Mother Nature must have missed the Texas Panhandle with her wand. Or so it seems.
Scraggly and desolate come to mind as we pass through this part of the Lone Star State every winter on the way to warmer climes.
But then humans haven’t helped the landscape much, either. Interstate 40, which stretches straight across the Panhandle, must lead the nation in shreds of retread tires along its shoulders. Then there are the abandoned gas stations and motels that look like something out of a post-apocalyptic movie.
Part of those dilapidated buildings stand — or lean — on what was once Route 66 (now paved over as I-40 in long stretches). The nostalgia of that famous old road seems to be dying a slow death.
Oh, well. There are still some interesting sites to see (and I’m sure some good people who live here).
There is the Leaning Tower of Britten near Groom, Texas — an old water tower that looks like as if it is about to topple over. Ironically it had been moved to its present spot in 1980 and deliberately placed at a 10-degree angle to promote a truck stop down the road.
The truck stop eventually burned down while the water tower leans on. It’s been labeled a popular tourist attraction but when we pulled off the interstate to get a closer look, a rather large animal carcass laid not 20 yards from the tower. Certainly it could have been picked up at some point along with the retreads if it is such an attraction.
Or am I just being picky?
We didn’t stop at the bright yellow restaurant that always catches my eye as we come into Amarillo — actually, a pretty cool city — on I-40. It is called the Big Texan Steak Ranch and you can order a 72-ounce steak and get it for free if you can eat all of it and its fixins’ in an hour.
Too bad we never pass by during lunch or dinner time. I would like to see someone try to consume a meal like that. Me? I don’t think we would be able to fit the doggie bag in our packed car after my failed attempt.
Just west of Amarillo, we did finally stop at the Cadillac Ranch. (By the way, best country song ever: “Amarillo by Morning” by George Strait.) About 100 yards off I-40 — and formerly Route 66 — are 10 old Cadillacs with their front ends buried in the ground.
It’s a pretty amazing site. It’s sort of an amazing story, too.
In 1974, an eccentric Amarillo billionaire brought in a bunch of hippies from the San Francisco art community to come up with some project that would confound the locals. They decided to create a project that would pay homage to the Cadillac’s tail fin.
Travelers would stop and like all good souvenir seekers, they would take away parts of the cars — the batteries, a piece of chrome, etc. The Caddys eventually became shells of the grand automobiles they once were.
At some point, spray paint was introduced to the Cadillac Ranch and passers-by began adding colorful swirls and signatures to the cars. The box car graffiti on long freight trains and tie-dyed shirts have nothing on these “works of art.”
My wife and I stopped on our second day of travel and walked out to the “ranch” in 17-degree weather. There were other (crazy) people out there braving the cold, too. And one handed us a spray can.
Margaret sprayed her name on the first car — once a 1963 Sedan deVille (with a 1949 Club Sedan at the other end of the 10 cars.) Her handiwork probably won’t last long as others will paint their own design over it.
And the “artists” haven’t just confined their creativity to the cars. The frontage road and its concrete road barriers were also brightly colored.
The Cadillac Ranch is now crossed off our to-do list. So is the Leaning Tower of Britten. I guess a 72-ounce steak may have to be part of our next Panhandle pilgrimage.
Then again, maybe not. A quarter-pounder (4 ounces) at a nearby McDonald’s is usually enough for me.