed with some very simple photo editing.

Dueling Floating Mesas?
In a field adjacent to I-27 south of Amarillo is another 'art' installation commissioned by Marsh, in an attempt to illustrate Shelley's poem "Ozymandias." 

“I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command."


Two giant trunkless legs, 24 and 34 feet tall, stand on a platform.  Like Cadillac Ranch, the legs have stimulated the inner graffiti artist in visitors, this time in the form of spray-painted socks, whose style apparently changes from time to time and has included white tube socks with a red stripe near the top.

Ozymandias in the Panhandle
Rather than acknowledging that the idea came from the poem, the cheeky Mr. Marsh had an official-looking plaque installed, rewriting a little history to claim that the legs inspired Shelley when he supposedly made a trip to the Texas panhandle area.

Even the plaque has been decorated with spray paint.
Marsh's disdain for the city of Lubbock is also reflected on his plaque.  At the bottom, the engraving indicates that the face mentioned in the poem was damaged by Lubbock students after they lost a football game to Amarillo.  According to local lore, visitors regularly inquire in town about the nonexistent Amarillo Museum of Natural History, where the plaque indicates the nonexistent damaged statuary is now on exhibit.

Part of Marsh's 'Dynamite Museum'
Marsh's most ubiquitous project has been his so-called 'Dynamite Museum' and it's here that many take issue with his self-described 'art' installations.  Prankster is a term often used for the eccentric Marsh and his phony road signs which are collectively known as the Dynamite Museum.  Made to look like traffic signs, the bogus markers can be found around Amarillo in the hundreds.  Google the term 'Dynamite Museum' for a look at some.  After the city understandably objected to these frivolous imitations, Marsh sent a team of people door to door offering to erect his signs on their private property near the street.  Apparently, there were lots of takers.

Combine City
Lest we imply that Stanley Marsh 3 has cornered the market on quirkiness in the Texas panhandle, we must mention a few other roadside attractions we came across in this funky area.  With Cadillac Ranch garnering such a following, there were bound to be imitations.  South of Amarillo outside the town of Canyon, there's 'Combine City,' a collection of 14 retired harvesting machines planted at an angle in the corner of a field.  Unlike the original, there is no direct public access (and no unwritten invitation to spray paint) the farm equipment.

VW Slug Bug Ranch
Not to be outdone, the town of Conway, a few miles east of Amarillo, plays host to the VW Slug Bug Ranch.  Planted nosedown (of course), these old Volkswagens have been treated to the same decorative treatment as Cadillac Ranch.

Continuing east, we arrived at the 'Leaning Water Tower of Texas' in the tiny town of Groom.  Originally a functional water tower, the structure was scheduled for demolition when a local entrepreneur decided to purchase it and station it near Route 66 (and later I-40) as an iconic sign for his truck stop, which has subsequently closed.  But the tower still attracts plenty of picture takers, like us, and hosts a nearby letterbox as well.

Feet on the left are actually above the ground, a creative gravitational challenge. 
Further west, we came to the town of McLean (pop. 786).  The town, which once billed itself as "the heart of Route 66," once had 16 service stations, 6 motels, and numerous cafes.  Today it has been reduced to rows of unoccupied storefronts and nostalgic murals.

McLean Museum
One local attraction which we unfortunately had to miss because it's open only in summer is the museum dedicated to barbed wire and, as an afterthought, Route 66.  Though we were unable to visit the collection, we were amazed that someone was able to create the tight balls of barbed wire that were on display at the entrance.  Ouch!

So much Texcentricity, so little time.  Had we been able to devote more time to the exploration, we are quite confident that we could have chanced upon many more Texas eccentrics in the panhandle.  But our plans took us into Oklahoma City, where we'll spend a couple of nights, waiting out the snow event that the Weather Channel has forecast.  Thankfully, no Greek or Roman name has been attached to this possibility yet.  Time will tell.