The very last leg of our spring break road trip to two route 66 towns (Kingman and Holbrook), Grand Canyon National Park, Petrified Forest National Park, Meteor Crater, and Hoover Dam took us from Las Vegas through Reno back home to Rocklin, California.
I didn’t have too high of hopes for our drive through the desert from Las Vegas to Reno, Nevada, as we had already visited the Rhyolite Ghost Town and the Goldfield Open Air Museum on our Thanksgiving road trip to Death Valley National Park. But I did find one weird roadside attraction on Highway 95: The International Car Forest of the Last Church.
Yes, a car forest. Seriously.
The International Car Forest of the Last Church, created by Mark Rippie and Chad Sorg, sits on a dirt road in the desert of Nevada and features more than 40 vehicles and even a couple buses embedded vertically in the dirt so they stick up into the air.
It’s not everyday that you get to see cars and buses sticking straight up out of the grown and covered in graffiti! So when I read about the Car Forest sitting out in the middle of the Nevada desert and figured out that we’d be driving right past it, of course I made Brian stop!
We tried using Google Maps to find the Car Forest, but that didn’t exactly work! While we could see the cars sticking up out of the ground from the Highway, finding the turn off to actually reach isn’t as easy as it sounds. There are no road signs and no actual road, just stretches of dirt that I think are supposed to be roads and a white board painted with the road name “Crystal Avenue” nailed to a post.
Luckily, because you can see the cars and a blue bus sticking straight up into the air, you can navigate the dirt roads by sight. We parked on the outskirts of the International Car Forest and walked in to explore the vehicles and their paint jobs, some with several layers of paint, up close.
Visiting this colorful and vibrant automobile graveyard was a very weird experience, plus, not another soul was in sight. Here we were, all alone, in the middle of the hot desert, surrounded by art-covered, partially-buried cars, trucks, vans, and buses… it felt a little creepy and really cool all at the same time!
About The International Car Forest
At the International Car Forest of the Last Church, cars, trucks, delivery trucks, vans, and buses have been buried in the desert on their ends so they stick out of the ground or stacked on top of each other to create vehicle sculptures. All of the vehicles have been covered in bright, bold, vibrant graffiti and artwork showcasing intricate patterns, abstract visions, skulls, caricatures, and wild themes. It is similar to Cadillac Ranch in Texas and Carhenge in Nebraska, but more organic and eccentric.
The International Car Forest of the Last Church began when longtime Goldfield, Nevada resident Mark Rippie buried the first car on his 80 acres of land back in 2002. He wanted to get in the Guiness Book of World Records for having the most upturned cars as part of an art piece.
Later, Reno artist Chad Sorg was driving through Goldfield and saw a painted car standing on end in the dirt. His curiosity led him to Rippie and by 2011, Sorg moved to Goldfield to co-create the Car Forest with Rippie. Rippie manned the backhoe and Sorg created and painted many of the murals on the cars.
The outdoor art installation was to be a place where artists were welcome to show up and create with total freedom in any medium they wanted and make their work public. They were creating what they hopes would be a desert destination for artists to collaborate and make free-range art.
Rippie named the project, the International Car Forest of the Last Church, based on his website thelastchurch.org, which rejects organized religion, and the idea of a free and open national forest.
Sorg fell in love with Goldfield, eventually becoming President of the Chamber of Commerce. As President, he organized an event called The End of the World Party to introduce the world to the car forest he was so proud of. With a burning upright bus as the draw, the party was supposed to bring publicity and exposure to the historic gold rush town, but it was a total failure.
Soon after, Rippie and Sorg had a major falling out at the party and no longer work together. Sorg went back to Reno and in 2013, Rippie was arrested for improperly possessing 15 firearms, including two loaded assault rifles and 22,000 rounds of ammunition. According to the Sacramento Bee, a jury found him guilty of “possession of a firearm by a person previously found to be a mental defective and committed to a mental institution and making false statements to acquire firearms.” But it looks like Rippie is out because he currently has a GoFundMe open to raise funds to continue his work.
Know Before You Go
- The International Car Forest is located off Highway 95 on Crystal Avenue in Goldfield, Nevada 89013, Esmeralda County 26 miles south of Tonopah and 180 miles north of Las Vegas.
- There is no main road sign for Crystal Avenue because it’s not a real road. It’s a dirt road with a small white sign nailed to a post at the entrance with Crystal Avenue painted on it.
- At the International Car Forest of the Last Church, more than 40 vehicles and even a couple buses have been embedded in the dirt vertically so they stick up into the air.
- There is a lot of broken glass and some garbage throughout the Car Forest, so be careful where you walk! We did see a car drive through, but I personally wouldn’t risk damaging my tires.
- There is no fee to visit and explore this sort of amazing, weirdly beautiful roadside oddity and it is open all the time.
- The art installation and car graveyard claims to be the World’s Largest National Junk Car Forest.
- The funky Car Forest is located on the southern outskirts of Goldfield, Nevada, a Gold Rush boom town that grew from two minters to over 20,000 people in just six years. Unfortunately, by 1910, the town lost most of its population not because the gold was gone, but because the cost of mining was too great. As the years continue to pass, the town of Goldfield continues to deteriorate and now the population is only about 200.