We left New Mexico around 9am on Good Friday and headed toward Texas. The drive on I-40 was easy, with lots of rest areas and truck stops along the way. For the first time we are traveling with plenty of time to get where we are going. We have to be back in Rock Hill, SC (where my sister lives) no later than April 21st, so we have over three weeks to make the drive. The idea is we will stay extra days in areas that are interesting and keep moving east on the other days. We also have stops scheduled to see some friends, which I am excited about, and Lee wants to show me some things along the route. So we planned a light day ending in Amarillo, TX with a visit to Cadillac Ranch and The Big Texan steakhouse, but when I talked to my friend Kelly and she mentioned we should see Palo Duro we decided to extend another day. It’s weird traveling with no reservations and no specific dates to be at the next place, and for me at least it takes some getting used to. I have to actively fight the urge to put a schedule in place. Some people can just get in their RV’s and wander aimlessly, but apparently this is tough for my project manager soul. Still, baby steps, right? This trip back East is an important test on whether we can choose to “meander travel” as so many other people do. It seems like fun, go where you want, when you want, and this kind of travel really appeals to Lee, so I am giving it a shot.
When we were about an hour outside of Amarillo, I called the Amarillo Ranch RV Park (which is owned by the Big Texan restaurant) and grabbed a spot for two days. Normally we don’t stay at places like this, but it’s actually pretty nice. The people are great and our particular site (103) is extremely large. It’s a weird layout though, with some spots having tons of room and others being close, and at $33 a night (with Good Sam’s discount) it’s not cheap. Still, we’ve been doing great on campgrounds this month and decided to splurge a little on full hook-ups. My one complaint is the indoor pool and “adult only” sauna was not adult only. The lady at the front desk told us they will be building a whole new park next year, along with a new restaurant and several hotels. Apparently business is good at The Big Texan! The campground also offers a free limousine shuttle to the Big Texan steakhouse, so once we checked in we told them what time we wanted to be picked up. Our driver was right on time, and did a nice job telling us about the history of The Big Texan on the way to the restaurant.
The restaurant itself is part restaurant and part experience. It was located on route 66 and then eventually moved to I-40 once the freeway opened. It has a western themed motel, a swimming pool shaped like Texas, bars, party rooms, and a balconied restaurant. It’s claim to fame is that anyone who can eat a 72oz steak with all the fixins in less than an hour gets the meal for free. Two people made the attempt while we were there and they sit up on a platform near the open kitchen with a timer so everyone can see…no pressure. One 12 year old boy didn’t make it while we were there but everyone in the crowd cheered anyways. The meal costs $72 if you don’t manage it in under and hour, and since only 1 in 7 manage the feat it’s pretty genius marketing that pays for itself. The current record is held by a 124 pound woman who ate the whole meal in under 5 minutes, then went on to eat 2 more steaks. It’s all out on You Tube and good for her, but I never really got speed eating. I like to enjoy my food, plus love leftovers.
I loved the whole vibe of the place and it all felt very Texas. It’s not cheap (we spent $79 on appetizer, dinner, and drinks before tip), but the couple next to us ended up splitting a meal which would have been plenty of food and much more affordable. One piece of advice though is to request a well-marbled steak. The key to great ribeye is lots of fat, and mine was just too lean for my taste. I ended up switching with Lee though and his was fabulous, I think it is the best restaurant steak I have ever had, certainly since eating at the Red River Cattle Company restaurant in Cincinnati in the 1980’s (which is now unfortunately closed). I also recommend trying their homemade craft beer sampler. I picked one before I realized they offered four 4oz samples for $6. Should have gone that route and tried several. It’s the most by far we have spent on a single meal since going on the road, but I didn’t regret it. Gotta do everything bigger in Texas!!
When we waddled to the limo for our ride back (with three boxes of leftovers) I was so full!! I rarely eat that much in one sitting, but again, it’s Texas, and it’s OK to splurge once in awhile. We ended up getting three individual lunches (with some supplement) out of the leftovers alone so I don’t feel too bad about the excess, but really, if you decide to split a meal you will have plenty of food. You just can’t go with Lee who is not so much about sharing his food.
The next day we started out pretty early with our list of things to see. I have been using the Roadside America app since we have been traveling and this close to Historic Route 66 it did not disappoint. There was a VW ranch (don’t go out of your way to see it, a Combine Ranch (cool but closed off by barbed-wire fence, and lots of giant Texan statues. The big winner for the day though was the Jack Sizemore Traveland RV Museum. Our interest was piqued when we saw they had one of the RV’s from the Robin Williams movie “RV” so we decided what the heck, let’s check it out. And wow, what a find it was! The museum is in the back of a large RV dealership in Amarillo and Jack’s collection of old RV’s and old motorcycles was amazing. Each RV had a sign stating where Jack found it and if and how it was restored and Lee and I really loved it. Plus, it was totally free. The RV place also had a really cool store with lots of high end RV items and we even took a tour of some Super C’s while we were on the property, because I have been very curious about how roomy they are on the inside. Lee liked the Aspect, but I was a fan of the Minnie Winnie’s.
And if all that wasn’t enough we also visited Palo Duro Canyon State Park (The Grand Canyon of Texas) and wow, am I glad Kelly recommended it. At first I was unimpressed. Long line to get in and a $5 per person entrance fee, plus the initial view was cool but not that impressive. But when we drove down to the bottom of the canyon it was really cool. We found a spot to picnic (it was packed, so I definitely don’t recommend going on the weekend) and then we toured the campgrounds. The Mesquite campground in the way back was fantastic and we have added it on our list of places to stay in the future. The sites are big enough and very close to the rocks, and the views from the bottom are spectacular. There were numerous hiking/equestrian/mountain biking trails designed by local runners and there were several easy, shorter trails interspersed with some more challenging ones. I was very impressed, and like I said, we are going back for sure, despite there being absolutely no cell coverage of any kind down there. They even have horseback riding in the canyon for $35 an hour which I will absolutely do when we come back. We didn’t want to fight the crowds though on the trails, but did stop and hike up to the big cave. The walk up looks worse than it is and we were so lucky that we had the cave all to ourselves for the time we were in there. It was really neat and a great romantic spot for kisses and that alone definitely made the $5 entrance fee worth it.
So Amarillo, which was supposed to be a quick stop in the road, turned out to be a fantastic place to visit in its own right. I can now see the benefit of no reservations and being able to extend for extra days on a whim. That being said, we have been lucky enough to make arrangements with numerous people on our way back east due to travel serendipity and have locked ourselves in to make meeting folks work for the next couple of weeks. No spoilers, but I am super excited about the people we get to see on the road. So from Texas…Y’all come back soon!
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