Amarillo is big-sky country, and residents and tourists alike love these wide-open skies. We flew in last June for a few days of good ole' Texas fun and relaxation. The weekend vibe, beginning with our touchdown at the Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport (named for NASA astronaut and Amarillo native Rick Husband, who died in the Columbia space shuttle disaster), was low key, kicked back and easy.
Amarillo is bigger than you think – I actually got lost for a few minutes while driving. It's got all the modern stores and restaurants, but they've done an excellent job of taking their beautiful old buildings, renovating them and incorporating them into a seamless cityscape.
Things to do:
We headed over to the Lubbock County Courthouse Gazebo to enjoy the High Noon Concert Series. This free community event had quite a turnout for Andy Chase and The Dust-bowl Dirt Devils, the musicians that day. The musicians and the food are different each time, but the smiles, wonderful weather and toe tapping are a constant. The music is free; lunch is $7. The concerts are held every Wednesday from noon to 1 p.m. from June – August.
The annual Coors Cowboy Club Ranch Rodeo is held each year in June. Organizers host it as a tribute to the West Texas heritage and it features competition between real cowboys from real working ranches in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles and New Mexico. The Coors Cowboy Club Cattle Drive went right down Polk Street in front of our hotel. Not something you see every day! More than 60 longhorns and riders covered the route to the rodeo, the quintessential cowboy experience. Coorsranchrodeo.com
Let Texas’ largest history museum show you the past 14,000 years. It was a treat to see the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, a history museum on the campus of West Texas A&M University in nearby Canyon, Texas. Housing more than three million artifacts of the panhandle plains, there’s a life-size pioneer town, as well as an oil derrick in the petroleum wing. You’ll find dinosaur bones, guns and numerous artists’ exhibits, including several lovely paintings by Georgia O’Keefe, who lived in Amarillo from 1912-14. Particularly interesting is the collection of early Texas art – their historic Texas collection is the most comprehensive in the state. In fact, the museum has the only permanent gallery in Texas devoted to Texas art. panhandleplains.org
It was a short drive to one of America’s best outdoor spaces – the renowned Palo Duro Canyon State Park. () It's the second largest canyon in the U.S, but only 10 percent of the canyon is in the state park; most of the canyon is privately owned and part of large ranches. Admission is only $5 per person; however, camping is extra. Photographing Sad Monkey Peak and Sorenson Peak, which is named for well-known artist, Jack Sorenson, was amazing. Take in a live performance of “Texas,” a musical drama which is the state play of Texas. It's held in a beautiful, 1,700-seat, outdoor venue complete with the stunning Palo Duro Canyon mesa as a backdrop! Visitors can also experience a backstage tour and catered chuck wagon barbecue dinner as part of their evening.
The American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame and Museum was next on our tour. Well designed, the museum is home to the history of the American quarter horse, the world's most popular equine breed. This museum is only $6 per adult and has interactive exhibits (how to tie a horse, stalls vs. pasture), timeline exhibits of the history of the breed and a theater where a film is shown talking about this magnificent animal.
Amarillo's Route 66–Sixth Street Historic District comprises 13 blocks of commercial development in the San Jacinto Heights neighborhood. It offers a lively mix of more than 100 bars, restaurants and antique shops. I met up with Route 66 enthusiast Bob “Crocodile” Lile, owner of the Lile Art Gallery and an esteemed expert on both the current area's offerings and the history of Route 66. His shop can be found on the tree-lined Sixth Street, home to architecturally unique buildings, vintage lighting and cobblestone sidewalks. Stop in and say hello to Bob, he is an Amarillo treasure.
A visit to Amarillo would not be complete without a stop at Cadillac Ranch, where 10 classic Cadillacs are buried nose-down in a field at the same angle. It’s located on I-40, where tourists from all over the world have been coming since 1974. Warning – it’s easy to miss. You will notice cars parked along the side of the highway and a few folks in the distance. Park, go thru a gate (odd, since there is no fence) and take a short walk to admire the art. Bring your own spray paint. Free.
Amarillo is home to several excellent golf courses. Of the array of options, we played the Comanche Trail Golf Complex and the La Paloma Course at Tascosa Golf Club. The Comanche Trail Golf Complex is home to two, 18-hole courses – the original Tomahawk Course built in 1990 and the Arrowhead Course, which opened in 1999. The City of Amarillo owns and manages both. Not only are these fun courses, play is extremely affordable. It is no secret that wind is a major factor in Amarillo, affecting all the outdoor activities. The Tomahawk course is the more difficult of the two mainly because of the wind. Arrowhead, a Scottish-links-style course, was built to handle the wind, and its design gives players the chance to use the wind to their advantage. Instead of flat, straight fairways, Comanche Trail moved a lot of dirt to create interest – the course includes berms, contoured fairways, and somewhat elevated and rolling greens, which are on the small side. Both courses are enjoyable and allow players to enjoy the day and to make some great plays.
The Tascosa Golf Club also has two 18-hole courses, the La Paloma and the Tascosa. Amarillo Creek, which runs through the course, accentuates the play, and golfers will find some dramatic elevations (yes, even in
Amarillo!), three lakes and a waterfall. The private golf club is built in the center of a premier residential community. La Paloma is similar to a links-style course with some heavily contoured fairways and lots of dramatic accents like bunkers, berms and swales. It offers 6,676 yards of golf from the longest tees for a par of 72. Designed by Jeffrey D. Blume, the La Paloma golf course opened in 1999. Enjoy the gorgeous surrounding homes, a great course layout and some demanding holes.
The Big Texas Steak Ranch & Brewery serves 400,000 dinners a year! If you’re staying at a local hotel, they will pick you up for free in a limo decorated with longhorns on the hood. It’s a family friendly place where they brew their own beer and serve it in the beer garden. In the early '60s, local ranch hands always got a table in the middle of the restaurant, so tourists could get a look at real “cowboys.” The cowboys started putting $5 each in a hat on Friday nights and whoever ate the most got the money. This started the “get it free” meal known around the world – customers get a free 72-ounce steak dinner if they eat it all in one hour and “all” means a shrimp cocktail, baked potato, salad, roll with butter and, of course, the 72-ounce steak. Kids’ meals are served in a real cowboy hat, which the kids can keep. bigtexan.com
Youngblood’s Stockyard Café is owned by Tim Youngblood, who serves specials like bacon-wrapped meatloaf, barbecue beef and sausage, and topped off with free dessert (lunch only) while it lasts. It is Texas all the way at Youngblood's as the décor is primarily deer heads, ropes and guns on the walls.
The view from our corner room at the Courtyard by Marriott Downtown was delightful! Originally built in 1927 as the Fisk Medical Arts Building, it was completely renovated and restored as a Marriott Courtyard Hotel. The hotel retains its historic Gothic Revival exterior and original gargoyle ornaments at the Polk Street alcove.