Savvy Traveler: Amarillo, still the real Texas

The perception of most Americans of Texas and the Old West relies on B-movies and television shows.  The reality is that the Real Texas is like neither the Battle of the Alamo nor the prime time soap opera “Dallas.”

In fact, the “Real Texas” is nothing like the city of Dallas as it is today or even San Antonio, home of the Alamo.

The small cities and towns that populate most of the country’s second largest state still hold true to the cowboy and rancher ethos of a century ago.

The city of Amarillo in the Texas panhandle is the perfect example of keeping the culture and heritage alive.

The city has a handful of what they call “tall buildings,” but in most metropolitan areas would be considered “low rise.” In fact, from more than 20 miles away at Palo Duro Canyon, it is possible to see one of those “tall buildings” in Amarillo.

The city itself has a cowboy heritage it is proud to show it off. Visitors to the Working Ranch Cowboys Association (WRCA) Rodeo are treated to events that would never show up at a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) rodeo in such places as New York’s Madison Square Garden.

Watching the events, a visitor to Amarillo asked a local event why there was no bull riding event on the program.

“Real cowboys know better than to get on a bull,” came the bemused response.

What there are includes events that real cowboys might encounter on the range…albeit with a comical twist in some cases such as the Wild Cow Milking Contest.

Picture a cow being released at one side of the arena. One cowboy on a horse and three others chase it. Once it’s roped, the three on the ground try to out-muscle hundreds of pounds of uncooperative cow. The idea is to have it stand still long enough for one contestant to squeeze the teat and get a few drops of milk into a beer bottle.

Then the contestant runs (try doing that with cowboy boots on) across the arena to a white circle and turns the bottle upside down to show the judge they actually got something.

Another event has a team of cowboys on horseback riding into a milling herd of cattle trying to separate certain designated head into a corral. Each of the herd is numbered with the same number of three head. The contestants must cut each one with the same number and convince it to enter the corral.

Ever try to drop a box of marbles on the floor and then keep them from rolling all over the place? That’s the dilemma facing the herders. Professionalism came through and most were able to handle the roundup with the best time designating the winners.

The corridors of the convention center hosting the rodeo has literally hundreds of vendors selling everything from cowboy hats and boots to rawhide whips.

No visit to Amarillo would be complete without a side trip to Palo Duro Canyon, as mentioned about 20 miles out of town. It’s not the Grand Canyon but it is impressive nonetheless.

The view from the rim is spectacular and the drive to the canyon floor passes through millions of years of striations in the rock creating beautiful formations. The canyon is welcoming to day visitors and campers in specified areas. There is also a horse stable for those who would like to explore the old fashioned way.

No ride on the way back would be complete without a stopover at a western wear store such as Sheplers. The variety of merchandise from saddles to embroidered shirts provides something for everyone. Prices are reasonable and the staff is helpful without being overbearing.

Never feel self-conscious about being dressed in Western wear. Go into virtually any eatery or place of gathering and you’ll notice that the majority of men are wearing cowboy hats. Just make sure that after around, say early November, you wear a felt hat and not a straw topper. That’s for warm weather. Ladies generally do not wear hats in a restaurant but will often dress in Western style.

A major “must see” stop is The Big Texan Steak House on the fabled old Route 66 trail. Opened in 1960, it has become famous for its Steak Challenge. Anyone can try to down a 72-ounce steak (that’s four and a half pounds of beef) and fixin’s in an hour. If you can do it, the steak is free and you go up on a wall of honor. If not, you pay for the steak.

Adam Richman of the Travel Channel’s “Man vs Food” tried it for the premier segment of his show and got it down within the time limit. But all the chow hounds were put to shame by Molly Schaffer of Nebraska, who chomped down two of the behemoths in well under one hour. She’s threatened to come back and give a shot at eating three of them in the allotted time.

Oh, by the way…she didn’t need an hour to do the job. She finished both steaks in under 20 minutes. Oh yeah, Molly weighs in at 120 pounds.  Okay, Adam Richman, try that one on for size.

If you’d like to see Molly demolishing the steaks, check out

There more, so much more to Amarillo, but that’s for another time.

Bob and Sandy Nesoff are members of the American Society of Authors and Journalists.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.