A Name that's Headline Enough: The International Car Forest of the Last Church

May 15, 2016 — I was off-roading through a desolate, arid landscape. Hard-packed dirt under my wheels, low hills dotted here and there with faded scrub. An unforgiving sky. Undeniably desert. The kind of place you want to make a Mad Max reference about but know it’s too easy and you don’t want to be that writer.

I was in a minivan. With my family. On vacation.

And did I mention the scores of graffitied cars standing on end throughout the landscape?

Goldfield, Nevada, is in the middle of nowhere. Like not just nowhere, but nowhere with a trademark symbol after it. It’s the type of place people end up at only through the weirdest sequence of events in the weirdest possible lives or, in my case, when you stick a bunch of Nevada oddities on your vacation itinerary: A clown hotel, a ghost town, a pioneer cemetery, Area 51. Its closest neighbors are Death Valley and a massive blank spot on Google Maps that has no name or features.

The International Car Forest of the Last Church in Goldfield is not a forest nor is it international nor is it a church. It is a bunch of cars. Oh wait. The cars might be international. But that’s not the important part. These cars (and buses and ice cream trucks) are buried standing on end or stacked atop each other and then graffitied with skulls and insects and demons and other imagery inspired by such a bizarre setting.

It looks like the cars have fallen from the sky, maybe as the fallout from some superhero/supervillain confrontation. Maybe some kind of dimensional rift. One day it was desert, the next day it was a deconstructed parking lot and scientists from around the globe came to study it.

But what it really is, this International Car Forest of the Last Church, is an art installation. The kind you make with backhoes and spray paint. Or the kind Chad Sorg and Mark Rippie make with backhoes and spray paint. The two artists toiled at this landscape for about ten years, starting in 2002. Long enough to plant some 40 cars in those hills, long enough that they wore out their own partnership, as they eventually got mad at each other and went their separate ways. Burying cars in the desert can be hard on a relationship.

Rippie ended up in jail for a time for gun charges and his public-facing life these days seems to be posting political memes on Facebook. Sorg fishbowls inside store windows and shoots video of himself pulling rotted teeth out of his jaw. They were both exactly the type of weirdos who end up in a place like Goldfield. The kind of weirdos who would create a fantastic legacy by ignoring the “This Way Up” arrows on cars and the “Is this art?” questions from people with soft fingertips. It’s people like these two who should be on the cover of magazines instead of bland, shiny celebrities.

We parked on a stretch of dust and got out and walked among the cars exactly like we would walk around a Redwood forest, our mouths agape as we stood in the shadows of these things that shouldn’t exist in this way, each car a discovery and a revelation. Maybe, maybe testing to see if we could push one of them over.

Unsurprisingly, we had the whole thing to ourselves. Driving around Nevada, that wasn’t an unusual feeling.

But hanging out in the International Car Forest of the Last Church? That certainly was.