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Amarillo and The Big Texan

Getting There


Moving down the highway, the terrain changes. Where Albuquerque had flatter hills and fewer trees, the plains of Texas were flatter and even more barren. We are in the panhandle now, and given my limited experience with Texas, this is exactly what I was expecting. There are many large farms, lots and lots of cattle, and enough dirt to tell a good story. I was not expecting the wind gusts that could move a midsize vehicle sideways and cause quite a few truck drivers to white-knuckle their way down the 40. We were careful to check the weather before driving; it was better to be traveling the day we were on the road rather than the following day when the gusts were expected to hit 60 mph.


Despite the foreboding weather warning, the sun was shining just as much as the dust devils were spinning along the highway, and the tumbleweeds were rolling. I found myself reflecting on books I read as a child about the Dust Bowl and The Great Depression, noting similarities and how incredibly harsh the conditions could be. Knowing full well that we were not in such a drought was easing to my mind. Just what kind of adventures could we get into with conditions so strong?


Past the Cadillac monument in the desert, past the rows and rows of cows and plains that appear to go on forever, we find ourselves focusing more on the road ahead and just 'getting there' than the scenery. It is flat and wild, and for a person who has spent her entire adult life living in big cities, the plains paint a perfect picture and understanding of why someone would want to wear a bandana over the face in order to function better. The sand and dirt sail past the windows, and I can hear the little specks hit the windshield over the radio.


Despite the wild weather, I can still see the swinging arms of the turbines in the fields. There's something so majestic about them, facing the sun, spinning in circles. I've always been fascinated with them and have applied anthropomorphic attributes to their movements. Careless, doing their thing. Perhaps it's due to too many years of falling in love with Don Quixote and The Man of La Mancha over and over again that I see their beauty and not as an eyesore. Watching these must be what it is like for some who sit by the airfields and watch the planes take off and land.


Giant Turbines

Arrival


The Big Texan RV Park in Amarillo, Texas, is owned by the same family that owns The Big Texan Steakhouse, which boasts a 72 oz steak with sides at a whopping $200… free if you can eat the whole thing (including sides) in under an hour. I can only imagine all the rules that have to go along with this in terms of engagement. There are limousines parked out front of the RV park with long horns lifted from steers attached to the front promising to whisk you away down the backroad past more fields to the restaurant, past the sea of cars and parallel parked rigs to bring you to the center front of the entryway to the steakhouse…but more on that later.


Easing up to the RV park entry, past a long fence and advertisements for a stage for local shows, is the office, laundry, and gift shop for the campground. It's a little hard to see in the afternoon sun, but there are, in fact, two lanes to pull up in and park for check-in with plenty of staff to help direct you, thereby which a gentleman will whip around on his golf cart to escort you to your site with a bit of grandeur that left me chuckling. I appreciate showmanship, even in unintentional spurts. It keeps the slowness of life exciting and causes me to pause and respect the little things.


The park is well-kept and reasonably manicured. There are clear signs and lots of instructions on how to behave and when and where to go. What some may find a bit much, I don't mind. It means there's a better chance that things will be clean as we wander around. The roads are wide and include sidewalks. There are dumpsters about halfway down the lane from our site, and there is nothing that requires the truck to get to, making this both suitable and comfortable for a couple of nights' stay.


Finding Beauty in the Mundane


Our site in Albuquerque did not have enough in the way of walking for us, save for going in loops at the park or driving at least twenty minutes out to find a trail, so Jamie took the opportunity to walk to a local convenience store for water. At the same time, I settled in and tried to wrestle the internet to get some work done. By this point, the wind had died down from the original door slamming, Dorothy-trying-to-close-the-fence-in-Kansas allusion, which was relatively accurate considering our current location.


About thirty minutes later, I see Jamie heading down the trail in the passenger seat of a golf cart and our friendly escort chats away in the driver's seat. He spied Jamie walking back and offered to drive him the rest of the way, and in the process shared stories about the RV park and the limousines. It turns out the owners have been acquiring them since the RV park opened, and it has become part of the Big Texan experience. If we had not had Benny and Vito with us, I would have ventured to try it.


Given the weather, we decided to keep it accessible again. There wouldn't be any grilling tonight – not safe for that – so dinner would be canned minestrone soup. It's essential to keep some lackluster food on the RV, whether canned or frozen, for locations that are ill-advised for outdoor cooking or for when you are sick (sick happens). We happen to not be 'microwave people'; I barely know how to use the contraption and it is basically a glorified clock for me at home. A microwave is also the thing that I use to heat one egg when I'm lazy and don't want to poach an egg on the range, which is (simplified) water in a Pyrex and an egg unshelled for about 1:20 m. I'm a professional.


Peering through the windows between the door and the range, I am hit with this immense glow as the sun slides below the horizon line. I would love to steal a photo of the sunset outside, but the wind has peaked again and is rocking the trailer. It's easier to let things be as they are, dive into a bowl of soup, and leisurely wash the dishes. I wouldn't dare go out in such a mess if I could avoid it, even for a perfect sunset. Saving the larger evening chores for the next day, I finish putting up the dishes and setting the coffee for the morning. I fold into my book and settle down for the night, allowing the wind to rock us to sleep and trying to encourage the boys to ignore the whoosh sounds. Simple things like these are the restorative pieces that get my brain and body back in balance.


Salt


In a perfect world, we would frequent farmer stands and markets in each city we visit, but sometimes that is simply not possible. There's a community market in Amarillo that is on hiatus for the year 2024, per a quick internet search. We are a bit frustrated since we are in Amarillo on a weekend, and Saturdays are prime farmers' market days in many cities, but there is hope. What we did discover is that one such community market normally sits in front of a store called Salt.


Piling the boys into the backseat of the truck, we head on down the road for about fifteen minutes or so through neighborhoods and surface streets as Waze would take us to a small shopping plaza. Inside Salt is an amiable gentleman who is not pushy in the slightest, sitting behind a counter and allowing customers to take their time. The store is craftsman in style, with wood milk crates stacked up to display olive oils and balsamic vinegar, spice rubs and salt, and a healthy selection of grass-fed Wagu jerky. I pick up a container of mesquite BBQ salt rub to try once we return to Las Vegas and a couple of kinds of jerky for the road. My preference is to shop the small businesses for specialty items as we travel around the country and save the box items for larger stores to save on expenses and create more focused shopping.


Jamie manages to squeeze in a trip to a big box store to pick up water, ice, and bread for sandwiches while I stay in the truck with the boys. We also refuel quickly since it is our day off from driving, and it is much easier to accomplish without the Airstream attached.


Return to The Big Texan


Art outside The Big Texan
Art outside The Big Texan

Much to my want of disbelief, I really enjoy the corny stuff-- from the giant statues that draw your attention to a restaurant to the great ball of yarn in the middle of nowhere, conveniently placed on Route 66. I enjoy all of it. I'm getting back to where I left off on The Big Texan Steak House. We drove down a dusty road past homes that looked as though they had been there half a century, past dogs on walkabouts and windy fields that brushed up so much dirt that it became hard to see beyond 2/10ths mile. Janis Joplin is playing "Me and Bobbie McGee" on the radio, and I am gleefully anticipating what we will find at this place. Nearing the end of the road are the stacks of cars and trucks preparing for lunch at a colorful, whimsical building. There's a 60s-style cop car on permanent display out front next to a constructed steer-on-wheels with a painted sign indicating you are at the right spot. The handles on the doors are fashioned like revolvers, and as you step inside, I feel like I've entered a Texan-themed fairground. I am ALL about a good theme. Gimmie, gimmie.


I don't have too much time to waltz around as Jamie is in the truck keeping the boys busy while I galivant around with the honest intention of taking photos…with a side quest of the gift shop. For postcards. Scout's Honor. Summoning up my courage, I am on the fastest mission to find postcards that you ever did see. There were loads of tourist options, including a few excellent Amarillo-themed Christmas ornaments that seemed a little too fragile to attempt this early in the trip (maybe on our return home).


Lo and behold, I found them. The cream of the crop, the bullseye. Vintage-themed postcards with photos of Big Tex and another of the 72oz steak dinner. Perfect. About a year ago, I made an effort to send postcards to my youngest niece of each state we visited during our trip through the Midwest. It was based on a tradition from a family friend who would send me a postcard from everywhere she traveled. I loved it, and it spoke to my soul at a very young age. It had an impact on my desire to travel and explore, to taste things fully, and to eat with my eyes.

Wrapping up my purchase and shoving the cards in my purse, I am back out of the gift shop, passing up the opportunity to shoot a kid's rifle at a target for a prize or some other game for a pint glass/shot glass complete with Big Texan logo. My goal is to get to the truck as swiftly as possible to get back to the truck and (hopefully) save Jamie from tears of anguish and confusion made by two little anxious dogs. They must have been well-behaved, as everyone was in good spirits this time.


Domestic Responsibilities


Back at the RV, it's time to manage what we've been putting off. There's a laundry at the campground adjoining the office, which can be bypassed through a side door with the code you are given upon arrival. Armed with my book, dryer sheets, detergent, and two loads of laundry, I feel yet again brought back to childhood when we were waiting for our machines to be installed at the house and had to take our laundry across town and wait in the laundromat for what felt like hours (it was probably two) to get loads of laundry complete. The internet wasn't prevalent then, and you certainly couldn't take it with you on your phone, so we would bring books or read magazines to pass the time. At the age of seven, I was likely bored to tears, but now I am enjoying the stillness. The hum of the machines, the people milling in and out, the overbearing smell of Gain that I swear still lives in my clothes to this day. We use perfume-free detergents, but at a shared laundry, you get a little bit extra from everyone else's load, no matter how well they clean.


I'm greeted by two of the employees (owners?) at the park who are doing some communal laundry and checking on the machines. They are going back and forth about a camper experience that made me chuckle. There was a tenant who was unaccustomed to either camping in general or camping in the plains. He had inquired upon arrival if he could be moved to "a less windy location," to which the lady replied, "Sir, the wind is everywhere. There's no getting away from it."


I couldn't help but laugh out loud. The lady wasn't making fun of them so much as surprised, and I did the same.


The Big Texan Cometh


Brisket Sandwich with sides
Brisket Sandwich Meal of Glory

At each location we are at, we try to eat in one night and order out the other. Since we were good children on our first night, it was time to bring on the BBQ! With laundry complete and the rest of our chores finished, we were looking forward to an early dinner and early to rise. How could we pass up ordering brisket while in Texas? Jamie braved the wind yet again and drove back to The Big Texan for two brisket sandwiches with a side of mac and cheese, pickles, tomato and onion, and a large green pepper. This is my first time seeing this as a side. I'm used to a pickle spear, coleslaw, you name it – not a pepper. Choosing to skip the pepper for digestive concerns, we dove into the brisket and mac and cheese. So delicious. The brisket melted in your mouth, and the BBQ sauce oozed over every bite. The Big Texan serves everything on the side (brilliant!), so nothing arrives soggy, and every morsel is worth it. I can eat more mac and cheese than is advisable, consuming my portion and half of Jamie's. I needed a nap afterward.


Departure


Photo of a truck and RV with a Star and Sunset in the Background
Our Rig at Sunset, The Big Texan RV Park, Amarillo, Texas

Our departure isn't terribly exciting, though that's just fine. The boys are walked, and the tanks are flushed. The wind has ceased, and we are ready to start our journey to the next city, Weatherford, Texas.


Our neighbor across the way arrived just as the sun was setting and managed to take a beautiful photo of our rig in the sunset, which she sent to Jamie that morning, so it turns out I got my sunset photo, after all.



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