I thought that when people referred to Palo Duro as the “Grand Canyon of Texas” they were probably overstating things . . . until I saw it for myself.
The second largest canyon in the United States, Palo Duro is 120 miles long, 20 miles wide and up to 820 feet deep. It’s the second largest park in the state park system – 28,000 acres (over 45 square miles) with 28 miles of hiking, biking and horse trails. That’s a lot of territory!
People have inhabited the canyon for about 12,000 years, and its history includes exciting chapters like Comanches and the Goodnight Trail. But This time around our family just focused on the absolute beauty of nature.
Texas bought the land for the park in 1933. Civilian Conservation Corps workers spent five years creating the park, a cabin for their home base, the winding road to the canyon floor, the CCC Trail, and the El Coronado Lodge (now the Visitor Center). The craftsmen used local stone and wood for building materials and furniture, and forged decorative metal ornaments.
After our morning ride along the rim of Palo Duro Canyon (more about that in my last post) we headed to the state park, ready to see more of the stunning scenery. Initially, we intended to swing in for a short visit since we knew the clothes we were wearing (long sleeved shirts, jeans and boots) were perfect for riding, but not for hiking. Once there though, the views lured us further and further into the canyon, anxious to see what was next.
Just a couple of miles inside the entrance, we made our first stop at the visitor’s center (the original the El Coronado Lodge) that was built by the CCC, so it was fitting that exhibits included some fascinating relics of the Corps’ days in the canyon. There’s also a small gift shop, though I’ll mention a more “souvenir-y” option later in this post.
The vistas from the vantage point outside of the lodge were so enchanting, we knew we had to go at least a bit further into the park.
We took Park Road 5 which winds down to the canyon floor, circles clockwise in a 16 mile loop and slowly climbs back up to the rim.
The first, short trail we ventured out on was relatively easy, but it was quickly apparent that at 11:00 a.m. it was already too hot (in addition to inappropriate clothing) for us to take on any of the longer trails. We were still fairly close to the rim, and the canyon floor would be about twenty degrees hotter!
The view from even the least challenging trails are more than worth the effort and heat!
Each one we investigated offered increasingly impressive scenery.
Some of the trails were quite rocky and others were red dirt that I would have expected more in Oklahoma.
Four geologic layers are exposed on the canyon walls, that seem to change color depending on the time of day and season of year – just one of the reasons Palo Duro draws so many amateur and professional photographers.
Once I heard the erosion features referred to as “Mexican skirts” it was hard to get that image out of my mind. It’s really appropriate, don’t you think?
The park provides enough diversity in its habitats to be a comfortable home to quite a variety of wildlife, in addition to part of the state herd of longhorns. Coyotes, bobcats, white-tailed and mule deer, and many species of snakes and lizards. We saw several roadrunners darting across the terrain, which reminded me of living in El Paso when I was little – and the birds seemed to be everywhere.
You might even spot some wild turkeys. Did you know that a group of turkeys is called a “rafter?” There’s your trivia for the day!
Two threatened species also live in the canyon: the Palo Duro mouse (which only lives in three Texas counties) and the Texas horned lizard (the State Reptile of Texas).
Along our driving route we passed several picnic and camping areas. When I return for my next visit (and make no mistake about it…there WILL be a next visit!) I’d love to stay in one of the cabins on site. Imagine waking up to these views.
One of the most pleasant surprises we encountered was fields or wildflowers, as well as individual flooring plants that had stubbornly pushed their way up through the dry dirt. In central and south Texas many wildflowers were already past season in June.
Indian blanket, American basket-flower (shown in photo), sunflower, paperflower, blackfoot daisy, tansy aster, sideoats grama, buffalograss, sand sage, yucca and prickly pear cactus decorated the canyon floor and made the area appear to be more of a place for living creatures than desolate and empty.
Even though we traveled the majority of the distance by car, we drank a LOT of water. Staying hydrated in the canyon (which can reach 130 degrees in summer) is non-negotiable!
But if you think this vast canyon, however arid, couldn’t possibly be romantic I’m here to tell you you’re wrong. Sharing this grandeur (not a word I use lightly) with the ones you love is a memorable experience.
We pulled over one last time at the base of the canyon to check out the trailhead for the famous Lighthouse formation.
The Lighthouse Trail is the most well-known trail in Palo Duro Canyon. It’s considered a moderate hike ( 2.72 miles each way) but having arrived during the heat of the day without the proper shoes, we vowed to return at another time to venture off to see unusual 310 foot tall formation. I walked just around the initial bend of the trail to take a photo (though far away) of the lighthouse, which looked small in the distance.
The park has posted multiple warnings about the danger of heat and dehydration at the head of the trail, and even staffed a tent with a ranger to provide information and advice to people before they set out. Although I certainly didn’t envy her, it was impressive how seriously they took visitors’ safety.
By that time we had worked up an appetite and exhausted our water supply, so we headed to the Palo Duro Trading Post on the rim for a late lunch. They don’t serve anything fancy, but you know those times you’re so hungry everything taste like the BEST (fill in the food blank) ever? Yep, it was one of those days. The staff was friendly, service fast and tables clean. Hamburgers, grilled cheese sandwiches and hot dogs seemed like the find of the day. And the ice cream? C’mon…what do YOU think?
The Trading Post also offered a fun variety of souvenirs from T-shirts to mugs to jewelry, all very reasonably priced.
Happy with our visit and satisfied appetites, we left the park to go back to the hotel to take off those boots and give our feet a rest before heading out to see more of Amarillo.
If you only have time to visit one place in the Texas Panhandle (and that would be a shame), Palo Duro Canyon State Park should be that place.
When you go, remember to:
Bring and drink water
Wear sunscreen, a hat and protective clothing
Have your camera ready
Bring and drink water
Pick up a map before you head out
Wear comfortable, supportive shoes
And…you guessed it…bring and drink plenty of water!
Do you prefer to hike, bike or drive through sites like this beautiful state park? I’m interested to know!
Chances are if you’ve seen any photos of Route 66, a shot of the infamous Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo was among them. The row of ten, graffiti-covered Cadillacs buried nose-first in the ground has become famous around the world.
Their make and models are no longer discernible due to weathering and layers of paint, but everyone seems to know they’re Cadillacs.
The public art installation gained immediate attention from its inception in 1974 by eccentric businessman-turned-artist Stanley Marsh 3 (he thought the III after his name was too pretentious).
Marsh commissioned the Ant Farm, a radical art group consisting of Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez and Dough Michaels, to carry out his plan.
The classic Caddies dating from 1948 to 1963 were purchased for about $200 apiece and were installed with their original paint jobs. Depending on their drivability they were either hoisted or driven into the holes that became their almost-final resting places in a wheat field just outside the city limits.
The temptation to visitors to leave their mark on the unusual sight became a rite of Route 66 passage, and didn’t seem to bother Marsh who embraced the enthusiasm of the new tradition.
In 1997 urban sprawl necessitated moving the interactive folk art attraction a couple of miles down the road to its current site in a former cow pasture on I-40. The cars were carefully moved and reset in their original order and angle. It’s said that even some of the surrounding debris was moved to the new location with them, but that seems more like a bit of a Texas Tall Tale in the making.
The cars were repainted in their original colors in 2002, and in 2003 they were painted in flat black to mourn the passing of the founder of the Ant Farm.
Other than those two efforts, the colors and patterns have constantly evolved thanks to the enthusiastic efforts of visitors. It will never look exactly the same, even if you visit two days in a row.
The Cadillac Ranch was one of our most anticipated stops along our trek across the Texas section of Route 66, and it didn’t disappoint. It almost shouts, “Just enjoy and don’t take yourself so seriously.”
You may even recognize the Ranch from Brooks & Dunn’s “Honky Tonk” music video or Pixar’s animated ‘Cars’ movie – where its silhouette was used as the design for a mountain range.
But let me steer you in the right direction for your own Caddie Outing . . .
First of all, it’s free…so there’s no excuse to pass up the opportunity to visit. Plan to bring at least one can of spray paint per person to join in the fun.
Heading east on I-40, take Exit 60 (Arnot Road). Pass through the intersection with Love’s Truck Stop and keep an eye out for cars parked on the side of the road to your right. Yes, the Cadillac Ranch is open 24/7/365 so there are always cars.
Don’t expect a big touristy, lighted sign shouting the location, though. What you’ll see first is a turnstile gate and parked cars before you spot the Caddies propped up in a pasture in the distance.
Typical for a summer day in the Panhandle, it was hot and windy so hats, sunscreen and water are essentials.
The day we visited there was a fellow selling key chains and other quirky mementoes made from paint that had chipped off the cars, by the gate out of the back of his truck. Enterprising, but we passed. You’ll see large pieces of this layered paint on the ground surrounding the cars, so you can pick up one to make your own creation if you like.
Once you pass through the turnstile a wide dirt path leads out to the Cadillacs.
Note: the turnstile gate was the only access I saw while I was there, so unless a visitor in a wheelchair has assistance to get through the tight gate and has their folded chair passed as well, I’m not entirely sure this would be accessible. I would advise calling the visitors’ bureau who might know of another way in.
I’ve also heard that the site can turn into quite a mud pit after a rain, but our timing didn’t make that an issue.
We purposely wore clothes that we didn’t mind getting speckled with a bit of paint, since the wind chose exactly where the spray went.
Don’t hesitate to jump right in and leave your mark on any or all of the cars. It’ll last at least until the next “artist” comes along. Be aware if you’re climbing on or inside them that though they’re remarkable sturdy…they are deteriorating and shouldn’t be 100% trusted to support you!
Some people even spray-painted messages and patterns in the dirt surrounding the cars, which was so hard it made a pretty good canvas.
Visitors are asked to carry out their empty spray cans to toss in the trash bins along the fence line, but of course not everyone does. Be a bit of a hero and pick an extra one up to throw out with yours!
The only traffic jam these cars see any more are the crowds that surround them. We chatted with people from several states and different countries and of all ages, and everyone was having a ball.
Off-beat? Yes. Fun? Absolutely! The Cadillac Ranch makes my list of must-stops along the road.
Leaving Glenrio we headed just 25 minutes east down Route 66 to the tiny town of Adrian, whose claim to fame is being the “geo-mathematical” midpoint of Route 66.
1139 miles to Los Angeles and 1139 miles to Chicago, or as they like to say, “When you’re here, you’re halfway there!”
Like so many other small towns that dot I-40 across Texas, Adrian began when it was chosen as a stop on the Rock Island Railroad. Never mind that the first train didn’t arrive at the station until 1909.
Even though it had its own printing press, post office, lumber yard, blacksmith, brickyard, bank, and running water pipe the scarcity of water and recurrent droughts kept the farming community small and by 1915 the entire town was made up of only 50 people.
After we took a left at the first intersection after Exit 22 and went over the overpass, and the iconic Midpoint Café appeared on our right (not that there are so many other buildings around you might get confused!).
Midpoint is the oldest continuously operated café between Amarillo and Tucumcari. It was once a one-room building with a compacted earth floor built in 1928. A waitress named Zella Crin brought her dream of owning her own BBQ restaurant to Adrian and leased the building, naming her café Zella’s. True to her roots, she had the wood for her fire pit brought in from Oklahoma.
In 1947 the café, which was then open 24/7, was enlarged to accommodate the growing number of visitors traveling Route 66. After Zella passed away, Jesse Fincher and Dub Edmunds bought the place in 1956 and operated it as Jesse’s Café along with the gas station next door for 20 years.
When business took a downward turn because of I-40 bypassing the town (is this story starting to sound familiar?), they sold it in 1969.
Terry and Peggy Creitz operated the restaurant as Peggy’s Café, and another owner changed it to Rachel’s before the café was sold to Fran Houser in 1990.
Houser redubbed it the Adrian Café and ran it until she retired in 2012, renaming it Midpoint Café to capitalize on it’s unique location along the Mother Road.
But its location on Route 66 isn’t its only claim to fame. Houser and her café were the inspiration for Flo and Flo’s V-8 Diner from the movie “Cars,” and the characters of Mia and Tia were based on two of her employees at the time, sisters named Christina and Mary Lou Mendez. You can even spot Fran and her café mentioned in the film’s credits.
What was once a gas station next door is now an antique and souvenir shop named the Sunflower Station. In front is an old, red pickup that visitors have written their names all over. Most seen to have been done in a white sharpie, so if you’re planning to stop in you might want to bring one along.
Now owned by Donna and Dennis Purschwitz, the Midpoint’s bright, cheery interior filled with retro chrome and Formica tables and shelves neatly filled with Route 66 memorabilia is probably one of the friendliest stops you can make on the Route.
Though word has it their burgers are tasty, we’ll have to take others’ word for it because we didn’t arrive until 2:00…after the “grill was closed.” We were momentarily disappointed (and hungry!) until we realized they WERE still serving their famous “ugly crust” pies. Pie for lunch? Well…if we must!
Coconut cream, whiskey pecan (yes, you could taste the whiskey), and chocolate pie…just to make sure our bases were covered. A white board near the register lists your choice of “ugly pies” for the day, but one peek in the refrigerator case and you’ll want to run off with all of them.
The lesson here is, of course, to remember to double check their hours online if you head their way. Their Facebook page is: https://www.facebook.com/MidpointCafe/
A rocking chair reserved for the mother of the family sits by a pie safe in a corner of the dining area to rest in after baking her famous pies.
The staff is relaxed and chatty, which encourages the patrons to make small talk with each other as well. We met several people from different countries there who were vacationing in America strictly to drive the entirety of Route 66. Everyone was in a great mood, because…pie!…and offered to take photos of each other in front of the Midpoint photo op sign across the street.
Inside the diner is a small gift shop with what we later realized were some of the cutest, most affordable Route 66 theme shirts and souvenirs. I couldn’t leave without a Midpoint Café shirt with a map of Route 66 on the back.
I look forward to going back one day and trying one of their burgers and, of course, more pie.
In my next post I’ll take you to another iconic stop just a few yards away. You won’t want to miss this one!
Not every good trip takes a lot of planning, but it really pays off when you’re going on a “theme” trip with family members!
This summer’s goal was to drive the section of Route 66 that goes through the Texas Panhandle, and I definitely did weeks of research through travel bureaus, internet, books and maps. I enjoyed the process and it really built up the anticipation for me!
After doing a preliminary review of the sites along the way, I decided to spread the drive across six days. Now, If you’re familiar at all with this section of Route 66 or the Panhandle, you’re probably thinking I may have lost my marbles since this stretch of road is just under 200 miles long and would only take about three hours to drive straight through!
But stay with me, here! There was so much to see!
I decided to actually begin the drive in Tucumcari, New Mexico which is only about an hour west of the Texas border. I fell in love with photos of the old, restored motels from Route 66 that are still operating here while I was doing my research. It also helped to make sure we were going to include every inch of the Texas section of the road, which I was determined to do!
The route would take us across the Panhandle to Texola, Oklahoma (although we took it all the way to Oklahoma City so we could cut south and spend a few days with friends on their ranch).
One of the challenges of planning the trip was to incorporate things that would be of special interest to everyone in my family.
My 17-year-old daughter is interested in music, animals, and antique and thrift shops. First things, first…she was in charge of the playlists for the road trip, and I’m so glad she was! She enjoys “vintage” music (like, um, from when I was in high school) as well as some of the new and alternative bands. My husband and I got to enjoy old favorites and hear some terrific new music and only once (yes, once!) asked her to skip to the next song.
We came across plenty of animals on the trip, which was a treat, but incorporated riding horses into our “definitely do this” list. Seeing the land from horseback always seems to make exploring the outdoors more special.
There were countless antique and resale shops along the way, so I dove in and checked out online photos and reviews to find some that might suit her particular interests.
Special bonus: she recently got her driver’s license so she helped with the driving, too!
My husband is a ham radio operator (AB5SS, if any of you are, too!). He has a “roving” antennae and is operating to contact every “grid” in the United States. He decided to use this opportunity to help other “hams” contact grids along Route 66 that are difficult or impossible
to cross off their wishlists…and he sure made some people happy! He has a map of where each grid is along the way, so we made a point to stop (at least once) in each grid to give him a chance to operate. He announced via his twitter account that he would be doing this so that interested hams could mark it on their calendar, and then announced prior to each broadcast where they could find him on the air. He made over 150 contacts during the trip! That’s a lot of happy ham operators.
And of course I got some fun shots of him operating in unusual locations.
Besides Texas history and travel, I love old buildings, cemeteries and photography, so let’s admit it … I was basically set for this trip! (Insert “happy dance” here!)
Using Google Maps street view, I virtually “drove” any sections of the towns I was particularly interested in or not sure about. Familiarizing myself with how these places actually appear made things so much easier when we actually arrived, and circumvented some areas to cross off the list as being not as worthwhile.
Maps and checklists in hand, and lots of road snacks loaded up, we headed out from Houston to check out this historic roadway.
There is no shortage of great places to eat on Galveston Island, but if you’re looking for a fresh catch on the seafood scene add Coastal Grill to your list.
Open just four months, this restaurant already has it figured out.
Don’t let the unassuming exterior fool you. The interior is bright and clean with plenty of seating.
Sitting at the west end of the Strand just a block or two beyond where most tourists wander (1827 Strand), it would be a nice spot for a date night, family dinner or girls’ night out with a varied menu to satisfy everyone in your group.
We were pleasantly greeted as soon as we entered the restaurant. The gentleman then invited us to sit wherever we wanted (it was just before 6 p.m. on a Saturday night, so the dinner crowd hadn’t arrived yet) and look over our menus.
Guests then go to the counter to order (take a peek at the dessert case while you’re there!), and the food is brought to the table when ready.
Looking over the menu, I wasn’t sure which direction to go in since the dozens of choices all sounded so good.
I always look over menus for items that might intrigue family and friends with different tastes, and I can honestly say that there was something for everyone … seafood, steak, burgers, loaded baked potatoes, tacos, tortilla soup, shrimp or beef kabobs and more. And everything was reasonably priced.
My husband and I finally decided to stick to our original thought of seafood as a type of ultimate “test” of a Galveston restaurant. We weren’t disappointed!
The stuffed mushroom appetizer was a bit surprising in presentation, using a large amount of stuffing with button mushrooms beneath. Both the stuffing and mushrooms were perfectly prepared and tasty.
For the main course I ordered grilled shrimp and my husband had the grill red snapper. The “Mmmmm-ing” fest immediately began ( as in “mmmm that’s so good).
It was immediately obvious how fresh the seafood was, and we expected nothing less being just blocks from the docks. The seasoning was the perfect level to enhance the dishes without masking the natural flavor of the items, as well.
And let me add here that my husband is a lifelong recreational fisherman, so when his picky seafood palate is impressed it’s a very good sign.
I recommend the slaw as a side, as their version is just as fresh as the entrees and not the “soupy” type I so often unfortunately encounter.
Everything was attractively plated, and the friendly staff kept our glasses filled and checked on us often.
We were discussing which dishes we would try on our next visit before we even left the restaurant.
And…yes. We “had” to try a dessert, too. We split a piece of key lime pie which was made in-house. Just the right amount of sweet and tangy, in a thin-but-perfect graham cracker crust, it was the wrap-up for our meal.
Coastal Grill also has a newly constructed back patio and performance stage ready for some summer music and gatherings. I can’t wait to try that out!
There’s parking in the front as well as a bit in the back. If you’re in a hurry, grab a to-go menu from the display by the front door.
I can imagine visitors wanting to get back to their beach houses to enjoy a sunset, while enjoying delicious food they’ve picked up at the end of a busy day on the Strand.
1827 Strand, Galveston