The Grand Canyon in Arizona is a must-see destination for
travelers around the world, but it takes more than your every day traveler to
seek out and visit the second grandest canyon in the U.S.
This one is found in Texas, where otherwise, everything is
always the biggest and best. It’s called Palo Duro Canyon and it’s in the
panhandle near Amarillo. The cool thing about this canyon – you don’t have to
ride a four-legged creature down a scary trail to get to the bottom. You simply
get in the old family roadster and drive along a paved, albeit winding, roadway.
The focal point of Palo Duro Canyon State Park, the canyon
is famous for the musical Texas! staged in a natural basin in the canyon every
summer since 1965. The canyon is a great destination for mountain bikers, horseback
riders and those who love Native American history.
If you’re the kind of person who likes to amaze/annoy your
friends and strangers with statistics and trivia, take note of these goodies:
- Length: Grand Canyon – 277 miles long. Palo Duro
– 120 miles long.
- Width: Grand Canyon – 18 miles wide. Palo Duro –
up to 20 miles wide in some places.
- Depth: Grand Canyon – 6,000 feet. Palo Duro – 800 feet
- Acreage: Grand Canyon – more than a million.
Palo Duro – 29,100 acres
- Elevation at rim: Grand Canyon – 2,000 to 8000 feet.
Palo Duro – 3,500 feet.
OK, other than two miles in the width department, the Grand
Canyon is quite a bit grander, but it had a 2.5 million-year head start.
You may camp at Palo Duro or rent one of two very cool, very
retro cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. They come
with plumbing and air conditioning, necessities for surviving a Texas summer
Otherwise, most people make Palo Duro a day trip from their
accommodations in Amarillo, a city with pleasant options for entertainment and
Let’s start with Route 66, which passes right through the
old part of the city. Since the 1940s, travelers on Route 66 have stopped at
the Golden Light, a hamburger joint that defines what a good hamburger joint
should be. It’s the oldest restaurant in Amarillo and some argue that it’s the
oldest continuously operating restaurant on Route 66.
One of the iconic images from that famous roadway is
Cadillac Ranch. It wasn’t built until the 1970s when interstates began the
decline of Route 66’s popularity, but Cadillac Ranch works nonetheless. This
public art project is simply 10 Cadillac automobiles buried nose down in a
Texas field. Any time of the day or night, you’ll find cars pulled off the
interstate at the installation. Bring a can of spray paint, because graffiti in
encouraged here. More than 30 years worth of graffiti have resulted in an
unexpected texture and finish to the once expensive automobiles.
Although it’s not on Route 66, the Big Texan Steakhouse has
all of the quirkiness of a Route 66 destination. Celebrating the hubris of
Texas that all things must be bigger here than anywhere else, this family-owned
property is famous for its 72-ounce steak. If you eat it within 60 minutes,
it’s free. Strolling musicians entertain diners who enjoy house-brewed beer, a
gift shop and really big rocking chair. It’s kitschy, but get over yourself and
have a little fun!
For a serious look at the culture of this region, you can’t
go wrong with a visit to the Kwahadi Museum of the American Indian. The
displays include a wonderful collection of Navajo rugs, and other artwork by
Plains Indians. Coordinate your visit for a weekend and in the evening hours so
you can experience a live performance of the dance troupe.
Dinner is an option as well, but seriously, if you just ate
one of those 72-ounce steaks at the Big Texan, you should lay off of the
caloric intake for a few days.
Have you been to Amarillo? What surprises did you find?