Miles and miles of windswept prairie stretch out as far as the eye can see. That is until we reach our destination of Alliance, Nebraska. Perhaps not one of the better-known tourist hot spots, but nonetheless, this tiny town in western Nebraska is on our itinerary. And for a good reason. It’s where you’ll find Carhenge – Nebraska’s answer to England’s infamous Stonehenge, except with an automotive plot twist that makes it the perfect Pull Over and Let Me Out roadside attraction, I can’t resist.
Why was Carhenge built?
“Unique, quirky, and a pop-culture icon” are words the folks at Carhenge use to describe this unconventional Nebraska tourist attraction. But you may wonder why? Why such an atypical creation in a most unlikely location?
Enter Carhenge creator, Jim Reinders. The story goes, Reinders, while living and working in England, had the chance to study the design and purpose of Stonehenge up close. Always an artist and tinkerer, his studies spawned a desire to re-create Stonehenge to scale on the farm in Nebraska as a memorial to his father who once lived there.
In 1987, with the help of his family, Reinders brought his idea to fruition. They gathered to create a replica in size and placement of England’s Stonehenge crafted entirely of automobiles. Appropriately, the dedication of Carhenge took place on the Summer Solstice in June of 1987.
Having spent a couple of days in Rapid City, South Dakota, I was thrilled to discover our journey from there to the small town in Nebraska my husband hails from would take us right past Carhenge. Call it kismet but once the discovery was made, there was no doubt in my mind – to Carhenge we would go!
Pulling into the parking lot generates a mixture of thoughts and emotions. My first thought is akin to, wow, this really is out in the middle of nowhere. After all, east coast girls aren’t exactly accustomed to such wide-open spaces.
Second, my eyes are drawn to the incredible structure that begs to be explored. And the third thought is, oh my goodness, it’s windy here!
Undaunted by the gusty conditions, we set about surveying Carhenge. We wander the grounds examining each piece of the sculpture. Formed using 39 automobiles placed to adopt the identical measurements and circle size of 96-feet in diameter as its inspiration, Stonehenge, it takes me a few minutes to process Carhenge in its entirety.
The more time I spend inspecting and pondering, the more impressed I am. Carhenge may be quirky, but it is something to behold and admired.
More than just Carhenge
In addition to the gray-painted cars that form Carhenge, there’s more art to be seen and experienced here. There are other car sculptures in what has become known as the Car Art Reserve.
Strolling beyond the great Druid circle we find other unusual pieces such as Reinders’ creation, The Fourd Seasons, named for the Vivaldi musical composition, and an old covered wagon, albeit a station wagon modified to resemble a prairie sooner.
There’s even a special sculpture comprised of three bells blowing in the breeze to represent the three Reinders siblings.
Additionally, other artists are featured at Carhenge. Towering overhead is “Dino” a near life-sized dinosaur built by Merle Stone of Hemingford and there’s even the award-winning “Spawning Salmon” constructed by Geoff Sandhurst from Canada. Geoff entered a competition and was the winner of a $2500 award and prime placement at the Car Reserve.
Along with these, there are several other assorted sculptures that were donated by locals. The Car Reserve continues to grow in number and eccentric vehicular style variations.
How much does it cost to see Carhenge?
Jim Reinders donated Carhenge and the ten acres of land it sits on to the Friends of Carhenge, a local organization of committed people who protected and maintained it. Later, Carhenge was granted to the City of Alliance in October of 2013 and it’s been in the city’s care ever since.
Carhenge is opened to visitors year-round and there is no charge for enjoying this monument though donations are welcomed. Furthermore, there is a seasonal gift shop called the Pit Stop where guests can pop inside for a cold soft drink or souvenir to commemorate their visit to this offbeat art exhibition.
Even if you’re not looking to make a purchase, you’ll want to step inside and sign the guest book. Carhenge’s singularity, distinctiveness, and unexpected elements have drawn well over 100, 000 visitors from around the world. You’ll want to make sure to be included in that grand tally!
Other things to do in Alliance, Nebraska
Alliance, Nebraska is a small town in the western part of the state along Highway 87 West. And while Carhenge has huge appeal, there’s much more to Alliance.
Journey downtown to the historic district for shopping. The charming downtown harkens back to the days when the buildings were just as elegant and beautiful as the wares inside.
In addition to the cute shops and boutiques, keep in mind this is beef country and there’s good food to be savored in this corner of the Husker state.
There’s even craft beer to slowly sip in Alliance. Visit Brewery 719 where it’s their mission to provide “a relaxing and inviting environment where patrons can gather and enjoy handcrafted beverages that showcase the finest natural ingredients and time-honored traditions from around the world.”
Maybe a post-Carhenge toast would be in order followed by a lovely steak dinner in small-town America.
Carhenge isn’t for everyone. I know that. Nevertheless, this is the kind of quirky and off-the-beaten-path attraction I adore.
From the homage to England’s Stonehenge to the ingenuity, cleverness, and resourcefulness, not to mention skill of the artist, Carhenge should not be dismissed as a wacky roadside attraction. Carhenge is greater than that.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time spent here. I arrived expecting a whimsical photo op and funny tale to share from the road. Having explored, inspected, and fully experienced this automotive artwork, I can say with confidence, Carhenge is a masterpiece.
Creator Jim Reinders was once asked, why Carhenge? His reply to that question was perfect in my estimation. Why not?
If you find yourself traveling across Nebraska near Carhenge, pull over, be prepared for the wind, enjoy the art, and capture some memories!
Highway 87 West
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