In the words of George Strait’s hit song, “Amarillo by morning, Amarillo’s where I’ll be.” Don’t just cruise through the Texas Panhandle, make a stop in Amarillo. I spent a Saturday morning exploring this panhandle city. You might be surprised to find a grand canyon you can explore and a rather unusual Route 66 roadside attraction where you can leave your mark.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park is dubbed “The Grand Canyon of Texas.” The canyon runs 120 miles long, making it the second largest canyon in the United States. It’s second only to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Palo Duro is 20 miles across at its widest and up to 800 feet deep at its deepest.
“Palo Duro” is Spanish for “hard word.” The name is fitting because of the abundance of mesquite and juniper trees. The canyon was most likely named by early Spanish explorers. People have inhabited the canyon area for over 12,000 years starting with the Clovis and Folsom people. Indian tribes including the Apache, Comanche, and Kiowa were also some the early cultures. Water and wind erosion started carving the canyon a million years ago. But, in the four geologic layers descending 500-800 feet to the canyon floor, you see a geologic story 250 million years in the making.
I had cloudy skies the morning I visited, but found that enhanced the colors of the canyon walls and hard wood trees as I drove to a couple of the overlook spots. At one overlook, I got a glimpse of a bighorn sheep…wish I could have be a little quicker with the camera to catch him! I was limited on time so didn’t get to hit the 30 miles of hiking, biking and equestrian trails. I’ll definitely log some trail time on my next visit. Driving in or out of the park, hopefully you’ll get a glimpse of longhorns since the park is home to the Texas’ Official Longhorn Herd.
From Palo Duro Canyon State Park it was off to find a rather unique roadside attraction. In a field on the old Route 66, there are inverted Cadillacs splattered with spray paint. The unusual public art installation called Cadillac Ranch started on June 21, 1974 when three artists from San Francisco buried ten painted Cadillacs front end first.
Here’s the quirky story of how Cadillac Ranch started. Eccentric millionaire Stanley Marsh hired three artists from San Francisco’s artist collective Ant Farm. The trio acquired ten used Cadillacs in the model years of 1948 to 1963. Most of the cars were purchased from junk yards for about $200 each. The cars were meant to represent the “Golden Age” of American automobiles. The original artistic paint jobs were in turquoise, banana yellow, gold, and sky blue. Shortly after the art installation was done, folks started scratching or painting their own names. Then vandals and souvenir hounds smashed windows and stole parts like radios and even some doors. The wheels had to be welded to the axles to prevent those from being stolen.
Now visitors are encouraged to participate in the art. Dubbed the “hood ornament of Route 66” by one of the original artists, you can tag your own mark just as other graffiti artist wannabes have done over the years. Cadillac Ranch is located south of Interstate 40 between exits 60 and 62.