A rendering of the new site for Slug Bug Ranch in Amarillo. Illustration courtesy of Altura Engineering & Design

In April, Randy Crutchfield was on his way home to Amarillo when he stopped in Conway, an unincorporated community 30 miles east of the city limits. He drove to the old Crutchfield property, where Randy’s grandparents once operated a curio shop and Conoco filling station. He has fond memories of spending time here in his 30s, playing sports and goofing around with his uncles, who were just a few years older than him. More than anything, Randy wanted to see the bugs: five Volkswagen Beetles buried in the ground nose-down at a 45-degree angle. Collectively the cars represented the Slug Bug Ranch, an under-the-radar roadside oddity created by his uncle Ricky in the late 1990s. But the bugs were nowhere to be seen.

Unbeknownst to Randy, the property that had belonged to the Crutchfield family since 1970 was up for sale. Ricky died in 2022, and the current owner had the bugs dug up and moved off-site. Fortunately, they aren’t gone for good—they’ve just been relocated to the Starlight Ranch on Interstate 40, where they’ll be unveiled on June 14 during Amarillo’s annual Texas Route 66 Festival.   

The Slug Bug Ranch was modeled after Amarillo’s Cadillac Ranch, the iconic art installation of buried luxury automobiles that visitors have flocked to and spray painted for 50 years. At the former home of the Slug Bug Ranch, the spray painting bled over to the five structures on the grounds—the filling station, the curio store, a burger shop, a detached garage, and the main house where Randy’s grandparents once lived—which have fallen prey to vandals over the years. The dilapidated buildings “probably ought to be torn down,” says Randy, who was dismayed to see the iconic vehicles missing from the site when he visited earlier this spring. “It was kind of weird, them not being there,” he says.

Slug Bug Ranch at its former site in Conway. Photo by J Griffis Smith

But Randy will get to see the five time-worn vehicles again (with all four tires on the ground) at the Route 66 festival this month. Though the cars won’t be planted in the ground until later this year, at least three Beetles that weren’t part of the original set have been put in the ground already. More plantings are planned in early summer.  

The vehicles were acquired by the Lee family, the Panhandle moguls who own the Starlight Ranch and the legendary Big Texan Steak Ranch. Patrick Lee, the grandson of late founder R.J. Lee, says he’s excited about paying homage to the Slug Bug Ranch and giving the vehicles a new home. “It was a pretty unique place, but it never got a lot of traction,” he says. “We want to keep the thing going.” Anyone who comes to see the bugs will get a glimpse at the Big Texan shuttles: The big limousines with longhorns mounted to the hood that once shuttled diners to and from the restaurant will also be available for viewing. 

Randy says he’s trying to come to terms with the sudden change. “I sort of have a hard time with it; it’s something I’m trying to accept,” he says. “I wish they’d stayed out there [at his family’s property].” Still, he thinks the bugs are in good hands with the Lee family, who have a knack for drawing crowds. “They’ll be able to promote it and everything,” he says. “It’ll be alright.”

The christening of the Slug Bug Ranch at Starlight Ranch takes place June 14 at 6 p.m., during the 10-day Texas Route 66 festival. Following the official unveiling, traditional country artist Braxton Keith hits the stage at the concert venue (tickets can be purchased here). Travelers can see the art installation along East Interstate 40 between the Whitaker and Eastern Street exits, across from the Starlight Ranch Event Center. 

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