On my road trip along the Extraterrestrial Highway in rural Nevada, I expected to see certain things. Wide open stretches of beautiful desert landscapes, quirky alien-related sites and old mining towns, hearkening back to a different era were all presumed. The last thing I honestly expected to discover along my exploration of southern Nevada was an array of public art installations; some of the best I’ve ever seen actually. These Nevada art projects are quirky and unusual but ultimately added a dimension to my adventure that may have been unexpected, but which was an important aspect of my journey. I thought I’d highlight these special public art displays in rural Nevada so that when you drive by, you will be sure to slow down the car and spend some time exploring them.
Seven Magic Mountains
Located just outside the Las Vegas city limits, this installation is a two-year exhibition in a location where you frankly wouldn’t expect it. Created by artist Uno Rondinone, the site features seven 30-foot tall day glow totems made up of colorfully painted, locally sourced boulders. This installation, on view through May 2018, is meant to mimic hoodoos and other natural rock formations evoking the art of meditative rock balancing but also to offer juxtaposition between the natural and the fabricated. In a desert location with Vegas in sight, it’s a perfect representation of that dichotomy. It’s also just a really cool piece of artwork to visit in person and located out in the middle of the Nevada desert, it felt as if I was a million miles away from everything else.
International Car Forest of the Last Church
Goldfield, Nevada was a blip on the road as I made my way from Tonopah along part of what used to be a popular Western driving route. This mining boomtown was at one time one of the wealthiest cities in the state, although those days have long since passed. On the outskirts of Goldfield though is another type of treasure, one of the most unusual art installations in the world. The International Car Forest of the Last Church was originally created as an open space where artists could visit and let their creative minds run wild not on blank canvases, but on cars. I drove down the dirt road from US 95 leading to the site, unsure of what I would find. It’s one thing to see images in a book, but it’s quite another to be in the middle of something like the Car Forest. There, strewn around the site, are more than 40 cars, trucks and even buses, all in various states of entombment and decay but all also extravagantly decorated. True to the original goal of the Forest, artists from around the world have indeed come to create their small works of art, the vehicles are the blank canvas and their wildly creative minds on full display. This is one of the most unique art installations in the world and it quickly became a highlight of my road trip through Nevada.
Goldwell Open Air Museum
I didn’t expect a lot from the Goldwell Open Air Museum. That’s probably because I hadn’t properly researched it beforehand; instead I visited because it was on my to-do list. Thank goodness I made the short detour to visit this amazing site near the old ghost town of Rhyolite, because it quickly became a personal favorite museum. The concept started back in 1984, when Belgian artist Albert Szukalski installed his eerie sculpture “The Last Supper” against the backdrop of the Amargosa Valley. In subsequent years, additional pieces were added by three other Belgian artists who chose to create their works in relative obscurity in the Nevada desert near Death Valley, even though they were accomplished and well-known throughout the European art scene. Now a non-profit organization, the museum has expanded over the years to add to the creative spirit of the site. One of my favorite sculptures at the museum – “Lady Desert: The Venus of Nevada” (1992) – was originally inspired by the classical Greek masterpiece “Venus de Milo,” but reinterpreted for the modern era. Taking on a pixilated presence, it’s meant to echo the high tech world we live in. I loved this piece not just for the work itself, but its juxtaposition against the raw beauty of the desert. You really have to tour the museum to fully fall in love with it, and this is definitely one place I recommend everyone visit.
Honorable Mention – Rachel, Nevada
While not a formal art installation, I have to mention the quirky and improbably small town of Rachel, Nevada in this roundup. Home to only about 40 people, Rachel exists today as a rest stop for those looking to learn more about Area 51 and alien life. The cafe, the Little A’Le’Inn, is as quirky and eccentric a place as I could have hoped for; full of kitsch and memorabilia. The folks who work there mainly spend their time advising visitors how to visit Area 51 and to share their own stories of alien life from the great beyond. But over the years the owners have installed homemade works of art all around (and even inside) the café, creating a de facto gallery of alien-inspired art that’s fun, quirky and guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
Nevada is known for a lot of things from the bright lights of Las Vegas to those epic desert and canyon landscapes we have all seen in movies. What I didn’t know about until my road trip in the southern part of the state was its love of art, especially public artworks in the most unlikely of places. These small Nevada art displays add a lot to the overall experience of visiting the state’s rural areas and I can’t wait to get back there and discover what else lays in store for the curious traveler.