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. 

IMG_2333

IMG_2340

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.

IMG_2383

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!

IMG_2376

IMG_2373

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. 

IMG_2369

IMG_2380

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”.

IMG_2400

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!

IMG_2363
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.

 

 

The Western White House

This past Saturday, I finally got to go visit a place that’s been sitting on my Texas trip list, the tiny town of Crawford. Thoughts of visiting this place had originally hatched back in March, when I saw a road sign for there while heading back to the airport from neighboring Bosque County. My former coworker Holly, who is from Valley Mills, had also suggested that I check out the Coffee Shop Cafe, a pretty well-known restaurant only 10 minutes from Crawford. The deal was sealed from there!

Best known as the location of former President George W. Bush’s ranch, Crawford sits about 20 miles to the west of Waco. With a population of less than 800 people, this was one of the least populated towns I have seen to date.

Being that Crawford didn’t have its own airfield, I landed at the Waco Regional Airport. The winds aloft were close to calm that day, and combined with a high-pressure system made for a pretty smooth ride in. Upon landing, I was expecting to grab the crew car and head off to see the “Western White House”, but unfortunately another pilot had taken it and wouldn’t be back until an hour later. Not wanting to let this time slip by, I decided to see if I could get a tour of the control tower located at the airline terminal.

IMG_3159
The control tower at the Waco airport.

The controller that I spoke to on the phone was very friendly, and told me to just come over and they would let me in. It took me about 5 minutes to walk from the FBO(private aircraft terminal) to the airline terminal right down the road. Upon entering, I pressed the buzzer at the door going up to the tower, and was escorted in.

IMG_3160

Although this tower shows its age, the equipment inside is very modern and the staff well trained! My tour guide, one of the controllers, first showed me their Terminal Radar Approach Control(TRACON). The TRACON is a small, dark room with radar scopes and about 3-4 controllers. They talk to aircraft that are either departing, arriving, or passing thru Waco’s airspace. Everyone was laid back, and I got to ask them about some of the unique aspects of their airspace, and see the equipment they use to safely guide planes to where they need to go. Having toured the Dallas/Fort Worth TRACON, I have to say that although this is a small facility, they appeared to be just as professional and knowledgeable as the D/FW guys.

After spending about 10 minutes in TRACON, we then went up to the tower cab. The place where the best view of the airport is, only one controller was up there directing traffic. With only 5 airline flights a day, Waco isn’t busy like DFW Airport or even Love Field. The majority of the traffic are general aviation flights, with corporate jets and piston aircraft alike using the field.

IMG_3161
These folks have a nice view..almost as nice of a view as that of a pilot! (;

The controller working up there was awesome and answered all of my questions regarding tower operations, procedures, and how departing aircraft are entered into the system if they wish to be worked by air traffic control. These folks have a sharp mind, as there is little room for error.

img_3166
My tour guide and I, with the general aviation ramp in the background.

I didn’t want to keep them away from their job for too long, so I headed back to the FBO after about 30 minutes. A bit after, the crew car finally came back, and I set out on my journey to Crawford.

The drive took about 25 minutes, and was quite pleasant. Not many cars were headed that way, and shortly I had arrived. As I was entering town, I passed by the Crawford Peace House. The Peace House was a residential house that was used as a base of sorts by anti-war protesters during Bush’s tenure. Protesters would eat and organize there before heading out. Before departing on this trip, I had done some research on the current state of the place, and it turned out that the house was on the verge of being auctioned off due to foreclosure. When I passed by it, there were no signs of it ever being a staging ground for people voicing dissent. Only one car was seen outside, and had someone not pointed it out(or done some research), one couldn’t tell it apart from the other houses in town.

As I kept on driving in, I saw their downtown area. Calling it an area is already stretching the word, as it was the smallest downtown I have seen to date! It is comprised of one side of one street.

IMG_3174
This is the entirety of their downtown!

This place was very busy whenever Bush was here back when he was in office, but now it is just short of being a ghost town. I only saw one shop advertising Bush memorabilia, and they were closed.

IMG_3171
The only place in Crawford still selling Bush memorabilia.

Out of the five buildings that make up this area, one of them is their city hall and sole police station. I wonder what the history of the city hall building is – it looked like it was a retail store at some point in time.

IMG_3180
That’s sure a small city hall..and that police station is probably just a room or two!

There was also a nice little mural titled “The Spirit of America”. It went to show the things that represent this little town – home of George and Laura Bush, the Crawford High School Pirates, and the hard work of the American farmer.

IMG_3172
Small town murals are some of my favorite forms of public art.

After getting done seeing downtown, my original plan was to drive to Bush’s ranch, located about 17 minutes away. However, the delay from waiting on the crew car made that a no-go, compounded by the fact that you can’t really see his ranch other than a guard shack. Instead, I decided to break for lunch at the Coffee Shop Cafe, located in the nearby town of McGregor.

IMG_3181
Heading south to McGregor.

The drive south to McGregor took about 10 minutes. Light traffic made driving down the two-lane road quite peaceful. By the time I could feel my hunger, I had already pulled up to the front doors of the Coffee Shop Cafe.

IMG_3192

Opened in 1998, Coffee Shop Cafe is one of the most well known restaurants in the area. In fact, this joint is such a part of local culture that even George Bush, his staffers, and foreign heads of state were known to stop by!

Being that it was lunchtime, I opted for their country buffet line. Since I was vegetarian, I could only get the non meat items. However, I didn’t feel left out in the least. In addition to a salad bar, they had a wealth of different sides, including mashed potatoes, corn, yams, green beans, and rice.

IMG_3190
Plenty of good tasting food left, even at around 2 PM!

The food was delicious, however it was on the lighter tasting side compared to what I usually eat. This is the kind of grub that after a round or two you will be filled up..maybe so full that you don’t have room for dessert!

IMG_3184
Pretty far from containing a lot of salt. Solid country cooking.

Speaking of dessert, that is something they are well known for. Co-owner Valerie mentioned to me that their pies have been named some of the best in Texas by several magazines. On top of that, Holly had mentioned the pies during her recommendation of this place to me as well. Due to time constraints, I wasn’t able to get any, but it will definitely be on the table for next time.

Before leaving, I took a few minutes to check out some of their interior decorations. The whole restaurant is themed after ‘W, and they did a great job piecing together memorabilia to provide customers with a one-of-a-kind dining experience.

IMG_3191
They even sell Bush memorabilia and t-shirts.

Upon leaving the Coffee Shop Cafe, it was time to start heading back. The drive to the Waco Regional Airport took around 30 minutes. On the way back, I passed thru the southwest side of Waco, somewhere I had not been to in all my visits to Bear Country!

Once back at the airport, the flight home was quite bumpy due to mid day heating, but otherwise uneventful. In summary, this was a great trip, in spite of the unexpected delay right at the start. I don’t think I really missed out on anything by skipping the drive to the Bush ranch, but it might be something I go see in the future if I am ever in Crawford again(super unlikely). However, McGregor and the Coffee Shop Cafe is now on my list of places to visit should I be in the mood for some delicious country cooking!

Wait…did I just plan my next visit there by saying that?