I was invited to take a “Top to Bottom” tour of Texas and during that trip I spent a few days in the Amarillo area. I wish I had more time to explore the area. Full of historical landmarks and exciting “must-see” spots, Amarillo is a perfect place to spend a vacation, explore landmarks and learn about some important times in the history of our country.
Amarillo Texas Offers Something for Everyone!
I stayed right in the heart of Amarillo at the Courtyard by Marriott Amarillo Downtown. I loved the location right in walking distance to some great coffee shops and restaurants. Downtown Amarillo, under the guidance of Center City, a nonprofit organization, is being transformed into a fascinating spot. Center City is working to restore Amarillo’s historic downtown as part of the Texas Main Street and National Main Street movement. The Center City organization believes that every building has a story and they are working hard to bring those stories back to life.
From the center of downtown it is an easy drive to many of the area’s greatest sites:
Several myths have been perpetuated about the origin of the Cadillac Ranch, the most popular of which is about an eccentric Amarillo millionaire who would buy one Cadillac after another and when it was time to buy a new one, he would have the old one buried nose first on his land. However, the truth is, the Cadillac Ranch was a planned artistic endeavor.
Yes, Texas millionaire Stanley Marsh, 3 was eccentric. He was also said to be very down to earth, quickly disregarding the “III” as too pretentious and using “3” instead. In 1973, Marsh invited a San Francisco artists’ collective called the Ant Farm to help him in the creation of a unique work of art for his sprawling ranch just west of Amarillo. The group set about acquiring ten used Cadillac’s, ranging in model years from 1948 to 1963. Built along the tattered remains of historic Route 66, the cars were meant to represent the “Golden Age” of American automobiles. Most of the cars were purchased from junk yards, and averaged about $200. The cars were then buried nose-down, facing west along the old highway. Those that could run, were driven into the half-burial holes, the rest were hoisted in. In 1974 the project was completed and in no time at all, visitors began to come from all over the world, leaving their mark on the ever-thickening graffiti covered cars. At first, the cars displayed their original paint jobs – turquoise, banana yellow, gold, and sky blue, but barely was the monument complete, when people were scratching or painting their names in the cars. This monument was built as a public sculpture and visitors are encouraged to participate in it. So, it’s ok if you take your can of Krylon with you, leaving your name or an inspiring message, which will, no doubt, be erased by another message soon.
Lile Art Gallery
Talk about a character! Bob “Crocodile” Lile loves everything about Route 66 and the Amarillo area. I enjoyed a great dinner chatting and laughing. Among the many interesting things he does, he collects paints chips that have fallen from the cars of Cadillac Ranch and creates stunning jewelry out of it all! How creative is that! If you’re lucky enough to run into “Croc” while visiting you will surely love his Route 66 stories!
The Big Texan
I’m sure you have heard about The Big Texan at some point. It’s a saloon. It’s a restaurant. It’s a tourist attraction. Their 72 oz. Steak Challenge has been the subject of many Food Network and television specials and the restaurant is part of Route 66 history. The restaurant is now run by the children of the original owner and a visit to this restaurant will have you feeling like a cowboy in minutes. The food, the atmosphere, the hype – it is a spot that is full of music and fun from the minute you walk through the door. I was fortunate to be able to share a beer (made in house) with Bobby Lee, a son of the original owner and what a great time we had! I could have listened to him for hours sharing stories of his father and the restaurant.
In 1960, R. J. “Bob” Lee opened The Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo on Route 66, the “Mother Road. Its distinctive architecture soon became recognized across the Mother Road as a good stopping place for great steaks grilled over an open flame. The towering sign of a long-legged cowboy that Bob erected next to the building became a major landmark on Route 66. From the beginning, the Big Texan welcomed weary travelers and migrating families whose roots spread all across America.
The now World-famous FREE 72-oz. steak came to life not long after Bob opened the doors to the Big Texan Steak Ranch. Beginning in the mid-1960s signs began cropping up along the Mother Road inviting travelers to come in for a 72-oz. steak dinner that was FREE if it could be eaten in one hour. Thousands of road-weary youngsters practiced their ciphering as they converted 72 ounces into four and one-half pounds. Those Big Texan signs became as much of the nation’s culture as the old Burma Shave signs. One company has long-since disappeared with the dust of the old road, but the other still flourishes. Big Texan Steak Ranch billboards can still be seen to the east and west of Amarillo along Interstate 40 and on major north-south routes that run through the Panhandle.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park
The second largest canyon in the country lies in the heart of the Texas Panhandle and is breathtakingly beautiful! Hiking, horse trails, camping or just taking in the magnificent views this gorgeous spot definitely should not be missed. Stop in the Visitor’s Center to learn as much as possible about the history of the canyon – a colorful history from the days when the canyon was home to Apache, Comanche and Kiowa. I was in awe of the majestic mountains and beautiful scenery. The views are breathtaking!
Campers can choose from campsites with water and electricity, drive-up sites, equestrian sites, or backpack camping areas, as well as a few cabins that are located on the canyon’s rim and canyon floor.
The state park and canyon have a colorful history full of cowboys and Indians, historic battles, cattle drives and more. In 1933 purchased the land to create a state park and more history was made when President Roosevelt’s created Civilian Conservation Corps moved onto the land and spent the next 5 years making all of the park’s original improvements, including winding roads, El Coronado Lodge (now the Visitor Center), the cabins on the rim and canyon floor, and trails. Designers planned the park to maximize views and complement the surroundings. The CCC used local stone and wood for building materials. In addition, workers forged decorative metal and crafted furniture.
Anyone can easily spend multiple days exploring the canyon!
Bill’s Backyard Classics
Classic car enthusiast heaven! I was stunned walking through this sea of beautifully restored, colorful cars and even spotted one or two from my youth! Well over 100 cars that span a period from the 1920’s to 2012 make for a fun family afternoon. The owner, Bill Pratt, is a colorful character with over 80 national and international patents in the beef industry – inventions that improved the operational efficiency of animal agriculture business all over the world. After selling his life-long successful business he was searching for some new adventure to keep busy so began adding to his modest classic car collection. The result is Bill’s Backyard Classics!
Jack Sisemore’s RV Museum
RV’s from as early as the 1930’s as well as the Flxible Bus fro the movie “RV” and the first Itasca motor home ever built – the museum is small but so interesting you can spend a few hours looking through the early models and be amazed at how things for RV’ers has changed! The museum offers free admission is a fun stop for everyone!
Kwahadi Museum of the American Indian
What an amazing spot! The museum is also home to the world famous “Kwahadi Dancers.
Fine paintings and exhibits let you explore the cultures of the Plains and Pueblo native people – one piece more beautiful and creative than the next. The museum offers a collection of art and artifacts of the cultures of the American Indian and each piece seems to tell you a story.
Over 1800 young men and women have performed in the Kwahadi youth dance program. They have performed over 5000 shows in 48 states and internationally. The dancers also perform in the museum throughout the year.
American Quarter Horse Museum
I had a great interest in visiting here since my family was very involved in horse racing in the 1950’s and 1960’s. There is nothing more important to a cowboy than his horse and this museum pays tribute to the horses that helped settle the west and is a perfect way to spend an afternoon. The museum often holds special events and programs and during my visit I was able to witness a special event that was celebrating the skill and contributions of the Charro (Mexican cowboy). The Charro are known as some of the best horsemen in the world.
Panhandle Plains Historical Museum
This is the largest history museum in Texas and covers art, history, archeology, paleontology and more. The museum offers permanent exhibits as well as special visiting exhibits and definitely is worth the visit. After visiting Palo Duro Canyon earlier in my stay, I was excited and interested in seeing the display at the museum all about the canyon.
The Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum opened its doors to the public in 1933 and the public soon began donating artifacts to the museum from the area’s past, in addition to their financial contributions.
Without a doubt there is much to see in the Amarillo area and I really hope to get back there again soon!
Disclosure: I was provided with accommodations, meals and other compensation for the purposes of this review by the Amarillo Convention & Visitor Council. All opinions are my own and my review has not been influenced in any way.