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Attractions Along Texas Historic Route 66
Route 66 passes briefly through Texas, missing the majority of the state as it winds solely through the panhandle. Texas is the big state and true to form, the landmarks and attractions along Route 66 are larger than life as well. Take The Big Texan, home of the big 72 ounce steak dinner and an oversized cowboy. Or the Big Cross of Groom, the second largest in the United States. Though the trip through Texas may be brief, there are still some pretty awesome attractions to stop and stare at.
Adrian, Texas marks the midway point of Route 66, exactly 1139 miles to Chicago and 1139 miles to Los Angeles. The Midpoint Café still stands in tribute to the long-standing popularity of the Mother Road, and the employees still serve customers with a smile. The café claims to be the oldest café or diner still in business on Route 66, opening back in 1928.
Another nearby attraction is the Adrian Lion’s Farm and Ranch Museum. This museum features farm equipment including a Caterpillar Combine used in the 1930s. Admission is free.
The Julians Bivins Museum shows off the early history of Oldham County, Old Tascosa and the Cal Farley Boys Ranch. In fact, the Boys Ranch can still be toured. Admission here is also free.
Amarillo is the panhandle’s largest city and is chock full of attractions and bizarre things to see. One of the most popular attractions is The Big Texan Steak Ranch. The Big Texan, however, is much more than just a restaurant. It is no longer located on Route 66, having moved to a better location alongside I-40 when the superhighway opened. Today The Big Texan still advertises its “free 72 ounce steak dinner (if you can eat it in one hour)” and an oversized long-legged cowboy out front still greets visitors (as does an oversized bull). The Big Texan has expanded over the years and now includes a motel, horse hotel, and gift shop.
One of the most bizarre attractions in Amarillo is Cadillac Ranch, the brainchild of Stanley Marsh 3. The attraction features ten vintage cadillacs (made between 1949 and 1963) buried nose down in the ground in a wheat field. The cadillacs have been moved once but remain open to anyone who wants to see them, draw on them, leave a little graffiti or take photos of them.
About 18 miles east of Amarillo, the VW Bug Slug Ranch modeled after Cadillac Ranch tries to do much the same as Cadillac Ranch. On the VW ranch, only five bugs are buried nose first in the ground, but admission is free and visitors are encouraged to add their own flair to the cars with a can of spray paint or a marker. Just think of the VW Bug Slug Ranch as the German counterpart to Cadillac Ranch.
Finally, the Natatorium brings a bit of history and music to Amarillo. Originally built as an indoor pool (and that is what a natatorium is, after all), the building was soon sold to a businessman who converted it to a dance hall. The pool, though never filled in, was covered with a beautiful maple wood floor which is still present today, and the pool is still beneath it. Over the years, the Nat (as locals call it) has been a dance hall, music hall, dinner palace, and is now usually used only for concerts. Many country-western stars have performed here, keeping the musical tradition of the building alive.
Groom is still a sleepy little town that boasts a couple of roadside attractions and was once near the infamous Jericho Gap, where motorists often got stuck in the very muddy section of Route 66. Townsfolk in Groom took advantage of the stuck motorists about as often as a motorist got stuck. Indeed, this stretch of road was so worrisome that travelers often breathed a big sigh of relief when they made it into Groom without encountering a mishap on the muddy road.
In Groom there are two unique attractions. The Leaning Tower has confounded visitors for decades, as they wonder how the water tower came to lean in that fashion. The true story behind Groom’s Leaning Tower begins with an entrepreneur who owned a truck stop and restaurant next to where the tower now stands. As a gimmick he had the tower built, and wanted it to lean. The reason: passers-by often stopped into his Tower Restaurant to find out why the tower leans. The restaurant and truck stop are long gone, another casualty of I-40 bypassing Route 66. The Leaning Tower still prompts questions, photos, and rumors. Some say it is the only thing that remains of a town called Britten, Texas (though in actuality, Britten is the name of the entrepreneur who had it built). Some say a tornado tipped it sideways and it has never been righted. Whatever you choose to believe, it is one of the unique things to see in Groom.
The other of the most interesting attractions in Groom is the giant cross. Named the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ Ministry, it is the second largest cross in the Western hemisphere. It stands 190 feet and can be seen 20 miles away on a clear day. Surrounding the cross are many displays advocating against abortion, as well as smaller bronze statues and plaques. It is a very moving and emotional attraction for anyone who visits.
One could call McLean the town where time stood still. Visiting this small town of 800 residents is like stepping back in time before I-40 bypassed the town. Texas and Route 66 historians have done a marvelous job of preserving this town and today there are a number of attractions for visitors.
The Devil’s Rope Museum is one of the best attractions around here. Devil’s rope is known in layman’s terms as barbed wire. The museum chronicles barbed wire’s invention and development and how it impacted the Old West. Other exhibits include historical ones dealing with Texas Route 66, McLean and other nearby towns. The Devil’s Rope Museum is also home to the Texas Historic Route 66 Association and the first Route 66 museum along the Mother Road.
In town, visitors can get another piece of nostalgic Mother Road history. The first Phillips 66 gas station built in Texas (in 1927) is in McLean and has been restored. The gas pumps still show gas prices at 19 cents.
Another museum in McLean is the McLean/Alanreed Museum. The museum brings to life much of the internment camp era when prisoners of war were housed nearby. A display of a prison stockade shows many original photos of the camp, and two original notebooks hold stories written by American camp workers and German prisoners. At the site of the internment camp, about two miles east, an all-weather parking area and historical marker describe the history of the camp.
Shamrock has been called the Texas Main Street City. Though the town’s population and significance has declined since the opening of I-40, it still boasts several attractions worth stopping for.
The most historically important is the Old Reynolds Hotel which today houses the Pioneer West Museum. The museum mostly concentrates on Texas history but does have exhibits ranging from Plains Indians to the NASA moon landing. Twenty rooms house exhibits and include reproductions of a pioneer dentist’s and doctor’s office as well as a pioneer schoolroom.
Not too far away, another historically significant building – the Tower Station and U-Drop Inn – is home to the Shamrock Chamber of Commerce. This building epitomizes 1920s and 1930s art deco architecture. When it was built, it was one of the swankiest restaurants in town. Today it stands as a reminder of the beautiful architecture prevalent during the Mother Road’s heyday as well as a symbol of a bygone era.
The big state of Texas offers up some big attractions for travelers along old Route 66. Many of the museums and gimmicks from decades ago still stand, giving visitors a glimpse into what life was like when traveling families got their “kicks on Route 66.”