Fun Fact: Amarillo is the only town in Texas mentioned in the Route 66 song written by Bobby Troup in 1946.
On our road trip from California to Kentucky, the next state we traveled through heading east was Texas. As you may recall from Part 1 of this Route 66 series, we followed Route 66 for as much as we could and enjoyed seeing the sights of the historic Mother Road. In Part 2, we explored Arizona’s Roadside Icons. In Part 3, we discovered New Mexico’s Historic Gems. This is Part 4 of the series about our adventures and time exploring America’s Main Street during our June 2017 trip.
The focus of this post is the Route 66 places we discovered in Texas, the Lone Star State. Route 66 travels through the northernmost area of Texas, known as “The Panhandle.” It is straight and narrow like the handle of a pan with the broader area of the state below it, like the bottom of a pan. Many of Texas’ Route 66 sites are off the main highway, but not by too much. Let’s check them out!
According to the Legends of America website:
“Almost immediately after leaving the rolling hills of Oklahoma (heading west), travelers feel different as they enter the vast plains of the Texas Panhandle. It is easy to imagine how it might have once been to be a lone-rider in the midst of what was a wild and primitive country just a little more than a century ago. It is here that old Route 66 stretched across the Llano Estacado (the Staked Plains) and where the romance of cattle-driving days still drifts through the many small towns of the Texas Prairie.
As for the Mother Road, when you glance at a map, Route 66 looks as if it is easy to follow. Though more than 150 miles of the original 178 miles that crossed Texas still remain, you will actually need to keep your eyes wide open in order to not miss the vintage architecture and many landmarks that dot the landscape. The only sections of original Route 66 not available are between Jericho and Alanreed and Adrian to Glenrio. Otherwise, Route 66 still exists even with original concrete paving.”
As we were heading east, we travelled through Texas after dark and stayed the night in Amarillo. We explored Shamrock, Texas at sunrise on Day 2 of our drive east and explored the other Route 66 locations mentioned in this post as we headed back home to California. According to Google Maps, it would take approximately 2 hours, 49 minutes to travel the distance of 178 miles across the Texas Panhandle without any stops, but what is the fun in that?!? Of course, one must make at least a couple of sightseeing stops when exploring Route 66. In addition, there are some unique sights to see from the car window as you travel across the panhandle section of Texas:
|Route 66 locations in this post:
Adrian, TX – Midpoint Cafe
Amarillo, TX – Cadillac Ranch & Big Texan Steak House
Shamrock, TX – Historic Conoco Gas Station
Adrian (elevation 4,043 ft.) is 24 miles from the New Mexico border off Interstate 40. Like several of the towns that stretch across the Texas Panhandle, Adrian came about with the expansion of the railroad. It was founded in 1900 when Adrian was chosen as a stop for the Rock Island Railroad, although the first train didn’t come through until 1909. The town draws its name from Adrian Cullen, an early settler. Although Adrian is located on the western side of the Texas Panhandle, it is the half-way point for folks traveling the “Mother Road” of Route 66. We stopped in Adrian on the return leg of our trip heading west.
Midpoint Cafe – 305 West Historic Route 66, Adrian, TX 79001
Please note that if you are traveling east from New Mexico (NM), the time changes at the NM / TX state line. Texas is one hour ahead of NM.
Midpoint Cafe is appropriately named because Adrian is located at the exact midpoint of Route 66. When you are in Adrian, Texas, you are 1,139 miles from Los Angeles, California and 1,139 miles from Chicago, Illinois. The Midpoint Cafe was built in the late 1940s/early 1950s as a simple one-room cafe. Over the years, the cafe has grown and been remodeled. Several different people have owned the cafe and the current owners, Dennis and Donna, purchased it in 2012. In the early 2000s, some animators from PIXAR came to town and spent time at the cafe. As the story goes, the Midpoint Cafe served as the inspiration for the interior of Flo’s V-8 Cafe in Radiator Springs (a.k.a. Cars Land).
When we stopped in Adrian, the Midpoint Cafe was closed for the day. Be sure to check its website for the cafe and gift shop’s operating hours. Also note that the time changes at the New Mexico/Texas state line. Texas is one hour ahead of New Mexico so plan accordingly or you’ll miss out on the famous “Midpoint Ugly Pie” like we did! There are some fun photo opportunities across the street from the Midpoint Cafe. So even if the cafe is closed, stop for a little bit and take in the sights.
Amarillo (elevation 3,650 ft.) is 49 miles east of Adrian. It is the commercial center of the Texas Panhandle and was founded in 1887 when the Fort Worth and Denver City Railway began building the railroad. The settlement was originally called Oneida, but was renamed Amarillo, “yellow” in Spanish, in 1888 after the yellow soil along the nearby creek banks and the yellow wildflowers that were abundant during the spring and summer. As the story goes, most of the town’s first houses were painted yellow in commemoration of the name change.
When we headed east, we only stopped in Amarillo for a brief overnight stay and to get some sleep. On our return trip west, we stopped in Amarillo for a food and fuel break, plus a brief stop to see a couple of the sites.
The Big Texan Steak Ranch – 7701 Interstate 40 Access Rd; Amarillo, TX 79118
In 1960, R.J. “Bob” Lee opened The Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo on Route 66. It was his wish to create a place that would satisfy the world’s hunger for good steaks and the ambiance of the Old West. The steak restaurant’s distinctive architecture soon became recognized across the Mother Road as a good stopping place. After a steak dinner eating contest was held amongst the local cowboys in 1962, the free 72 oz. steak dinner challenge was established and to this date the attempts by enthusiastic steak eating challengers continue. According to the steak house’s website, anyone who can eat the entire 72 oz. dinner in one hour gets it for FREE.
We did not have a chance to stop at The Big Texan Steak Ranch on this trip. However, the next time we are passing through Amarillo, I may have to stop and check it out!
Cadillac Ranch – 12601 W. Interstate 40; Amarillo, TX
I had read about Cadillac Ranch in the original article about places that inspired the PIXAR animators and Disney Imagineers for the Cars movie and Cars Land at Disney California Adventure. The row of Cadillac tail fins was the inspiration for the ridge line of red rocks located in Radiator Springs.
As we were heading west, we nearly missed seeing Cadillac Ranch! Thankfully, my husband noticed the cars parked along the frontage road and the art installation that has graced this section of Texas grassy land, or plains, since 1974. We exited the interstate and I snapped a few pictures from the frontage road. It was windy that day and we needed to continue on our way, so I did not walk out into the field to see Cadillac Ranch up close. Maybe next time!
Directions: Just west of the Amarillo city line. I-40 exit 60. Follow the frontage road on the south side of I-40 (old Route 66) east for one mile. Cadillac Ranch will be on the right (south) side; just park your car along the shoulder and enter the pasture through an unlocked gate. Visitors are encouraged; dog friendly. Hours: Daylight hours. Admission: Free.
One of the highlights of our Route 66 Road Trip for me was our sunrise stop in Shamrock. Located 95 miles east of Amarillo on I-40, Shamrock (elevation 2,330 ft.) is in the eastern portion of the Texas Panhandle, approximately 40 miles from the Oklahoma state line. The name Shamrock was first suggested, for good luck and courage, by an Irish immigrant sheep rancher named George Nickel when we applied to open a post office in 1890 at a location north of the present town. The name Shamrock was approved by federal postal officials, but this post office never opened. The official beginning of Shamrock was with the arrival of the Chicago, Rock Island and Gulf Railway in the summer of 1902. Originally, the town site was called Wheeler, but the railroad named the stop Shamrock in 1903 and the name stuck.
Historic Conoco Gas Station – 811 N. Main Street; Shamrock, TX 79079
The beautiful Tower Conoco station in Shamrock, Texas was built in 1935. The Tower Service Station and U-Drop Inn has been a Texas State Route 66 landmark since it was built. The builder and owner wanted to create an eye-catching Art Deco tower to lure the Route 66 travelers in for a great home-cooked meal. According to one website, from the very start the Tower Station and Restaurant received rave reviews. A local newspaper described it as “the swankiest of the swank eating places and the most up-to-date edifice of its kind on U.S. Highway 66 between Oklahoma City and Amarillo.” This historic gas station was used as the inspiration for Ramone’s Body Shop in the Disney/Pixar movie Cars.
We arrived in Shamrock, Texas just before sunrise on Day 2 of our trip heading east. Our timing was perfect because the neon lights were still on as the sunlight started to break through the clouds from the east. After taking several pictures, including some with our traveling mascot Monkey, we stopped at the McDonald’s in Shamrock for some breakfast and then we were on the road again! When we were heading back to California, we intended to stop again at the historic Conoco gas station to check out the gift shop. However, we were passing through on a Sunday and that is the one day of the week the gift shop is closed. Perhaps another time!
Of course, there are other Route 66 locations in Texas that are not covered in this post. If you are interested in purchasing some Route 66 artwork for yourself, like the historic postcards shown in this post, be sure to check the “Legends of America” online store at this link.
Route 66 continues east from Texas to Chicago. However, we did not explore many of these on this trip due to time and my focus on Route 66 locations that inspired the Cars movie and Cars Land at Disney California Adventure. Part 5 of this series will feature the specific places we stopped along Route 66 that served as the inspiration for the PIXAR and Disney animators. Look for this post soon!
What are your favorite Route 66 places to visit in Texas? Looking forward to hearing your suggestions!
Updated August 31, 2017:
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