Amarillo sits on Highway 40 in the upper panhandle of Texas. Amarillo is remote. The weather is arid and hot or arid and freezing dependent on the day of the week. I would not call it a tourist destination. But should you find that Amarillo is on your route then make sure you stop here to hike in in the U.S.’s second largest canyon, Palo Dura Canyon.
We were in Amarillo because it was a good airport hub located near the State HighPoint of Oklahoma. And, we sure did figure out how to have fun. We rolled into town just as the sun was setting on the horizon and made a beeline to the Cadillac Ranch.
If you haven’t heard of this place, it is a public art installation in Amarillo, created in 1974 by Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez and Doug Michels, who were a part of the art group Ant Farm. The installation is ten half-buried Cadillacs buried nose-first in the ground. They actually encourage people to paint, tag, repaint and graffitti all over these cars.
As it turns out, sunset is a great time to view this installation. Cadillac Ranch is west of downtown Amarillo on the south frontage road of highway 40. Park and walk through the gate about 100 yards to the cars. Beware, this is in a field, so wear sneakers or shoes that are good on uneven ground. And if it has been raining, well, think mud.
Also beware that because these cars are almost always being painted, the smell can be quite noxious with paint fumes, and the ground can be quite littered with trash including paint cans and lids.
After seeing the Cadillacs, we decided to go all out tourist and have dinner at the Big Texan.
This is a crazy huge place where hundreds can be fed at once. It is famous for a “food challenge”: Eat their 72oz steak dinner (72 oz of steak, baked potato, roll and salad) in under one hour and you get it for free. If not, it’s $72.00
No, we did not take the challenge. But some of our party had a great steak, some so so. I can recommend the hamburger!
You don’t really go for the food, more for the atmosphere and to see the gift shop where you can buy anything that has “The Big Texan” on it. Also, check out the live rattlesnake who lives in the back of the gift shop. He must be 8 feet long – with a huge head. If I ran into him on a trail, I would be terrified.
The next morning, we got up before sunrise and hit the road at about 7 am, headed to Palo Dura Canyon.
We paid our fees and drove to the trailhead… well, we drove past the trail head. We found heated bathrooms (bonus) and drove in a few circles until we finally located the very obvious trail head for the Lighthouse Trail. It is the most popular trail in the park, but we couldn’t find it. Even with the delay, our early start meant hardly anyone else was on the trail.
The trail is only 5.4 miles round trip if you stop at the picnic bench and turn around (at mile 2.7). We made it a little longer, and got elevation, by hiking up the steep hill to the base of the 2 Hoodoo’s at the end of the trail. We started out at 8:20 am and hit the picnic bench at 9:20 am.
The views along the way were great. The hills in the light of sunrise were beautiful. We heard a pack of coyotes in the distance, and bird song, but nothing else.
The scramlbe up the hill took us a little more than 10 minutes, and we took pics and had a little breakfast at the top.
It took us an hour to climb down and hike back to the car. It is not a challenging hike unless you really need to go up to the towers. The last bit is challenging and you need to be in shape. We were cold, so we had a lot of gear on – I hear it is hot in the summer. You could do the trail in sneakers, but it is very dusty, so I recommend boots. Plus, well, rattlesnakes.
We passed about 10 groups of hikers coming up the trail as we were headed out. I highly recommend starting early.
I could have done many more hikes in the canyon, but there was a reason we chose a quick hike. We had to get back to Amarillo to pick up the rest of the gang and go on our next adventure.
We had a 2 hour trail horseback ride with “Cowgirls and Cowboys of the West”, an outfitter on the northeast side of the canyon. They were terrific, even with an extra large group, our two guides (Lauren and Gracie) kept all the horses and people in order. And while some of the ride was head to tail, we also were able to let the horses roam and trot a bit.
My horse, Chance, was a bit stubborn, but I still had a great time and it was a great day to chill and enjoy being a faux cowgirl.
And what do you do after horseback riding, well, you go to Braum’s for ice cream. We hit a good Thai place for dinner and headed back to our rental for the night. We did miss quite a bit in Amarillo. There are a few places that come highly recommended if you are in town for more than a day: The RV Museum, the American Quarter horse Hall of Fame and the Amarillo Zoo. But we had early flights to catch and had to say good-bye.
Here is to Amarillo, and Happy Trails to you.