Goldfield, Nevada currently has a population of about 250 people. This is down from the 30,000 or so who were here during Goldfield’s boom times which started after gold was discovered here in 1902. By 1910, ore production had declined and the population dropped to under 5,000. It’s been downhill ever since.
But just outside of town, with no signs marking the turnoff heading about a half mile down a dusty gravel road, is the amazing, and frankly kind of spooky, International Car Forest of the Last Church. We had heard of this open-air art display out in the desert and we just had to see for ourselves. What we found were the remains of about 40 vehicles stuck in the ground. Now, that’s a pretty bland description so you just have to look at our photos to see what we’re talking about.
The two guys behind this odd piece of Americana are Michael “Mark” Rippie and Chad Sorg.
The following are excerpts from Aspen Marie Stoddard’s April 18, 2014 article in The High Country News that describes the origin of what we saw:
“I came up with The Last Church as representation of the last church being inside each of us,” Rippie told me last year. “Meaning that we should pass knowledge to each other from one heart to another about two things: unconditional love and compassion.”
“To call it an International Forest was my idea,” said Sorg, “as a sort of spoof on ‘national forest’ and because people from all over the world visit Goldfield. Highway 95 gets large amounts of tourists wanting to experience the Old West.”
Rippie, who owns these 80 acres, began the project in 2002, when he was in his late 50s. He’d spent decades around Goldfield (population maybe 250, down from an early 1900s peak of 30,000), often sporting a wispy gray beard and dabbling in mining and other schemes – “running the high desert looking for gold, antique treasures and junk vehicles,” as he put it. He hopped on his backhoe and dug the first hole for the forest, determined to get the Guinness Book of World Records title for the most cars planted vertically in the ground. Then he tapped his personal boneyard of junk vehicles.
Sorg, an artist who had done some work in Reno, came to Goldfield in 2004 thinking the town would be a perfect artists’ retreat and teamed up with Rippie. The High Country News article continues:
“My favorite part about working on the forest was the solitude it provided,” Sorg said. “I was out there every day. We actually wouldn’t start working until after midnight (to avoid the summer heat). Our trucks and backhoes were equipped with spotlights. The feeling was spooky and quirky. Over time, we learned a lot about the unique physical requirements of each vehicle, how to weight them down, and which end should be buried in the dirt. Mark would drive the backhoe and I would guide the vehicle into the hole. Then we would backfill dirt in. In all the times we did this, surprisingly, we never had any mishaps. After we met, I didn’t leave until we finished planting that last car” – which they did in 2011, seven years after Sorg teamed up with Rippie.
The two artists broke up after the project’s completion and Sorg’s Facebook page describes him as an artist, graphic designer and window cleaner. He lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Rippie’s Facebook page shows he still lives in Goldfield and is a self-employed heavy equipment operator and business owner/engineer at Stonewall Mining. Their alliance may be over but Rippie and Sorg’s International Car Forest of the Last Church serves as a lasting monument to artistic creativity.