You’ve probably heard of Carhenge: a full scale replica of Stonehenge, made of junk cars, out in the middle of Nebraska.
Constructed in 1987, it’s been in movies and TV shows; most people think of it as an art piece, although its builder, Jim Reinders, intended it as a memorial to his father. I’ve always thought it was cool, and was able to visit it a couple of years ago while my wife and I were traveling out West. It did not disappoint.
We get to Carhenge just as the sun is about to set; not much time left for photos. I set to work, walking around the giant ring of cars, between and among them, down on a knee here and there, and out into the weeds for a shot that takes it all in.
With no kids, dogs or dweebs hanging around, Carhenge speaks. Intentional or not, it’s a grand, monument to America’s 20th century industrial might, wealth, consumption, and ultimately, waste – a post-apocalyptic temple of the Automobile, and a massive tombstone for Detroit’s auto industry. It’s our time, our culture, just as Stonehenge was for the people of 2000 B.C.
On the scrubby terrain, under a cloudless sky, it becomes an ancient ruin in a pitiless desert. The late day light creates long, dramatic shadows. Things are clicking and I feel like I’m getting what I hoped for.
After a while, I feel like have several good photos in hand, and the light is fading – it’s time to go. I stride triumphantly back to the car… and there are no keys in my pocket. Or in any of my other pockets. Or my shirt pocket.
We’re the only ones here, and we’re five miles outside of the nearest town, on a lonely road, surrounded by empty fields. The sun is sinking below the flat Nebraska horizon and it’s not so warm anymore.
As nonchalantly as possible under the circumstances, I ask my wife if maybe she has the car keys…? No.
Suddenly I appreciate the size of this thing: about 100 feet across, same as Stonehenge. And I’ve been all around and through it, out into the scrub surrounding it, and up on that little hill over there… so many places those keys could be, right now…
But hey, there’s still a little light, and keys are shiny. I walk the perimeter again, twice, moving quickly, eyes on the ground, sweeping my vision to both sides. I’m a hunter, with senses alert. I run up the little hill. I try to remember where I went out for the long shot, and where I got down on a knee. I am methodical, and thorough. And I find nothing.
It’s getting a bit dark now.
I contemplate the idea of phoning the Box Butte County Sheriff’s Department and cheerfully explaining that I’m a total idiot from the city who’s lost his car keys out at Carhenge. And, well.. maybe I’d rather just sleep on the ground out here and hope for rescue in the morning. But my wife is unlikely to endorse that plan.
In absolute futility, I try the car door… and find it’s unlocked. Wait – what does that imply? A light bulb switches on in my head. My camera bag is still on the back seat. In the front right pocket of that bag…. are my car keys. Yes. Where I always put them when I’m out shooting. Except this time, I left the bag in the unlocked car, because no one was around.
We drive off into the sunset.