In February 2020, Denise and I drove into the Texas Panhandle to go camping in Palo Duro Canyon and this is what happened.
The trip began just outside of Austin in Oatmeal, Texas with a giant oatmeal box. I had never really traveled with Denise before. So this is how it was going to go.
Double First Ranch
As it happens, the Double First Ranch is halfway between Austin and Palo Duro Canyon, so we stopped by for a couple of days to visit Dave and Sam.
We were on our own the first day, so I introduced Denise to Jean’s Feed Barn and then we decided to check out the new classic car and baseball museum across the street. I could see that the building and the adjoining gift shop (made to look like a classic Texaco gas station) were brand-new, which I thought was unusual for a one stop-sign hunting town. After all, the Robert E. Howard Museum is just the author’s house and that author’s collection at the public library is just a single bookshelf. Also, admission to Woody’s is free. I warned Denise that it was most likely a vanity project of a private collector and that it would probably have six cars and the owner would want to talk our ears off. I opened the front door and my jaw hit the floor. Woody’s Classic Cars & Baseball Museum features classic cars from the early 1900â€™s, the 50â€™s, 60â€™s, and 70â€™s, as well as baseball memorabilia, and it is absolutely first rate.
As I walked through the Mustang-heavy collection, I heard the James Bond theme. I turned and looked behind me and I saw a large screen over the front door playing the trailer to Diamonds are Forever, a movie which contained a Mustang present in the collection. Later, the famous car chase from Bullitt would play out. Was this place for real? Could I get a job there?
I asked the your woman who did work there if there were more cars in the collection that they planned to rotate through and she said they were actually going to expand the facility to be able to display them all. She said there were at least double what was being displayed at the time. Then she told the story of how the museum came to be, which can be found on their website.
The gift shop, which is a beautiful recreation of a 50’s era Texaco filling station, is next door and is actually a Christian bookstore where everything is free. It felt a little bait-and-switchy, but it’s hard to have much heartburn when everything is free. So I picked-up a couple of coloring books for Finley.
Dave and Sam arrived the next day and the rest of the Double First Ranch visit was the usual fare: whiskey, shotguns, fellowship, and rustic beauty that makes it my favorite decompression place.
Palo Duro Canyon
It takes almost eight hours to get to Palo Duro Canyon from Austin and the last couple of hours are on I-27 N, which is one of the flattest, straightest, boringest bits of road there ever was (though note its suitability for top speed testing at a later date). The Texas panhandle is less interesting than the actual handle of a pan. That is until you enter Palo Duro Canyon State Park and you come over the crest and see the breathtaking vista of the second biggest canyon in the United States.
Amarillo, Texas: Everything but the Kitschy Sink
The next day, we took a break from camping to visit Amarillo. We started in an artsy coffee shop on Route 66, where we planned our day. Then we saw every kitschy site in the area including the Cadillac Ranch, the Big 2nd Amendment Cowboy (who did not have answers to some very reasonable questions I had for him), the Helium Time Columns and Museum, and the Giant Legs of Amarillo.
My favorite place of the day was The Big Texan. The Big Texan is famous for giving away free 72 oz. steak dinners, that is if you can eat them in an hour. We weren’t up for the 72 oz. challenge, but like always, we were up for some prime rib with all the fixin’s.
After our prime rib, we needed a walk, so we warmed-up for Monday’s big hike with the shorter Juniper/Riverside Trail, which gave us good views of the sunflower fields and Spanish skirts.
Palo Duro Canyon: Lighthouse Trail
We started Monday with a hearty breakfast at Amarillo’s Stockyard Grille, located in the Amarillo Stockyards, after which we caught a livestock auction (Monday’s, 11 AM). We resisted buying a steer, even though some were going for as low as $70. Something tells me there are hidden costs.
After the auction, we went back to camp and I started prep work for dinner, while Denise took a nap in preparation for the six mile hike to Lighthouse and back. According to Texas Parks & Wildlife, the trail to the iconic Lighthouse rock formation is the park’s most popular. It’s also the park’s most deadly, with most heat-related deaths occurring on this trail.
Our reward for finishing the Lighthouse trail: homemade shish kabobs and a personal best daily step count for 2020 (for me: 23,214).
On the way home, we passed through Lubbock, Texas and stopped for BBQ at the rustic, but highly rated Eddie’s BBQ. After our meal, the friendly owner came over to our table and chatted with us for a few minutes and recommended that we take a look at the Windmill Museum just down the street. So we did. And no visit to Lubbock is complete without stopping by the Buddy Holly Center.
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