Sheri Samson The “World’s Largest National Junk Car Forest” in the Goldfield hills in Esmeralda County features half-buried vehicles as a form of art.

Sheri Samson
The “World’s Largest National Junk Car Forest” in the Goldfield hills in Esmeralda County features half-buried vehicles as a form of art.

In the sparse hills of Goldfield, there lies a secret gallery of half buried vehicles, much like an extended segment of the Burning Man crowds who venture to the desert of Black Rock each year. The signage designates this hollowed ground as “The World’s Largest National Junk Car Forest” with gutted automotive carcasses decorated in vivid art displays, conveying messages to the eye of the beholder.

With each vehicle buried in an upright position, their ornamental skeletons proudly wear a mixture of rusted parts in tandem with individual messages of colorful, graffiti-type artwork. The exposed portion of these automotive wonders show hoods and trunks jetting out from the earth as a statement of honor to artists or car enthusiasts alike. Included in this burial fantasy are full-sized, psychedelic painted buses and oversized station wagons.

This non-advertised, secluded installation is located off Highway 95, and then east at Crystal Avenue. The creation of this unique, undisturbed graveyard of metal sculptures gives way to an eerie reverence. The Goldfield atmosphere seems to echo the diminished recall of days gone by.

Once a booming gold town in the early 1900’s, the streets were once full of miners and renown names such as Mark Twain and Wyatt Earp. Today its historic residue remains in the few buildings that are marked with numbered bronze markers, but a quick stop in town never discloses this Esmeralda County car cemetery, which some lovingly reference as “The Last Church.”

Although the car forest is a publicly accessed haven, it is also a photographer’s playground. With levels of seasonally changing, burnished hills and a variety of vehicles entombed in partial burial forms, it is a full coach bus that is framed on the highest section of the hills that stands in a prominent position, as if looking down upon its minions of worshipers.

The bus is clearly the main event, as it has been positioned in the ground at an awkward, leaning position. The extreme length gives the illusion that it has been frozen in a free falling motion from an acrobatic tip-over. Other eye catching displays include stacked vehicles; a brightly painted school bus, framed by two cars that are nose-dived into a ledge and a four-door sedan entitled Nite-Owl, which has an owl face that glows in the dark.

A longtime resident, Andy Hafer, explained that the owner of the mining claim property was Michael “Mark” Rippie, who was the brainchild of this venture.

“He is what many would describe to be an odd, scrappy kind of guy, but he has a collector-artistic side to him which most people find eccentric. He wanted to build a huge art display out there, where artists could come and express themselves. Problem was he met up with an out-of-town artist and they worked about a year on it, hauling old cars randomly to the property, then Rippie would use his backhoe and bury them. In the end I think they had a parting of the ways so the vision was never quite completed.”

According to a website written by the artist, Chad Sorg, he began this adventure with Rippie in 2011. He stated that Rippie intended to break the Guinness Book Record which listed a place called “Carhenge”, located in Nebraska, as having 27 art cars buried. Sorg confirms in his blog that he stayed a year in a single wide trailer on Rippie’s property, but it was difficult living a fringe lifestyle in a small town atmosphere.

The relationship gradually dwindled, but Sorg still credits Rippie’s vision as putting his artwork on the map.

Rippie was quoted as saying, “you don’t need money to have fun” which remains evident in the accomplishment of this solitary land of resting undercarriages.