Texas Tech University

Howdy From Hub City – Lubbock, TX

Lubbock – a city that is known as the home of Texas Tech University, but also one of the main population centers in rural West Texas. After a great day spent exploring Amarillo, the family and I headed for “Hub City”, located two hours away. This nickname originated from the fact that Lubbock is the economic hub of the South Plains region. This wouldn’t be my first time in town- flying back home from Roswell, New Mexico last year, I stopped at the Lubbock airport for fuel and a quick lunch. Seeing that Texas Tech was one of the few well-known universities in the state that I hadn’t visited, it was an easy decision to swing by to see the school and city.

Leaving Amarillo, we took Interstate 27, which stretches from Amarillo to Lubbock. On the way there, we passed by towns like Canyon, Happy, and Plainview. Canyon is home to West Texas A&M, a small university that focuses pretty heavily on agricultural and equestrian studies.

West Texas A&M
Old Main at WTAMU.

West Texas A&M

West Texas A&M
The bell tower right in front of the “pedestrian mall” – the main walkway of the school with buildings on both sides.

Happy isn’t just some name you’ve heard in a movie – it’s an actual town! With a population of just 667, it is nothing more than a tiny community in the dusty Panhandle. Many of the roads weren’t well-paved, and the downtown area was little more than a few buildings.

Happy, Texas
Happy’s City Hall.

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With light traffic conditions, we entered Lubbock city limits ahead of schedule. After lunch, we began our tour of Hub City, starting with the most well-known place in town – Texas Tech University.

Texas Tech University
The school seal right by the main entrance to Texas Tech.

Established in 1925, the school was originally established as Texas Technological College. The state legislature formally changed the name to Texas Tech in ’69. Today, it is home to over 36,000 students and holds several distinctions including being the only campus in the state to have a university, law school, and medical school. Tech is also very well-known in the athletics department, with its football team competing in the Big 12 and holding status as a Division 1 school.

Doing a walking tour of campus, we explored the various buildings that comprise Red Raider Country. With covered arch walkways and different architectural features around several buildings, the campus looked pretty nice.

Texas Tech University

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Although there wasn’t as much green space as that of Iowa State University, the exterior layout still was well-designed and easy to navigate.

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Since it was Thanksgiving weekend, most of the buildings were closed. However, we did go inside the library, which was open.

Texas Tech University Library

Texas Tech University Library interior

Inside, it was pretty typical, with all the features one would expect for a university of this size. A coffee bar was located in the lobby area, along with computers and meeting areas on the first floor. Smart boards were installed by the little meeting pods, allowing students to collaborate using advanced technology.

Texas Tech Library Interior

The upstairs area was all books. Combined, the Texas Tech library has over 1.7 million volumes in its collection.

Texas Tech University Library Interior

Leaving the library, I came across this pretty neat statue of a walking “book man”.

Texas Tech University
The “Book Man” statue by the library.

The last place we visited here was the Rawls College of Business, located all the way on the other side of campus.

Texas Tech University
The Rawls College of Business.

The doors were locked, but peering inside the building looked pretty modern. This bear and bull piece of public art, representing the stock market with its lines indicative of the ups and downs was unique!

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All in all, I found this visit to Texas Tech to be pretty relaxing. It was neat seeing the campus of a school often discussed in collegiate football and talked about by friends who went here. Leaving Red Raider Country, it was off to our next stop, Prairie Dog Town – perhaps Lubbock’s most unique destination.

Prairie Dog Town

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A part of the city-owned Mackenzie Park, Prairie Dog Town is an enclosed area where prairie dogs live and get spoiled by visitors dropping food. It was started in 1935 by a guy name K.N. Clapp, after being concerned about the possible extinction of this species due to the government’s poisoning program. With two pairs of prairie dogs as its first inhabitants, this habitat flourished. Upon arriving, there were quite a few people, most with bags of carrots in hand.

Prairie Dog Town
It’s afternoon snack time!

Being that we didn’t prepare any food, we headed to the local supermarket and was back before long with several bags of baby carrots. Tossing them to these little creatures, they caught and ate the incoming supply of fresh food around half of the time. Other times, they seemed to be oblivious to the fact that a carrot had landed right next to them(or perhaps they just didn’t care).

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Signs here give the visitor some information about prairie dogs and their burrows. These creatures are pretty ingenious as I learned from this diagram- their underground habitat includes emergency exits, various rooms, and a food storage area!

Prairie Dog Town
Signs here educate visitors on the history and burrowing habits of the prairie dogs.

Birds were swooping in and walking around amongst the prairie dogs, but they didn’t seem to mind or have any sort of conflict at all.

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Between feeding and just observing these creatures in their natural habitat, we spent close to an hour here. Prairie Dog Town is a place I definitely recommend for a fun, family-friendly outdoor activity here in Lubbock. Time slipped on us, but we still headed for the American Wind Power Museum.

American Wind Power Museum
Some of the many windmills on display outside the American Wind Power Museum.

Due to the museum getting ready to close for the day, we opted not to see the exhibits inside, but we did walk around Lineberry Windmill Park, located outside. Many different windmills were represented here, including this Vestas V47 wind turbine. This thing is humongous!

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The huge Vestas V47 wind turbine.

Rising 164 feet into the West Texas sky, this wind turbine generates 660kW of power, enough to power the museum. Excess energy is sold to the local power grid. These modern-day windmills can be seen all over this region, however, it is here that you can get up close and personal with this masterpiece of technology.

American Wind Power Museum
These wind turbines are right at home in windy West Texas.

Leaving the Wind Power Museum, we did a driving tour of downtown. The whole area was deserted; with all the Texas Tech folks gone there just wasn’t any livelihood there. At the Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport though, our last stop, it was anything but deserted.  The terminal was pretty crowded, full of folks mostly coming back into town. While their terminal isn’t very modern, it was well-structured(at least from the non-secure side) with rental car counters located in the building; negating the need to hop on a shuttle.

In sum, it was a nice half-day spent seeing Hub City and what makes up the land of the Red Raiders! Being that this school revolves around the university so much, it might be worth stopping back in on game day, or at least when the semester is in session. I’d also like to see the exhibits that make up the American Wind Power Museum. But for now, it’s one more Texas city visited!

 

Amarillo – The Route 66 City of Texas

Historic Route 66 is one of this country’s most well-known highways, spanning from Santa Monica all the way to Chicago while stretching across portions of 8 states in the process. Texas wasn’t excluded from this 2,448-mile long roadway, with Amarillo as a stop along “The Main Street of America”. Over Thanksgiving weekend, my family and I headed up into the Panhandle region to see what this city of close to 200,000 had to offer. 

The drive up from North Texas took around 6 and a half hours. Taking Highways 380 and 287, we passed by towns like Wichita Falls, Vernon, and Memphis. Super flat plains dotted the landscape, with irrigation equipment stretching across fields like a giant grasshopper. A fair amount of traffic was present, although there weren’t many gas stations or rest stops. Upon arriving, we began our journey of exploring the largest city in the Texas Panhandle. 

Our first stop was Cadillac Ranch, located off Interstate 40 on the west side of town. While you won’t come across any horses or cows here, you will find 10 half-buried vintage Cadillacs, with thick layers of spray paint covering their bodies. 

Cadillac Ranch
The 10 half-buried Cadillacs making up this piece of public art.

This public art installation was the work of three men – Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez, and Doug Michels. They were part of the Ant Farm art group, in the practice of non-traditional architecture and art. And non-traditional this surely was! Here, you are encouraged to spray paint your own design on the cars, making your own little masterpiece.

Cadillac Ranch
Young or old, this is a perfect place to channel your inner graffiti artist.

Why Cadillacs? Ant Farm loved the styling of the Cadillacs from the mid 20th century, especially the tail fin design and envisioned a work of public art stemming from it. With the financial backing of millionaire Stanley Marsh 3,  the land was secured and the art installation opened in 1974. 

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Today, Cadillac Ranch is one of the top destinations to visit in Amarillo. There was a constant stream of people coming and going, Krylon can in hand. Everyone parks their car on the side of the Interstate 40 frontage road and enters via a small gate. A short walk takes you across the field and right in front of the cars. From there, you get to work making your own design. 

Cadillac Ranch entrance
The small gate you pass thru to enter.  It really gives the feeling that you are entering an actual West Texas ranch!
Cadillac Ranch
Dad beginning to spray paint his Chinese name.

It was a neat 45 minutes spent spray painting our names on different Caddys and just having a great time!

Cadillac Ranch

Leaving Cadillac Ranch, it was off to our next stop, the Jack Sisemore Traveland RV Museum. Located on the grounds of an RV dealer, this free museum offered a great glimpse into the world of motorhomes, from vintage Airstreams to camping trailers. 

Jack Sisemore RV Museum

Themed after Route 66 and the spirit of road-tripping across the country, the museum contains many different models of RVs, including the world’s oldest Airstream and the first Itasca, serial number #1. The different generations are well-represented, with models dating back to the 30s all the way up to the 70s. The best part is that the doors on the majority of these models were open, and you could walk in and see how the interior layout was structured.

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world's oldest airstream

Jack Sisemore RV Museum

Not only were there a lot of campers, but many vintage memorabilia from the Route 66 days were also seen here, such as this soda fountain mock-up. Seeing all these relics made it feel like I’d gone back in time!

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We spent around 45 minutes here, seeing all the different artifacts. It felt like going to an antique store, except the stuff on display here was much larger! An RV museum isn’t something you come across regularly, and it was cool being able to get a glimpse of life inside a motorhome. 

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After that, we went to go see Amarillo’s downtown, an area I usually visit on any excursion. A couple of mid-sized buildings dotted the landscape, with the Potter County Courthouse close to the center of it all.

image of the Potter County Courthouse
The Potter County Courthouse.
amarillo tx downtown and potter county courthouse lawn
Downtown Amarillo, as seen from the front lawn of the courthouse.

This courthouse, the 5th used by Potter County, was built in 1932 at a cost of $420,000. From the exterior, it didn’t look that old! There’s not that grand and gorgeous appeal as that of Hood County’s in Granbury, but it fit in well with the downtown landscape. 

potter county courthouse entrance
Those doors are pretty neat. Looks like something that can be seen at Dallas’ Fair Park.

From there, we headed to The Big Texan Steak Ranch, the last destination of the day.  Much more than just your typical restaurant, this place can arguably be the busiest place in town.

The Big Texan STeak Ranch
The Big Texan Steak Ranch.

What draws everyone here? Their world-famous 72oz steak challenge. Finish the whole meal(consisting of the actual steak, a bread roll, a baked potato, a shrimp cocktail, and a salad) within an hour and its free. The idea came after founder Bob Lee decided to hold a contest to see which of the cowboys in the area could consume the most steaks in an hour, with a small monetary prize. Opening in 1960, it was originally right off…you guessed it, Route 66. It eventually moved to its present location off Interstate 40 in 1970. 

Since we were vegetarian, we didn’t eat at The Big Texan, however, we went in to look around. In addition to the main dining room, there is also an ice cream stand, bar, and gift shop located in the “lobby” area. 

The Big Texan Steak Ranch
Various coin-operated games were placed around the “lobby”.

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The Big Texan Steak Ranch
The gift shop sold t-shirts, postcards, and various other Texas and Route 66 souvenirs.

In the dining room, the folks up for the challenge sit front and center, on a raised platform with timers right next to them. Other diners aka those that opt for smaller portions get to watch the gobbling happen, and there is even an online webcam stream available! 

The Big Texan Steak Ranch dining room
The dining room with the contestant’s table up front.
The Big Texan Steak Ranch
The table where the contestants sit.

Right next door, in a Wild West-looking Main Street setup, is a mini-motel run by the restaurant. It’s a convenient place to call it a night should that 72oz steak meal leave you unable to move. All-in-all, they seem to have done a great job with turning a restaurant into a destination and experience. 

Big Texan hotel
The exterior of the motel.
Big Texan Steak Ranch
This dinosaur “Big Tex Rex” is just one of many things that let you know that this isn’t a typical steakhouse, if you didn’t notice the bright yellow building, that is!

In conclusion, the cities touched by Route 66 are always fun to visit, and Amarillo was certainly no exception. When I was first planning this trip, I envisioned this city as a relatively boring and slow town with absolutely nothing to do, and it turned out to be a place with its own culture and some pretty unique destinations. Regardless if you happen to be passing by on Interstate 40, or just want to check out an area of Texas different from the usual Austin or San Antonio tourist scene, Amarillo is a great place to experience the Lone Star State and Route 66 at the same time!

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People coming and going at Cadillac Ranch. It was a nice first visit to the Panhandle region, where the landscape is extremely flat and the land seemingly never-ending.

 

 

A Visit to Abilene Christian University

A few weeks ago, my friend Tom and I flew out to see a city in West Texas that I have only driven by but never explored – Abilene. Located off Highway 20 and home to 122,225 people, Abilene is one of the larger cities dotting the bland landscape of the region. It is located about midway between Dallas and Midland, and is a former frontier settlement. Today, this sleepy city is home to Dyess Air Force Base, numerous oil and gas operations, and also Abilene Christian University, which is where we went on this trip!

Founded in 1906 as the Childers Classical Institute, affiliated with the Churches of Christ, the school opened on a site just west of Abilene. In 1929, a new campus was built on the northeast side of town, which is the school’s present-day location. The university went thru two name changes in its history before becoming Abilene Christian University around the mid-70s. Today, close to 4,500 undergraduate and graduate students study here.

Upon arriving from the airport, it took us a few minutes to find parking. We ended up having to parallel park in one of the visitor spaces, which didn’t seem to be too numerous. Granted, that’s still better than many of the other colleges I’ve visited, where there is simply nowhere to park without the risk of your car getting towed.

One of the first buildings we checked out was the McGlothlin Campus Center, which serves as a student union of sorts. Inside, you can find a bookstore, dining facilities, and numerous offices.

Abilene Christian University

Abilene Christian University

Nothing here seemed very fancy – it looked like just a typical college environment. Being that our visit was during the summer, there were barely any students to be seen here. However, I’m sure the McGlothlin is a popular congregation spot once the semester starts!

Speaking of places where students are known to hang out, another place that Tom and I saw was the Margaret and Herman Brown Library.

Abilene Christian University Library
The Margaret and Herman Brown Library.

Inside, there was nothing really special to see. Desks and computers were spread out in this learning commons for all to use. Although the building seemed quite dated, the interior looked well-maintained.

Abilene Christian University Library
Interior of the Brown Library. 

As we kept walking around campus, I noticed that much like the library, most of the buildings were pretty old, but kept in good condition. There wasn’t any real gorgeous architecture like that found at the University of Nebraska or Iowa State, but it wasn’t bad for a school nestled in a dusty West Texas town.

Abilene Christian University

Abilene Christian University

We did come across one building that looked new – the Onstead Science Center. Upon checking ACU’s website though, it turned out that this building was actually 70 years old, and had just received a facelift. It looked pretty nice!

Abilene Christian University
The Onstead Science Center. 

Although there isn’t much about ACU that stood out to me, one thing I liked about here was the layout of everything. Being that this is a smaller campus, the center courtyard with different places surrounding it such as the library and student union provided for good ease of access. There were also ample amounts of green space, something I feel is important to any university grounds.

Abilene Christian University

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I would have loved to explore this campus further and learn more about life at ACU, but we had to get going to allow time for lunch before heading back to the airport. This was a nice trip seeing a school I’ve heard of several times, as well as knocking out Taylor County off the to-be-seen list of Texas counties!