Amarillo is located in the Northern tip if Texas in what is often referred to as the panhandle of the state. Back in 2012 when I was on my way to Albuquerque for my AmeriCorps VISTA orientation, and subsequent move to Tucson, Arizona, I spent a single night in the city that left me with nothing more than the impression of my inside of my hotel room.
I had spent the previous 12 hours packed into my car with the majority of my possessions, and was ready to see something interesting after an endless barrage of boring stretches of highway. The problem, as I would discover very shortly, was that Amarillo had very little to offer. I’m not sure if this was because I had arrived at night or is due solely to the fact that Amarillo just really doesn’t have a lot going on, but I do know that everything within miles of my hotel was closed and it was depressing.
I barely even made it to McDonald’s (the only place open) before they turned off the lights and the shame of eating at McDonald’s had time to set in. So, with my artery clogging bag of grease and a soda the size of my head sitting on the night stand in my hotel room, I spent the night looking for a way to kill a few hours the following morning before I had to be on my way to Albuquerque. I found very little that looked interesting, with the exception of the two items below that have made up the Amarillo section of my bucket list ever since.
Just West of Amarillo on Route 66, sits an iconic piece of roadside America. Conceived in 1974 as an art installation by the “Ant Farm”, an art group out of San Francisco, Cadillac Ranch was created to confuse locals and pay tribute to the evolution of the Cadillac tail fin. I arrived 38 years later after decades of vandalism, erosion, and theft had left the cars distorted and brightly painted, only to find that I loved them more for the weathered look they possessed. I was the only person who had taken the time to stop on that windy afternoon, and marveled at how tiny and insignificant they seemed from the side of the access road.
It wasn’t until I walked into the field, camera in hand, and got up close to each car that I realized just how awesome this piece of evolving artwork really was. While it pained me inside to see such beautiful cars in horrific condition, each piece of layered graffiti told the story of the people who took the time to paint a name or saying on every surface, and seemed to swirl together like a messy painting. I hadn’t known to bring spray paint, but judging by the cans littered around the field almost everyone else did. I’m not sure what I would have written at the time, but know that if I ever pass by again I’m bringing a can of spray paint with me… and probably a trash bag as well.
Palo Duro Canyon
Referred to as the Grand Canyon of Texas, Palo Duro Canyon is 120 miles long, 20 miles wide at its largest, and claims to be the second biggest canyon in the United States. While Palo Duro Canyon State Park is only about a 30 minute drive from Amarillo, I knew I wouldn’t be content to just drive down, look, and drive back out again without a little exploring in between, so I opted to sleep in at the hotel instead (a favorite pastime of mine) and visit Cadillac Ranch on my way out-of-town.
The Canyon itself easily made the list for its hiking trails, beautiful views, the working ranch that lies within the park, and the wildflowers that grow freely in the springtime. By all accounts this seems like a nice little State Park to spend a few days in, and offers everything from cabin rentals and exhibits, to horseback riding and dirt bike trails. It will cost you $5 to enter the park for the day, and anywhere between $12 and $110 for overnight accommodation depending on what you prefer. In case none of that is enough to entice you to visit, the Park is also home to a rather large amphitheater offering performances, and proves once and for all that not everything is bigger in Texas.