Route 66: Texas

This entry is part 15 of 17 in the series GDB & Route 66
decrepit building with empty sign, surrounded by scraggly weeds and utterly forlorn
the Texas Longhorn Motel, or what’s left of it. “The First/Last Motel in Texas.”

Glenrio, as we saw on the eastern border of New Mexico, straddles the state line on an abandoned stretch of road. What shell is left of the Texas Longhorn Motel (“the First/Last Motel in Texas”) sits a few feet over the border, but there will be no guests.

Eastward, we come to Adrian, the geographical midpoint of Route 66 — probably depending on exact alignments, but who really cares to quibble? Adrian has 166 residents, per their sign, and I’m not going to begrudge them their midpoint status.

Midpoint sign for Route 66, Adrian, TX
Sunflower Station, western gifts

The gift shop and cafe across the street is adjoined by Sunflower Station, another boutique, where you can sign the pickup truck. We didn’t stop or take the time. That probably makes us Fake 66 Cruisers or something. Losers.

pebbled exterior of 2-story 1920s gas station

A bit further, the town of Vega has an adorable restored 1924 Magnolia Gas Station. Then we hit the road into the legendary territory of Cadillac Ranch: a series of upended, graffiti’d land yachts — never on Route 66 itself, but famous pop art on their own. We didn’t detour, and I didn’t take a photo, but here’s a credited Getty image to let you know exactly what I’m talking about.


And then /musical cue/ you can seeeeeeeeeeeeee… Amarillo!

iconic Big Texan sign with neon cowboy

There are a number of restaurants with the sales plot of offering an enormous meal for free if you can put it down with a specified time, but no one does it better than the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo. If you can finish in one hour a shrimp cocktail appetizer, a baked potato, a salad, a roll with butter, and a 72 oz steak — yes, do the math, that’s four and a half pounds of sirloin — then the meal is free and you get your 15 minutes of fame. If you can’t put it down fast enough, you pay the $72 for the attempt and you keep the leftovers, which really isn’t a bad deal.

Now I’d always thought this was a pretty impressive feat, and my mind was boggled when some big guy managed to put down two such meals within one hour. But too bad, big guy, because a couple of months ago a petite woman named Molly Schyuler slammed that entire 72 oz steak and accouterments in just five minutes — and then did it again, finishing two entire meals, nine pounds of meat and two complete sets of sides, in under 15 minutes.

faux Wild West fronts along Big Texan motel

If you want to watch this impressive feast, you can see the video here. But hold on to your britches: Molly’s going back later this month to tackle three entire meals, and to finish them before several teams of two can beat her to it. Holy moley, Molly! (Update: She killed it.)

Molly’s about 120 pounds (yes, that’s approximately 10% of her body weight in 15 minutes) and a mother of four. I’m betting that when she tells her kids to clean their plates, they don’t argue.

Despite the hoopla about eating in a hurry, the Big Texan’s steaks are actually quite tasty and worth savoring. Jon and I split a more reasonable 21 oz sirloin between us.

Jon waves at the base of giant green dinosaur dressed as a cowboy

The Big Texan was once on Route 66, but when the interstate cut traffic, the struggling restaurant moved to I-40 to survive. The owners have never forgotten their Route 66 roots, though, and a giant concrete green dinosaur-cowboy (“Big Tex-Rex”) waits in the parking lot in true giant tourist trap Route 66 homage. There’s an attached motel done up as a western town, and there are rest areas for both dogs and horses, so you can turn your trailered horse to exercise in a paddock while you eat and then hit the road again. I remember hauling horses across distances, and that’s worth making the Big Texan a destination right there.

Jon and Laura sharing enormous rocking chair in the Big Texan

We ran some old 66 in Amarillo, too, tracing the original route up to the airport, where it becomes a service road, and then picking it up again on the other side.


Jon was pleased to find Ronald McDonald on a horse — because, why not? — and we wound through Amarillo and eastward.

Here we found an old-timey stretch of Route 66, running through the empty stretches I usually associate with Texas. Grain elevators still standing where towns once existed, windmills and water towers, the deliberately tilted water tower of Groom break up the passing miles. A new giant structure was added comparatively recently in 1995, the largest cross in the western hemisphere at 190′ tall. I wonder how that’s doing as an attraction, if that’s the intention?

Somewhere in Texas. To be fair, we are 1/4 mile off 66 here, having missed a turn and we followed tracks straight into this field.
Somewhere in Texas.
deliberately tilted water tower

We jumped off to take an old route from pre-pavement days, along a stretch where allegedly farmers used to pull entrapped cars from the mud for a fee. Though comparing Route 66 maps, Google Maps, and the occasional street sign, we missed a turn and followed the primitive road into a field where it was technically a farm track instead of a country road. I could see the road we wanted, and a dirt ramp former drive running over the drainage ditch alongside it, so I turned north past the scattered bovine skeleton and bounced across country to reach the road. Oops! There was a single strand of barbed wire blocking our way, invisible until we were close.

About that time the rancher, trundling along the road beside his field in his pickup, rolled up. “You guys lost?”

Um, sorry sir, I didn’t mean to be in your field, I went straight instead of turning, I was just trying to get back on this road, we’ll backtrack, thank you.

Cow skeleton, Texas. To be fair, we are 1/4 mile off 66 here, having missed a turn.
Cow skeleton, Texas. To be fair, we are 1/4 mile off 66 here, having missed a turn.

He nodded and went on. We backtracked past the skeleton and back to the county road, once Route 66.

The Donley County Texas Route 66 Safety Rest Area is available from eastbound I-40 and is worth a stop. The rest area is done entirely in art deco and neon and classic Route 66 style, and all the picnic shelters look like miniature old Texaco stations and are fitted with Texas-shaped grills for your roadside cooking convenience. The sidewalks are tiny white-striped highways, leading to several historic information plaques. Super cute!

Texas-shaped charcoal grill
miniature gas station picnic shelters and highway sidewalks

Then another long stretch of Texas highway, including the delightful old Portland cement pavement from the 1930s. Smooth but for the ka-thump ka-thump of the expansion joints, the concrete is in great shape and a great visual cue for the old road for some time (and a way to track bits of old unmarked 66 further east).

Shamrock is famous for the U-Drop Inn, a gorgeous Art Deco Conoco station, now the Chamber of Commerce with six Tesla Supercharger spaces in its lot. There are lots of 66-related souvenirs and books inside, and a little cafe still selling snacks, and some of the friendliest aides you’ll find on the road. Be sure to ask them how to get to the restored Magnolia Station, which looks almost as cute as the U-Drop, and the local park, where you can find a piece of the Blarney Stone. (I kissed it — is it helping the blog?)

disused service station surrounded by tires, Shamrock, TX
Another ghost on the road.

And then the road heads east again toward Oklahoma — but that’s another post!

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