Route 66 gems in the Texas panhandle and eastern New Mexico: Conoco Station/Shamrock Tx, Cadillac Ranch and El Manantial/Amarillo, Tucumcari,NM

(FYI: posting late…forgot to do earlier 😳)

We met an Iowa couple in Amarillo who was on a bucket list-trip, driving their sweet new Winnebago van (Iowa-built) on Route 66 from Chicago to Santa Monica. Now that’s on my list. We don’t have the same goal this trip, which is instead to get to Albuquerque with a minimum of dawdling.

But today we did get off interstate 40 several times to take in the sights on the occasionally nearby parallel 2-lane Route 66. So glad we did. Shamrock, Texas, just over the Oklahoma border, has a spectacular “Tower conoco gas station (found via audio storytelling travel app HearHere) circa 1936 that was restored for a pretty penny. It looks even more remarkable at night when it is illuminated.

Finally reopened in 2021, the station’s U drop-in cafe was closed because it was a Sunday but we could peak in and see it in all its retro glory. (Traveling on a weekend means a lot is closed, including the tourist office in Tucumcari, NM)

In Amarillo, we could not miss The Big Texan Steak Ranch, a crazy looking roadside mainstay since 1960, where you get your 72-ounce steak meal free if you can wolf it down in an hour. (Not just the 4.5 pound steak but a shrimp cocktail, baked potato, salad, and roll and butter.) The Big Texan 72-ounce Steak Challenge has very precise rules, worth reading for a laugh. To date, there have been: 86,712 attempts, 10,035 champions. How Texas is that?! If you lose the challenge, you pay $72.

We instead found (thank you Yelp) a fantastic Mexican restaurant tucked under a highway underpass near a car shop that promised “we tow and crush.” El Manantial (named after the Mexican telenovela?) was packed with Hispanic families at 2:30 pm on a Sunday and we soon learned why. We had tiny little pork tacos, perfectly seasoned, and a standout speciality, tacos de Birria, lightly fried tiny tacos with red sauce and shredded marinated beef.

Because we were with dog, we found a picnic table at a nearby school playground (the sweet servers at the restaurant suggested). We crunched our way across yellow grass to the metal table for another January picnic. Like our Kansas picnic a day earlier, this one was in 59 degree weather but warmer. No Kansas wind.

On to Cadillac Ranch, a famous public art installation (free!) way out in a field of corn stubble — 10 Cadillacs driven into the ground, nose-down, their rears (once sporting tail fins until they were vandalized which apparently the artists and benefactor were ok with) sticking up from the dirt at an angle, supposedly akin to the angle of the great pyramid at Giza, slathered in many colors of dayglo spray paint. Visitors-in-the-know bring their own spray cans (or buy at a trailer parked nearby). Several were spraying away, creating big coagulated bubbles of red, yellow, green, blue, black paint. Far out! The Cadillac Ranch is the work of San Francisco “art-hippies” bankrolled by an Amarillo billionaire in 1974. Set against a dramatic backdrop of endless land and sky, it was a sight.

We were surprised by how bombed out Tucumcari, NM looked although there are a few cool buildings including a Spanish-style 1926 train station (now a railroad museum) and a building on Main street with lovely decorative terra cotta. Our HearHere audio made the town sound like it was far nicer than it appeared to us so maybe we or HearHere didn’t look closely enough.

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Filed under New Mexico, Texas, Uncategorized

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