The Texas Panhandle has many treasures to behold
The Texas Panhandle covers somewhere around 25,000 square miles of Northwest Texas, depending on where you draw the southern border of this geographic and cultural region. Driving straight across Texas from New Mexico to Oklahoma takes a little more than three hours. If the Panhandle were a state, it would be ranked 41st in size just below South Carolina and ahead of West Virginia.
The crown jewel of the Texas Panhandle's natural treasures is Palo Duro Canyon, the Grand Canyon of Texas. The colorful rock walls are a geological snapshot of time. You can stay in rock cabins on the rim or camp on the canyon floor. The numerous trails in the state park are open to hikers and bikers, or you can just drive the scenic road. June through August, the musical drama Texas is performed in the park's outdoor amphitheatre.
While you're in the neighborhood of Amarillo, don't miss Cadillac Ranch off I-40 west of town. Have your picture taken among the vintage-car tail fins sprouting from the flat cotton field.
Heading east from Amarillo, you're following a portion of old Route 66. About 20 miles outside of Groom, you'll see the 190-foot-tall cross. At night, the illuminated structure seems to float above the prairie.
About 75 miles east of Amarillo, the Devil's Rope Museum in McLean is an eclectic and interesting mix of Western memorabilia and Route 66 artifacts.
The most beautiful drive in the Panhandle is Texas Highway 207 south of I-40 to Silverton. The two-lane road rises and falls, twists and turns through the canyons separating the flat plains from the rolling hills. Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy at the roadside park with a grand view near Wayside.
From Silverton, take a small detour to Caprock Canyons State Park & Trailway. This out-of-the-way state park is as colorful as Palo Duro Canyon, even if it is not as big. For the really adventurous, take a bike ride or a hike on the 64 miles of old railroad trail between South Plains and Estelline.
Driving southwest from Quitaque, angle through the small farming communities to Lubbock. The Buddy Holly Center remembers the hometown boy with an excellent exhibit about his short rock & roll life along with interesting art shows. On the east side of town, the American Wind Power Center and Museum documents the unique history of windmills in taming the vast Panhandle plains. The 30 windmills on the grounds look like giant flowers.
To complete the loop of the central Texas Panhandle, head north on I-27 from Lubbock toward Amarillo. In Canyon, 12 miles west of Palo Duro Canyon, take time to visit the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum. Now that you've seen the beauty and vastness of the Panhandle, learn about the people who made the Panhandle a state of mind.
916th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of "Day Trips" 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.