I'm originally from Dumas, a small town north of Amarillo, but I lived in Amarillo longer than I lived in Dumas, and I really consider Amarillo "home." Don't get me wrong. I love Austin, where I live now, but I'll always have an affinity for Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle.
People who don't live in Northwest Texas, and some who do, think there's nothing to do there. I'm not one of them. I think there's something magical about seeing as far as the eye can see. Where else can you go out in the country, late at night, drop a penny on the ground, and still see it because the moon is so bright, and the stars are so plentiful? It's a thrill to watch big, beautiful thunderstorms roll in, and you won't find a prettier sunset anywhere.
So buckle up for a fun visit to Amarillo. First a bit of history...
Amarillo is the 11th-largest city in the state of Texas and the 119th Largest City in The U.S. As of the 2000 U.S. Census, the city had a total population of 173,627 (though a July 1, 2005 estimate placed the city's population at 183,021). The Amarillo metropolitan area, however, has an estimated population of 236,113 in four counties. By 2010, the city's population is expected to be 200,000.
Amarillo was originally named Oneida and it is situated in the Llano Estacado region. The availability of the railroad and freight service provided by the Fort Worth and Denver City Railroad contributed the city's growth as a cattle marketing center in the late 19th century. Amarillo is the regional economic center for the Texas Panhandle as well as Eastern New Mexico and the Oklahoma Panhandle.
The city was once the self-proclaimed "Helium Capital of the World" for having one of the country's most productive helium fields. The city is also known as "The Yellow Rose of Texas" (as the city takes its name from the Spanish word for yellow) and most recently "Rotor City, USA" for its V-22 Osprey hybrid aircraft assembly plant. Pantex, the only nuclear weapons assembly and disassembly facility in the country, is also a major employer.
Cadillac Ranch has appeared in American popular culture media. A tribute to the Cadillac Ranch was featured in the film Cars. The fictional town of Radiator Springs sits at the edge of an area referenced on a map as the "Cadillac Range", and throughout the movie, rock formations shaped like the upended cars can be seen as a horizon backdrop. Cadillac Ranch was also featured in a Bruce Springsteen song on his 1980 album The River.
The Big Texan restaurant has been featured by numerous television programs, including an episode of the Food Network show Unwrapped and was named the World's tenth "Best Places to Pig Out" by the Travel Channel. Maxim Magazine voted The Big Texan one of the top 10 steak houses in the USA in their November 2006 issue.
The restaurant was featured on the Travel Channel's Steak Paradise and is the official caterer for the musical drama "TEXAS" in Palo Duro Canyon. While the general consensus is that the restaurant is very "touristy," Bobby Lee and his family are very generous in the Amarillo community.
One of the original federal routes, US 66 was established on November 11, 1926, and originally ran from Chicago, Illinois, through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, before ending at Los Angeles for a total of 2,448 miles. A small portion of Route 66 that runs through Amarillo is now a section of antiques stores and restaurants. It's one of my favorite places to go antiquing.
Palo Duro Canyon is a canyon system of the Caprock Escarpment in the Panhandle of Texas (USA). As the second largest canyon in the United States, it is roughly 120 miles long and has an average width of 6 miles, but reaches a width of 20 miles at places. Its maximum depth is 800 feet. Palo Duro Canyon has been called "The Grand Canyon of Texas," both for its size and for the dramatic geological features, including the multicolored layers of rock and steep mesa walls which are similar to those in the Grand Canyon.
The canyon was formed by the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River which winds along the relatively flat Caprock of West Texas. Water erosion over the millennia has been aided by wind erosion to shape the canyon's geological formations.
The painter Georgia O'Keeffe who lived in nearby Amarillo and Canyon early in the 20th century, wrote of the Palo Duro: "It is a burning, seething cauldron, filled with dramatic light and color."
The canyon is home to the TEXAS musical drama. People come from all over the world to experience the story of Calvin and Elsie and how the Panhandle was settled. The walls of the canyon are the backdrop to the play, and there are special effects to please all ages. This musical will make you proud to be an American and thrilled to be a Texan.
The state park part of Palo Duro Canyon is actually a very small part of the canyon. Most of the lands are privately-owned. Back in the 1980's, Tom and Ann Christian opened up their land to host the original "Cowboy Morning Breakfast." They served up countless breakfasts of sour dough biscuits, gravy, sausage, and eggs and dinners of steak and potatoes to what surely amounted to thousands of tourists and families over the years. (Their ranch was also the location of the last scene of "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" where Indy and his father ride off into the sunset).
Since the Christians' retirement, the Elkins have taken over Cowboy Morning Breakfast and also include jeep tours as one of the experiences tourists can take advantage of on their ranch.
You can also manage to spend a few hours at the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum in Canyon, just south of Amarillo. This museum is a wonderfully comprehensive experience of the history of Texas.
Among the famous people who have come from Amarillo or the surrounding area are: