Amarillo, Texas is five hundred ninety nine miles from Houston. Located in the panhandle of the state, it is the last major stop before leaving the Texas and entering New Mexico. Travelling by car, if all goes well, it can be reached in a little over nine hours, not including the reality that just getting into the outskirts of Houston may sometimes require an additional hour of driving. With stops for gasoline, breaks for food, and so forth it is more likely to take anywhere from ten to to eleven hours of hard driving through one small town after another before reaching Amarillo.
I’ve gone through Amarillo many times, usually around dinner time after driving all day long. I’ve generally viewed the city as little more than a stopping point on my way to other places. In more recent years I’ve actually breezed through the place to get a few more hours of daylight driving because the conveniences in smaller towns farther along my route have improved greatly over the years. I have known of Amarillo, but I have not really known Amarillo.
For our recent trip, we decided to actually spend some time in the city just to learn a bit more about the place. We found a great campground, dropped off our trailer, and drove almost immediately to a local attraction that has become legendary. In what was once a field on the outskirts of town, a local artist created a modern work of art by burying several Cadillacs nose down in the ground. The vehicles form a kind of modern day Stonehenge as they silently sit in a perfectly arrange row as though some force greater than mankind had placed them there. It was no small feat to create the exact angles by which they peek from the ground or to make certain that they would forever remain steadily symmetrical.
Over time the attraction became a kind of mecca for graffiti artists and ordinary tourists who try their hands at painting the iconic vehicles with the fluorescent shades usually found on railroad cars or highway overpasses. The city of Amarillo has expanded so much that the art that was once in the middle of nowhere is now ironically in the middle of modern day strip malls and road work designed to bring humans to neighborhoods that are cropping up like flowers after rain on a desert landscape. We almost drove past the scene because we expected it to be in a more isolated part of town. It has become a kind of freak show of sorts, as tourists park by the side of the road and walk to a gate beyond which trucks sell food and drink. The Cadillacs themselves have become defaced over time with layers and layers of multicolored paint. One might say that it continues to be a work in progress.
Our next destination was to Palo Duro Canyon State Park, located just outside of Amarillo in a little town called Canyon. Decades ago we had attempted to camp in the park on a blistering hot August day. At that time the place was still quite primitive, and still mostly unknown. We pitched our tent in an area where we were virtually alone, save for the critters that were in abundance. A visit to the bathroom revealed strange insects of very sort, including huge scorpions roaming freely. When many of wild things began to invade the interior of our tent we gave up and instead found a room at a hotel in Amarillo, never really considering that we might one day be lured back to the spectacular place.
On our return to Palo Duro Canyon we found a park whose facilities had been expanded to include hookups for recreational vehicles as well as tents. There were multiple camping areas that were filled with people and a very modern visitor center that provided breathtaking views of the canyon as well as historical information.
We were enchanted by the majesty of the place and drove the length of the road that led deeper and deeper through the dusty red outcroppings and into a kind of reverential escape from the outside world. I would not be exaggerating to say that in many ways the canyon was like a natural cathedral where nature itself gives glory to the majesty of creation. We decided that it was a place to which we would most definitely return one day to spend some time listening to the wind whistling through the glorious setting that seems untouched by humans even as people quietly pitch their camps or hike along the trails.
It was dusk by the time we returned to our RV park. A cool breeze greeted us as we settled into our trailer for the evening. This was our last outpost in Texas. We had already seen so many wonderful sights that we had never before taken the time to experience. In the morrow we would cross over into New Mexico and make our way to Albuquerque where we had almost as little experience as in the Texas towns that we had most recently visited.
Ours was a grand adventure designed to find the offbeat, too often unexplored parts of America. We were purposely looking for quirky destinations, and beauty created by nature. So far we had been quite successful in our quest. We were learning that every place is interesting in one way or another. By moving slowing rather than blasting past at seventy five miles an hour we were really seeing the people and the landscape in ways that we had never before done. We were learning the value and importance of parts of our country that had always before been only markings on a map. We were learning about different points of view and different ways of living. Finding America was a glorious experience.