Amarillo by Mornin'

Many’s the time I’ve been traveling on a lonesome highway out West and been mesmerized by George Strait’s song “Amarillo By Mornin’.”

With good reason. Amarillo’s got a lot of interesting surprises, among them the most legendary steakhouse in America, interesting museums, sacred Native American sites…and the second-largest canyon in America.

Palo Duro Canyon is a multi-colored wall of rock 120 miles long, up to 20 miles wide, and over 800 feet deep. The 5.75-mile (round-trip) Lighthouse Trail is the most scenic route to the top. Along the way, you’ll pass through gulches and gullies, wildlife and tumbleweeds, striking rock formations and dried riverbeds, and an occasional cowboy.

Palo Duro Canyon
The author in Palo Duro Canyon

You’ll walk beside steep walls layered with orange, red, brown, yellow and white, formed over 240 million years. You might also see wild turkey, white-tail and mule-deer, Barbary sheep (with large horns), coyotes, cottontail rabbits, roadrunners, and snakes. And if you make it to the top, you’ll come to the 310’ tower of rock called the “Lighthouse.”

The Old Route 66 (“America’s Road”) runs right through Amarillo, lined with down-home eateries with Texas memorabilia, many serving a wonderful Panhandle specialty called Frito Pies (red beans, sauce, and hot peppers piled on top of crunchy Fritos!).

The best-known Amarillo restaurant, though, is the Big Texan Steak Ranch & Brewery, immortalized on the “Man vs. Food” show on The Travel Channel.

The Big Texan Steak Ranch
The Big Texan Steak Ranch is for BIG appetites! (Photo by Steve Winston)

Some half-million people a year come here to enjoy, among other specialties, calf-fries. (They’re not from a calf, they are fried, and they’re delicious. But you may want to ask the server what they are before you try it!) Or you might try “Mountain Oysters” (hint: it ain’t seafood!). Then there’s the breaded, deep-fried jalapenos (called Howlers, Blazin’ Saddles, and Ring of Fire), Texas-hot chili and homemade fudge.

Everything about the Big Texan Steak Ranch is, well…BIG! Elaborate Western chandeliers with horns hang over long tables. The “Big Texan Singers” belt out their classics. There’s a shooting gallery – indoors. A caged, 7-foot-long rattlesnake named Brenda in the Gift Shop. Horned deer and elk heads on the walls. And a non-stop parade of customers, including some who look like they’ve just ridden in from “the Lower 40.”

The Big Texan Steakhouse
Everything at The Big Texan Steakhouse is BIG! (Photo by Steve Winston)

Since its 1960 opening, though, most people have probably come to the Big Texan for the steak. Chicken-fried. Prime rib. Ribeye. Strip. T-bone. The specialty of the house is the 72-ouncer. Yes…you read that right! This is Texas, after all!

If you can finish it in an hour or less, it’s free. But you must abide by the rules…among them “Should you become ill, the contest is over – YOU LOSE! Please use the container provided as necessary.”

Over the years, some 90,000 people, believe it or not, have tried. But only 10,000 have succeeded. A pro wrestler named Klondike Bill actually ate two 72-ouncers in an hour back in the 60’s. A   guy named Joey Chestnut – apparently a star in the world of competitive eating – downed one in eight minutes and 52 seconds in 2008. But his record was later obliterated by a woman named Molly Schuyler, who did it in 4 minutes 22 seconds!

The Big Texan is just one of the reasons I can’t wait to make “Amarillo by Mornin.”