It’s been 10 years since Carhenge rose to national prominence when TripAdvisor named it one of America’s 10 wackiest attractions. In fact, the monument clocked in at number two, second only to San Antonio’s infamous (and now closed) toilet museum. Carhenge, a bizarre automotive replica of England’s famous UNESCO World Heritage site Stonehenge, is located just north of Alliance, Nebraska.
Alliance is a small town in northwestern Nebraska’s panhandle with a population of less than 10,000 residents. It straddles the western edge of the beautiful Sandhills, a National Natural Landmark. The 32,900-acre area is home to the Western hemisphere’s largest system of sand dunes. They’re a unique natural occurrence, since unlike other sand dunes, the Sand Hills are almost completely covered in vegetation.
Alliance is best known, however, as the home of Carhenge, and in fact the attraction is now owned and operated by the city itself. Carhenge is located about 2.5 miles north of the municipality, a drive that takes roughly 5 minutes to complete.
Here’s the story behind this fascinating installation.
So, what on Earth is a creative duplicate of the ancient Stonehenge site doing on a Western Nebraska prairie? Back in 1982, Jim Reinders and his family members decided to put together a memorial to his father. Reinders had previously lived in England and visited Stonehenge during his time there. Those memories would inspire a unique creation meant to celebrate the life of his father.
Five years later, Reinders used his farming and engineering skills to craft the monument that is now known as Carhenge. A dedication date in June of 1987 was selected to coincide with the summer solstice, since the prehistoric European monument was thought to have been significant for indigenous peoples in relation to lunar and solar movements.
The Nuts And Bolts
What exactly is Carhenge made of? Junkyard cars — 38 of them, to be exact — are laid out exactly like Stonehenge’s large stones. All of the chosen automobiles were produced in the 1950s and 1960s in Detroit. The cars are roughly the same size and shape of the famous rocks and were sourced from local farms and dumps by Reinders’s family and friends. Reinders replicated the 96-foot diameter of Stonehenge, and he spray-painted the repurposed cars a matte gray to further copy the look of Stonehenge’s rocks.
While the quirky art installation quickly rose to distinction as a tourist attraction, not everyone was immediately on board with the oddity. The city of Alliance even tried to have it demolished! Members of the city council and the public didn’t believe that the former farmland should be used in such a way. But with the formation of a compliant governing body, the Friends of Carhenge, in 1989, no further problems arose. In fact, the Friends donated the monument to the city of Alliance, which happily took over maintenance and operations in 2013. Thankfully, Reinders had donated the monument and the 10 adjacent acres to the Friends, which allowed his vision to remain a long-term reality.
The Site Today
Over the next few decades, the Carhenge attraction was expanded, and the site became known as the Car Art Reserve as additional automotive-inspired sculptures found their way to the area. Today, there’s even an associated gift shop, cleverly known as the Pit Stop, that sells souvenirs at the site during the peak summer months. The site is open every day, all year long, during daylight hours.
If you want to check out this attraction, know that it’s out of the way and not close to any major interstates. But you’ll be rewarded with free admission to the site and an amazing experience. Keep in mind that donations are greatly appreciated but not expected.
There are a number of ways to get to Carhenge. You can fly into the Omaha Eppley Airfield and then drive about 400 miles (or 6 hours and 30 minutes) to the site. However, the monument is only a 4-hour drive from the Denver International Airport in the neighboring state of Colorado. That route is less than 250 miles long. Another option is to land in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and drive about 150 miles (or 2 hours and 30 minutes) to Carhenge.
In its lifetime, Carhenge has racked up numerous awards and received plenty of recognition for its off-the-beaten-path allure. For example, the site is a Certificate of Excellence recipient on TripAdvisor. This title is only assigned to sites that consistently garner positive reviews from TripAdvisor users. Additionally, in 2014, USA Today named Carhenge one of the nation’s top three quirkiest landmarks.
The monument was the subject of a 2005 documentary film called Carhenge: Genius or Junk?, and in 2007, the site was featured in the book 1,000 Places to See in the United States and Canada Before You Die. Carhenge earned even more of a spotlight due to its location on the direct path of the 2017 solar eclipse — it was the chosen eclipse-watching place of Nebraska’s governor, Pete Ricketts, and thousands of others.
It’s easy to see that Carhenge holds a special fascination for travelers; more than 90,000 people visit the site each year. Add this unconventional destination to your upcoming road trip to experience the phenomenon for yourself.