At the edge of Goldfield, a small town in the middle of Nevada, multiple cars, buses, vans, and limos are buried vertically in the desert as if they are growing out of the ground.
This structure is called “The International Car Forest of the Last Church” and the only name that I could find attached to it was Chad Sorg, founder of NadaDada and current resident of Goldfield. I contacted Sorg and agreed to meet him in Goldfield to see the car forest.
In the days leading up to my trip I received multiple concerns from my friends and family to call them up one I had arrived and, more importantly, left Goldfield. My dad would slip into casual conversation, “You have to watch out for those artists … I don’t want you being stuck in a basement somewhere.” Being an artist who lives in a basement myself, I could help but feel a sense of irony for the situation. But ignoring their paranoia I made my four-hour trek out to Sorg’s house, crossing multiple other small Nevadan towns on my way, leaving me with nothing but time to instill myself with fear for whatever I was about to walk into.
I pulled into Goldfield and lost all cell reception leaving me no way to reach the directions that Sorg gave me. Without my precious Google maps I was sadly lost in a place with the population of less than 500 people. The town itself looked deserted. After pulling up the Sheriffs abandoned car images of Texas, chainsaws and massacres flashed through my mind. With no sense of where I was going I thought this would be the perfect opportunity for me to turn around and keep most of my vital organs. After wandering past broken down houses, untamed wind chimes, and a remarkable amount no trespassing signs I found a couple to point me in the right direction. They told me to go back to the turn in the main road, but instead of taking a right just drive straight into the desert.
My poor Honda CRV struggled to get over the rocky terrain. But in my frustration, I couldn’t help but smile when I saw in the distance a large school bus planted face first in the sand. I pulled into a house with a little white VW bug and a trailer with a sign above it reading DADA DA, a detail I remembered from Sorg’s description. The house itself had a wired fence around, which held back the several small dogs from rushing out at me when I pulled up.
I got out of my car and I was greeted by Alison, a four-and-a-half-year-old-girl who was eager to show me her dog peanut and her newly found Disney princess scooter. Following her was Sorg, a much more sane man than I was expecting from the crazed artist my father warned me of. Once I was met with a friendly hand shake my concerns of being murdered were put to rest.
With a long stretch and a few minutes to breath outside of my car I started to get a feel for life in Goldfield. The pacing of everything was slowed down, a relief from the frantic feel of a city. I was consumed by the silence of the desert.
The cars bushing together out of the ground were walking distance away, but regardless Sorg, Alison, Peanut and I hopped into a Suburban and took a causal drive over to the forest. When Sorg turned on the car an old country song began to play from the radio as he told me the story on how the car forest came into being while Alison played with Peanut in the back.
Seven years ago Sorg was employed by the Nevada Art Council as an art delivery van driver to distribute work to exhibits around Nevada. Through one of his multiple tracks up and down the US 95 Sorg met Micheal (a.k.a. Mark) Rippie, a Goldfield resident who had already started planting cars in the desert. Rippie recruited Sorg as an artist to paint the roofs of the cars and promote the car forest.
We pulled up to the school bus and stopped the car. Placed like an altar overlooking the rest of the car forest, it was defying every law I can remember from my AP Physics classes. Without a moment of hesitation I stuck my head inside of the bus that was once used to transport children, now stripped and barren with a clear view of the sky through the torn off back door. I took my head out to appreciate the absurdity of the multiple automobiles propped up from the sand, as if they were planted there to grow straight out of the ground. Alison and Peanut ran ahead while Sorg and I took our time to survey the cars. We walked by a limo stacked on top of an ice-cream truck with an explosion painted on the side. I asked if we could take a picture inside, but Sorg informed me it might smell bad on account of the dead animal inside. It did.
Through the rest of the forest I saw more explosions, Ron Paul, blue angels fighting red ninjas and self-portrait of Sorg which was supposed to be a picture of the Dalai Lama. Unfortunately the car was shot up by vandals and ripped to scrap metal. The pieces of Sorg’s face lay scattered across the forest floor.
Sorg used to live in Reno working as an artist, but he moved to Goldfield seven months ago to complete the car forest.
“I want to live here the rest of my life,” said Sorg.
Since his move, Sorg has become the President of the Chamber of Commerce in Goldfield. This year he will be organizing Goldfield day, a festival in the town held every August. While Sorg is excited with his new position, being an unfamiliar face and his involvement with the car forest has brought some controversy from the town.
“Some people hate it,” says Sorg, “Goldfield is a historical town and some people have the feeling that it is a blight on the town.”
Goldfield started as a town in 1902 due to a large discovery of Gold in the area. In the span of six years it had grown from two miners to over 20,000 people. It started to slow down in 1910 when the cost of mining rose and finally got whipped out in 1923 by a tragic flood. Now after years of economic hardships Goldfields is now most known for its “haunted” Goldfield Hotel.
Sorg and Rippie solution to this is the car forest. A sideshow attraction to bring positive attention to the town. With an artist being the President of Chamber of Commerce it makes sense to use an art project to promote economic growth in the town. As my visit came to an end I was still curious about the Last Church and what it had to do with the forest. Unfortunately Rippie had left town for the day so I made arranged to come back that Saturday to talk with him. I jumped into my car and felt life sped up again as I made my way back into civilization.
Days later, I returned to Goldfiled on a violently windy day. When I tried to get out of my car, the door slammed right back into me. I eventually muscled my way out and began to circle the house. Afraid to enter the wired fence, I gave a few pathetic attempts to yell for someones attention. With the wind blowing me in every direction and dust spraying furiously in my eyes I spotted Alison walking out of the house. Thankfully she remembered me and went to tell Sorg that I had arrived. He walked out into the wind with no hesitation and opened the gate to let me in the house.
I stepped inside and countless dogs stormed up to me wagging their tails. The trailer for The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo was playing from the flat screen TV mounted on the wall while the wind fell silent outside. There were guns and hand grenades lining the borders of the ceilings to mark the sign of a true collector. The dust in the air was reflecting the sunlight coming through the window to brighten up the room. Zak Sargent, Alison’s dad, was helping her put on shoes for an afternoon trip out to the car forest as Sorg offered me a glass of water. He told me that Rippie was napping and that if he woke him now he might be “out of it” for awhile. I told him I didn’t mind and Sorg walked into the other room. In that moment I realized that I may be one of the few people to be inside a house in Goldfield. Without my camera handy, I took out my Iphone and Instagramed a picture of the living room.
As Sorg walked back from the other room I nervously shoved my phone back into my pocket. He was followed by an old man with a long unkept beard who looked like he had just gotten done with a long day of mining. It was Mark Rippie. Sorg told me that he was going to go take a nap and retired to his trailer as Zak took Alison on their trip to the forest.
Rippie and I were now alone now, exchanging nothing but awkward silence. He rolled up a cigarette and heated a mug of something that looked like old tomato soup and smelt of the spit from some chewing tobacco. While Rippie took his time to compose himself, I was brought back to patient pace of Goldfield. I was intimidated initially, thinking he was pissed off at some hipster kid who woke him up from his afternoon nap for a school project. But as I introduced myself he looked at me with a smile and my guilt subsided. He popped his cigarette in his mouth and we went outside to a rickety shed to do the interview.
We were followed by dogs into some giant plastic cylinder which looked like it was about to pick up and blow away from the wind. He sat a stump of wood as I took a knee on the dirt and set up my Iphone to record. Although it seemed hopeless that I would hear anything back with the wind wailing against the shed and all the dogs running around. But taking no notice of the distractions I was attuned to, Rippie lit up his cigarette and began to tell me his life story.
Rippie was born in North Carolina, but just sort of wound up in Nevada when he was 25 as a card dealer in Reno. About 10 to 15 years ago (Rippie does not keep track of time) he started studying biblical texts and developed a philosophy called the Last Church. He discusses the philosophy in the audio clip below.
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The more he told me I started to realize that the Last Chuch had nothing to do with the actual car forest. (Sorry to the readers who thought this was some sort of cult) Sorg liked the idea of having the Last Church in the title of the car forest because it was a philosophy that Rippie has been so attuned to. “I had the dirt, the desire and the equipment”, says Rippie. Around seven years ago he started mutilating the fronts of old cars and going out into the desert with his Backhoe to bury them straight up in the sand. The original title of the forest was the “Artists Playground.” The idea that the cars acted as big metal canvases for artists to come from all around to leave their mark. Rippie wants to use the car forest as a way to get a tourist draw to Goldfield. When I asked him why he said, “It’s a damn nice place to be.”
About five years Rippie, 66, had a heart attack and a couple of stokes and knows that he won’t be able to help with the car forest forever. But with the help of Sorg and others Rippie believes that the car forest will never die. As long as there are artists out there who are willing the forest will never stop growing.
Sorg has been working with the community to get more artists to contribute such as Reno artists: Dianna Sion, Ned Peterson and Adrianne Goff. And on August 17th Sorg is throwing The End of the World Party (The Far End), which will feature Reno musicians such as DJ Jabberwocky. I will also hopefully be attending the event.
After the interview Rippie then took me to his music room to show me his collection of guitars which was touching to say the least. A ton of old guitar cases, rusted amps, and some audio equipment were all crammed into a this tiny room in the house. Rippie, who has been playing his whole life, sat down with his guitar and played an a short unplugged melody. I snapped a few pictures and we headed out to my car as I awkwardly expressed my thank yous and said goodbye. He left me saying, “Everyone is an artist.” This was compelling coming from a man of his stature.
(sound clip to be inserted)
I turned back onto the road home I noticed monumental structure of the school bus was strikingly visible from the US 95.Through all of my drives from Reno to Vegas I have never noticed this before, but there it was as clear as day. You would think that on this 9 hour drive of nothing but sand to look at people would take note of a school bus shooting out of the ground, but they don’t. Too many would rather lock their windows or gasp at the life style of one of these small Nevada towns. Their heads filled with too many thoughts of the B-horror movie scenarios they might wind up in if they stopped the car. But after my trips to Goldfield, the assertion that these places are nothing but ghost towns is unsettling to me.
“The International Car Forest of the Last Church” may not represent any sort of philosophy or biblical teaching. But it does represent the last will of a proud resident of Goldfield.
“We want to keep Goldfield alive,” said Sorg.
Mark Rippie has created something that wil bring tourism to the town, help local business and, in a strange way, make Goldfield an artistic venue. The car forest is more than just an absurdity of mutilated auto parts, but an interesting representation of affection and hope for the small town of Goldfield, NV.