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Amarillo - Texas

 What to See and Do | Where to Stay

Home of the Cadillac Ranch and the largest steaks in all of creation, Amarillo is a Route 66 city which revels in its historic place along the famous roadway to the West. There are short stretches of the old route still available to drive, marked by the city with special Route 66 signs. It's an agricultural town, servicing the ranches and cattle feedlots on the panhandle plains which surround the city. There's a good deal of the Old West here. You have only to drive 15 minutes in any direction to get completely away from urban sprawl, and to experience the upper Texas prairie.

This was buffalo country, dominated by the Commanche tribe, before the arrival of Francisco de Coronado in 1541. Sheep farmers and cattlemen followed, establishing large ranches throughout the region. Cattle drives to Amarillo were famous events. Charles Goodnight, the inventor of the chuckwagon, lived here. While the Commanche were vanquished and banished from the grazing lands, the area was a quiet agricultural area until the oil boom hit Texas, and spread across the Panhandle. Amarillo is the major supply center for helium, and has retained its role as a modern transportation center, with two interstate highways&emdash;I-40 which follows the track of Route 66, and I-27, connecting the city with Lubbock to the south. The ranches are still here, larger than they used to be, including several distinctive guest ranches, offering a glimpse of what cowboy life is like. Nearly 75 percent of Texas' cattle feedyards are located around Amarillo.

What to See & Do

Exploring the remains of Route 66 is a pleasure for those who remember the old main highway from Chicago to Los Angeles, and also for those younger people who recognize the loss of the historic road. Route 66 fan clubs make pilgrimages to the city, driving the few remaining miles that haven't become Interstate 40, and gazing at the famous Cadillac Ranch, where ten Cadillacs are buried nose-down in a field, at the same angle as the pyramids of Cheops. The upended cars are found seven miles west of the city on I-40.

If you're planning to be in Amarillo on a Tuesday morning, you should consider attending the weekly action at the Amarillo Livestock Auction. This is Texas' largest cattle auction, with more than 600,000 cattle moving through the auction pen each year, selling for more than $130 million. the auction is held on Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., at 100 South Manhattan Street, call (806) 373-7464. Other kinds of animals are on display (but not sold) at the Amarillo Zoo. This is a small zoo with a playground and a theme which uses children's stories. The zoo is open daily in Thompson Park, NE 24th Street at U.S. Highway 287. For information, call (806) 383-6141. And for a historical look at the quarter horse, visit the American Quarter Horse Heritage Center and Museum. This is the registry for all quarter horses in the world, and the adjacent museum offers exhibits, videos, hands-on displays, and a gift store -- all devoted to the breed, the quintessential cowboy horse. The museum is off I-40, at the Nelson Street exit, and is open daily, starting at 9 a.m., 10 a.m. or noon, depending on the time of year or the day of the week. For schedule information, call (806) 376-5181.

The Amarillo Museum of Art is a work of art in itself. The striking building was designed by Edward Stone, the architect of Washington's Kennedy Center. The complex is devoted to the fine arts, including music, drama, and visual arts, with the structure containing exhibition, concert, and teaching areas. Galleries dieplay the museum's extensive permanent collection of paintings and sculpture, and concerts are often held. It is located on the campus of Amarillo College, at 2200 Van Buren Street. For information, call (806) 371-5050. The building is open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., on Thursday from 7 to 9 p.m., and on weekends from 1 to 5 p.m.

A museum of a different nature is the Don Harrington Discovery Center, located in the center of a 51-acre park at 1200 Streit Drive. Surrounded by lawns, picnic areas, with a lake nearby, this science center offers many hands-on exhibits and displays. Features include an aquarium, a planetarium giving star shows, an exhibit of a black hole, a gigantic kaleidoscope, and more. The center is open daily except Monday, and starting times vary with the seasons. For schedule information, call (806) 355-9548.

The Old Jacinto Area, the city's first downtown area has become a charming shopping and restaurant district, a kind of western Greenwich Village. You'll find antique shops, clothing boutiques, cafes and restaurants, small-to-tiny theaters, and art and crafts galleries. To find Old Jacinto, look for 6th Street between Western and Georgia streets.

Drives & Getaways

A few miles north of Amarillo, the Canadian River Valley widens and a dam holds back Lake Meredith. The lake, covering more than 16,500 acres, is a prime recreation destination for Amarillo resents and a growing number of travelers. Lake Meredith National Recreation Area surrounds the reservoir, containing eight main parks and several smaller units. Administered by the National Park Service, these facilities include a marina, boat ramps, campgrounds, and picnic areas. Anglers regularly take out walleye, bass, crappie, and catfish. Park headquarters is located on Texas Highway 136, a mile east of the town of Fritch. You can get onto Highway 136 from U./S. 60, at the north end of Amarillo. Fritch is 36 miles from the city. Other roads will take you on to Borger and Stinnett, from which the recreation area access points are found. For information, call the park headquarters.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park is set in the scenic canyon country a half-hour's drive south of Amarillo. Often called the "Grand Canyon of Texas," the canyon has been formed over more than 200 million years by the Prairie Dog Fork of the Red River, as it flows across the middle of the Texas Panhandle. The park, spread over 16,402 acres, offers camping (developed and primitive), picnicking, horseback riding, hiking along the canyon and river, fishing, a miniature train ride, and mountain biking. The park contains a large amphitheater where the musical drama "Texas" is staged throughout the summer months. The park is 25 miles from Amarillo. To get there, take Interstate 27 south from the city, to Texas Highway 217, and take this road eight miles east to the park entrance. You'll pass through the town of Canyon, home to West Texas A&M University and the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum (on the university campus).

Park facilities include a campground with more than 100 developed campsites offering water, electricity and dump station, and some have shade shelters. A primitive camping area is reached by a three-quarter-mile hike. Backcountry campsites are located along a trail, at the half-mile and 2.5-mile points. A horse stable is located in the park, offering trail rides and horse rentals. An equestrian campground has pens and water for horses but no tables or fire rings. The facilities include two cabins without kitchen. For information and reservations, call (806) 488-2227

The park visitor center has exhibits on natural history and geology, as well as the history of the Panhandle. The Goodnight Trading Post has camping supplies, snacks and souvenirs, while offering mountain bike rentals. Horse owners may bring their trailers to a parking lot in the park. 22.9 miles of trails are available for riding, hiking, walking and biking. 9.4 miles are open to cyclists.

Texas: The Musical

The musical drama "TEXAS" is a pageant of the history of Texas, with a focus on settlement of the panhandle plains. Staged each year from early June to late August, this epic with magnificent lighting and an equally fantastic setting has attracted more than 2.5 million visitors since its debut in 1966. The drama is performed in and around the large amphitheater in Palo Duro Canyon State Park, and admission to the park is free after 5:30 p.m. It does cost to see the drama. Seats can be reserved by calling (806) 655-2181, or (906) 488-2220 on the day of performance.

"TEXAS" was written by the late Paul Green, who pioneered a whole new type of outdoor epic drama, writing more than a dozen historical dramas which are still performed around the country. It was the dramas staged in St. Augustine, Florida, and in the Carolinas that convinced a small group of local leaders to invite Green to visit Palo Duro Canyon and take on the task of writing a new epic about Texas. Money was raised to build the amphitheater, and a new center stage was added in 1989. The drama has been a hit since its inception, more than 30 years ago. Crowds flock to the canyon each summer to see a cast of 80 actors, singers, and dancers sweep across the stage, and even appearing high above on the canyon rim. Sound and light are added to complete the spectacle, relating the history of the land and the Native Americans, settlers, and cowboys who lived here.

Two ongoing events offer unusual western experiences to visitors. Cowboy Morning is an event at the Figure 3 Ranch. A scenic ride across the prairie on mule-drawn wagons begins the event, coming to a campsite perched on the rim of Palo Duro Canyon. Then comes a cowboy breakfast, cooked over an open mesquite fire. The meal is followed by exhibitions of roping, riding, and branding. The same experience, but in the evening with steak dinners is also available. For information and reservations, call 800-658-2613. Ranch Roundup, available through the Amarillo Convention and Visitors Bureau (800-692-1338), is a three-day and three-night outdoor experience: riding the range, eating food cooked over open fires, and sleeping under the stars. Activities include riding, roping, and branding.

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