“The neat thing about Amarillo is, there are still cattle drives right outside our windows.”
That praise comes from Randy Whipple, president of the Working Ranch Cowboy Association (WRCA). He adds, “It shows we really do stay true to our roots.”
Amarillo, Texas—population 200,000—serves as the trade center for the Texas Panhandle, as well as eastern New Mexico and the Oklahoma Panhandle. Come Saturday, the population swells to half a million people, as folks from the Texas Panhandle region come into Amarillo to shop. After all, like Randy says, folks “look better in cowboy clothes,” and they “need the boots to dance in and a good hat to keep the sun off.”
When traveling the back roads just outside of Amarillo, don’t be shocked when everyone you pass waves or nods their heads hello. Whipple recommends you just join in and say “Howdy.”
With 351 days of sunshine a year, not many days go by when you don’t want to be on horseback, Whipple admits, adding, “Once the wide open spaces get into your blood, you’re hooked.”
All those ranch cowboys you passed on horseback while driving those back roads? You’ll likely run into them at the restaurants, stores and dance halls in downtown Amarillo; here are some of the best spots.
Good Cowboy Bar: A hot spot for Red Dirt or Texas music is the Golden Light Cantina, open since 1946, on 6th Avenue. For live Country music with an air of the good ol’ days of honky tonkin’, head to Cattleman’s Club on Amarillo Boulevard.
Popular Local Hangout: The Old Route 66 on 6th Street—a fun area of town with loads of antique shops and great places where cowboys and bikers hang out for good food.
Favorite Spot for Texas Cuisine: You don’t want to miss Stockyard Café. At one time, Stockyard sold more cattle than anywhere else. On Tuesdays, you can sit in on a cattle auction, then go into the café for lunch. You’ll see cattlemen and businessmen all enjoying good ol’ Texas cuisine.
Best Chicken Fried Steak in Town: Check out the Country Pride; as a kid, my family and I would tie our horses to the hitching rail and work our way through those great chicken fried steaks.
Bathtub of Beer: The bathtub of beer and the jalapeno-covered steaks are a big hit at Coyote Bluff Café.
Little Bit of Mexico: Head to Tacos Garcia. The tradition here is fresh chips and hot sauce. Some of that stuff will make your hat sweat.
Country Radio Hits: Tune to 97.9 FM.
Best Art Gallery of the West: The American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame & Museum hosts awesome art shows throughout the year. You have to see this place—it’s really nice, and it’s right on I-40, so it’s easy to get to.
Best Spot to View Wildlife: The Palo Duro Canyon, just south of Amarillo, is truly the place to visit. Take your cooler and plan to spend a few hours; cowboys like me usually take our horses with us. If you don’t have a horse, you can take in Palo Duro on a jeep tour at Elkins Ranch.
Historic Site Schoolchildren Visit: The Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum. It’s just south of Amarillo, in Canyon, on the West Texas A&M University campus.
What to Do in Spring: The Amarillo National Center at the fairgrounds hosts Western events, such as team roping to chili cook-offs, in March and April.
Amarillo’s Big Event: You can ask anyone here, it’s the WRCA’s World Championship Ranch Rodeo, held the second week of November at the Amarillo Civic Center. Wild cow milking, branding and bronc riding are just a few of the ranch cowboy’s skills showcased here.
Average House Cost: $140,000.
Average Temperatures: Summer is 91 to 65 degrees; winter is 49 to 23 degrees.
Little-Known Secret: The Texas State Capitol in Austin was paid for with the land that was home to the XIT Ranch (1885-1912) located near Amarillo.
Preservation Project: Potter County has renovated the building in downtown Amarillo built in 1930 as regional offices for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway company; it now houses the county’s offices. This structure defined the Amarillo skyline for years and is visible for 20 to 30 miles.
Favorite History Trip: I like to head north of Amarillo to Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch. This is the former town site of Old Tascosa and where the famous picture of three cowboys standing at the bar was taken. Now it’s home to boys and girls who need a helping hand; the kids are great tour guides and will share some really interesting facts on this historic cowtown.