Exploring Amarillo Where the West Still Lives
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Walking Tour of AmarilloOne of the best places to begin the historic walking tour is the Lee and Mary E. Bivins home, located on Polk Street. The 1905, two-story home is a West Texas version of the late Georgian Revival style and is stunning. Today, the Amarillo Chamber of Commerce resides in the home and visitors can stop by for a peek inside, as well as obtain a downtown historic tour map and information on Amarillo's attractions, sites and accommodations.
After the Bivins' home, take a leisurely stroll down Polk Street to see the city's fabulous historic buildings and you'll come across the Southwestern Deco, Kress Building and iconic Paramount Building that was constructed in 1932. This impressive building was Amarillo's finest movie theater until 1975. Today, the Paramount houses the Sushi bar "Rain" and the nationally known Palace Coffee Shop located on the main floor. In addition, make sure to save time for a walk in the evening; the city shimmers at night with neon lights that add a brilliant accent to the striking architecture.
Quarter Horse MuseumAmerican Quarter Horses were integral to the establishment of the American West and are essential today with ranchers, cowboys and cattlemen. Amarillo's renowned and spectacular American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame & Museum showcases the history and modern activities of this revered horse. The museum honors both people and horses with numerous audio-visuals, significant artifacts, exquisite art and intriguing interactive exhibits.
As you enter the Grand Hall of the museum, a towering ceiling and huge stone columns direct your attention to the iconic American Quarter Horse Medallion that overlooks the hall and the Foundation Bloodlines Chart engraved on the floor. With the chart, you are able to trace the Quarter Horses' bloodlines that date back to the 18th century.
To the left of the Foundations Chart, the Ken & Laina Banks Theater provides a short film about the history of American Quarter Horse and its functions today. The theater also features beautiful paintings of the AQH by famed artist Orren Mixer. Moreover, the museum's second floor is especially captivating with the Hall of Fame timeline that presents inductees and the breed in historical context with interesting artifacts on display.
With 22 different galleries, exhibit areas and displays, The American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame & Museum brings to light the legendary horse that settled the west.
Palo Duro CanyonTexas landscapes offer a wide variety of scenic beauty, wildlife and outdoor recreation with Amarillo's Palo Duro Canyon, among the most beautiful and enchanting. Located 25 miles from the Center City, the Palo Duro Canyon is 120 miles long, 800 feet deep and is the second largest Canyon in the U.S. This 90-100 million-year-old canyon has seen at least 12,000 years of habitation and history. The rugged canyon was the site of the 1874 Red River War, when the U.S. Cavalry attacked and drove out the last of the Southern Plains Indians, forcing the tribes to move to the Fort Still Reservation in Oklahoma. After the war, Charles Goodnight (think Lonesome Dove) established a cattle ranch in the canyon.
In 1933, via a deed gifted from private owners, the Civilian Conservation Corps developed an access road to the canyon floor and created sturdy trails, cabins, etc. After a year of intensive labor, the Palo Duro Canyon State Park officially opened. Now, the majestic park offers camping, biking, horseback riding, bird watching and hiking. Further, with viewing points located just beyond the car park, visitors are afforded breath-taking views of the canyon's panoramic, deep-red rock and gypsum striated walls and pinnacles. The magnificent vistas seem to stretch to infinity under the deep blue Texas Sky.
If you want to experience the canyon's flora, fauna and wildlife, the park offers 11 different trails that range from easy to difficult, with varying distances. For an easy, two- mile roundtrip hike with shade and a path, take the Paseo Del Rio Trail. This scenic path is perfect for photography and leisurely examining the surrounding mesquite, red berry juniper and cotton wood trees; you may even see deer, roadrunners and a Red-tailed Hawk soaring overhead.
In addition to Palo Duro Canyon's outdoor activities and summer amphitheater performances, the park's Visitor Center with a cafe and gift shop is a great place to obtain trail maps and more history on the park.
Panhandle-Plains Historical MuseumAfter your visit to Palo Duro, stop by Texas' largest and most popular history museum, the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, located just 12-miles west of the canyon. The museum is great for families and those who wish to discover the region's history and development with fantastic exhibits that range from archeology and people of the plains to art, such as Georgia O'Keeffe. You'll find permanent and special exhibitions that will captivate you for hours, such as the museum's Pioneer Town. It's like stepping back in time as you walk the streets of this faithful, recreation period town of 26 buildings that were modeled after businesses and homes that existed in the Panhandle. Stop by the town's Mercantile and see the items you would have needed to purchase in the pioneer days, such as lace-up ladies' boots and small coffee mills. Kids love the museum's Paleontology exhibition as well with its towering Allosaurus skeleton and the mammal skeletons that were found in the Cita Canyon and Gilbert Ranch, Texas.
Quirky Fun at the RV MuseumFor a fun and offbeat museum that is an ode to camping RV culture, stop by the RV Museum at Sisemore Traveland. You can't beat free admission to this awesome collection of 30 RVs and campers and 25 motorcycles, set in a professional display. The museum collection stems from Jack and Trent Sisemore's life-long hobby of collecting antique or vintage RVs, campers and motorcycles. After the collection grew, it was time to open up and share it with the public.
From a 1921 Ford Lamsteed Kampkar to vintage Winnebagos, it's a blast to explore the evolution of RVs and campers. Step into a 1936 Silvermoon trailer with its original wood interior and mini stove; or, ogle the 1966 airstream that Jack Sisemore found in almost perfect condition. Moreover, as you stroll around the RV museum and its period appropriate backdrops, you get the impression that it's reminiscent of a song back in time or a super cool movie set.
Don Harrington Discovery Center and Space TheaterIf you're traveling with kids, don't miss Amarillo's Don Harrington Discovery Center and Space Theater. This fun center features a multitude of interactive, permanent and traveling exhibits, as well as programs for children and their families. From the Engineer's Studio and Imagination Playground, to the Space Gallery, that explores weather conditions on Earth and beyond; children engage in fun and active learning exhibits that will keep their interest all day.
Food and LodgingAmarillo's iconic, Route 66 Landmark Legend Big Texan Steak Ranch & Microbrewery is a must-visit while in Amarillo. This famous restaurant, known for its free 72 oz. steak dinner promotion (if the entire dinner is eaten in under an hour) combines great food, fantastic micro brews and an enticing old-west environment with a bevy of exciting events and activities, such as the famous, annual haunted house.
In 1960, Bob Lee opened the Big Texan, due to his abiding interest in stories and movies about cowboys, Indians, cattle ranches and horses, as well as the Texas Panhandle spirit. With no first-class Texas-style steakhouses in Amarillo, his mission was clear; open the best steakhouse in town. Together with his family, Lee established a steakhouse with great food and a unique atmosphere that has garnered national attention and fame. Today, Lee's sons, Bobby and Danny continue in their dad's mission to serve the best, hearty and delicious fare in a family-friendly restaurant. Moreover, guests love the open two-story old western-style dance hall/dining room with wandering guitar and fiddle-clad cowboys singing songs and adding to an outstanding evening of fare and good old-fashion western fun. Make sure to try the Big Texan's tasty Pecan Porter microbrew, along with a juicy steak and scrumptious, Texas-sized carrot cake a when you visit.
For accommodations, the Courtyard Marriott in Amarillo's Center City offers guests stylish and comfortable rooms with contemporary decor. The hotel is located in the former and historic Fisk building that features appealing Neo-gothic and Moorish architecture.
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Patrice Raplee is an experienced travel photojournalist and editor of Travel Excursion and Seattle Spotlight for Positively Entertainment magazine. In addition, she writes a monthly travel column for the award-wining site OffbeatTravel.com and is a regular contributor on travel radio shows. She is a member of North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA), International Food, Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA) and the Recording Academy. Her articles and photographs have appeared in numerous international publications, as well as NW newspapers such as the Seattle Times, the Stranger and Seattle Weekly. Patrice travels the globe to cover destinations that feature fascinating culture, art, culinary, history and soft adventure.
Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author