Amarillo. A bustling town in the high plains of north Texas…..wait who are we kidding it should be in Oklahoma. Texas is shaped so crazy. Anyway, Amarillo boasts an eclectic Route 66 road culture; everything from antiques to motels to 72 oz steaks on offer along it through town. I came across work of the mad genius behind nearby Cadillac Ranch who had peppered the city with cryptic road signs. I noted car culture around the city to be as strong as ever and heard tales of deadly vehicle accidents in the past.
I took a 9 hour bus ride on a clear, cool winter day in January departing from El Paso, Texas. Not the most scenic of rides as we cut across the southeast corner of New Mexico to reach the cattle country of north Texas:
To keep my spirits up, I snacked on a treat reminiscent of bus rides past. Picture it: a crowded bus across Alabama back in 2005. I sat on the aisle, next to a friendly grandma with a cozy blanket wrapped over her legs. After some light conversation, suddenly the magic happened. Rustling under the blanket and suddenly she comes out with a ziplock freezer bag full of Nilla wafers for us to share.
The extreme flatness of the dusty terrain along the ride made it jarring to be in the shadow of a skyscraper walking off the bus in downtown Amarillo:
The solitary high-rises around downtown Amarillo really commanded attention:
Downtown was very sparse on this winter weeknight. Several blocks were littered with abandoned buildings as I walked west toward residential streets:
Thoughtful touches and warm company at my sleeping spot for the next 2 nights:
Out across the lattice work of roads first thing in the morning to get to a yoga class. The city blocks in Amarillo seemed smaller than most towns. This made for just loads of pavement all around. I had to duck under Interstate 40 too which meant lots of traffic too:
Proved worth it to walk thru so many cars and so much concrete (might not feel the same on a hot summer day here). There was a legit yoga studio, The Yoga Mat, just beyond the highway.
I will go to great lengths to find a yoga class. I’ve done yoga in church basements, on farms, in gyms and in homes. Especially in the Midwest United States, it’s not a given to find a dedicated yoga studio offering daily classes. If you look at a map, Amarillo juts up way north into Midwest territory. I was fortunate to find a yoga studio in town with an experienced teacher who added a delightful Texas drawl to all the typical yoga phrases.
On to calmer residential roads coming out of class feeling zen. Weird skinny sidewalks were common and not really of much use:
Definitely not shopping on this stretch:
I found a road with superior charm farther ahead. Behold the fabled Route 66:
Lots of antiques and other kitsch to be had at several historic brick storefronts:
Good selection of local food too:
And then finally the ultimate culture spot my host had clued me in about The 806:
Low key coffee shop by day:
Killer bathroom art 24/7:
More nods to the famous road culture back outside:
A few miles east down the historic route is the gluttonous Big Texas Steak Ranch. Check in on this live feed of the restaurant to see if anyone is attempting the 72 oz. steak challenge.
I skipped over Route 66 to head down a few modest residential streets. I was told by my host this wouldn’t be the best part of town to be in late at night. By day it was serene in the bright sun:
Crossed over a rather bland rails to trails conversion. Could use a ton more trees along this path to throw shade on warmer days:
I put myself down for a quick nap back at the Airbnb. No need to call Bugs Burney, my accommodation was quite tidy. Back out on the streets after my snooze on a deluxe new king size Tempur-Pedic. Again, I had a super kind host.
After seeing the “Slew a Worm” sign, I was looking everywhere trying to spot another strange slogan. I’d heard there could be a hundred of them around town. No luck this time, but still love a good share the road sign:
I was walking to the east towards downtown. Spotted some older but not historic businesses and buildings:
A few blocks of humble houses and some random large things out for trash:
Yes! Scored another strange sign:
And another one! The man in the background here shouted at me thinking I was trying to photograph his children in the front yard. Obviously it was the random gibberish on a sign that had my interest:
These signs making up the Dynamite Museum were spearheaded by Stanley Marsh 3. Among the artists who collaborated on the project with the eccentric millionaire Marsh was teenager Brian Deneke. Known on the local punk rock scene, Deneke was tragically killed in an intentional hit and run accident in 1997 at the age of 19. The driver of the car that ran down Deneke controversially was sentenced to merely probation.
Things really dropped off in the blocks immediately before downtown. A few houses looked primed to be torn down:
Not even sure what this was just kept moving:
Amarillo really has a thing for one-way streets. Streets that can seem more like highways cutting thru town. Check out this stretch with no sidewalks. This was common around the city center. My Airbnb host had mentioned participating in an annual ride of silence to honor bicyclists killed or injured on public roadways. The dangers from Amarillo car culture were becoming very real:
Some nice brick roads were still around (to slow the cars down) as the lonesome downtown high-rises came into view:
I was seeking out notable architecture. Found it in a clustering of windswept blocks downtown:
Downtown is not exactly thriving. The vitality drops off considerably once you drift around some:
One place that always keeps up foot traffic in towns though is its courthouse. Per usual, Amarillo Municipal Court is historic, stately and well preserved:
I love giant indoor spaces. I next came upon the Civic Center Complex and walked down a seemingly endless corridor:
Nothing peaking my interest enough on the video board to stay for the weekend:
Some well crafted sculptures around:
I had seen a few mentions of the oldest neighborhood in the city being just south of downtown. I walked that direction passing interesting architecture in the late day sun:
There were some very historic homes, but the interstate highway hummed with semi-trucks too close by:
After sunset, the place to be in Amarillo was back up at The 806. Open mic night, solid food, drinks and just some really really funny people:
I had the greatest of hosts in Amarillo. He made me oatmeal and a fine coffee drink on my last morning before driving me in for my early bus call. The bus to Dallas departed before the station cafe fired up:
Probably didn’t miss out on much at that Greyhound cafe. What I did get up to in Amarillo had been more than satisfying enough. I was treated extremely well by my host Adam at his aspiring Sunset Hostel. The yoga had been good. The creative mind of an eccentric local millionaire gave me funny signs to search for on my walks. And the dubious local car culture had thankfully not taken me down. Onward to Dallas for my last stop in Texas.
So how does Amarillo stack up with other US cities I’ve been to? I give you my first set of city scores:
Berndog City Score: Amarillo, Texas
Weird to be Walking Score(1=everyone thinks I’m homeless to 5=part of a pedestrian parade): 2
Public Spaces and Places(parks and buildings where anyone can hang out 1=none to 5=lots): 2
Screwed Without a Car Factor(1=no bus or train & wide busy roads to 5=I’m in Manhattan): 3
Food Scene(1=fast food, bad chains & gas station groceries to 5=local farm to table all over): 3
Access to Nature(1=endless concrete prairie to 5=in the shadow of mountains): 2
Cityscape(1=strip malls & boring new buildings to 5=locally distinct style with historic districts): 3
Total Score: 15 out of 30
Cheers for reading and thanks Amarillo:)