Square State Tour

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4
Day 5
Day 6
Day 7
Day 8
Day 9
Day 10
Day 11
Day 12
Day 13
Day 14
Day 15

Day 10
A day in Amarillo is like a waffle

Tue, Oct 9, 2007

10:30 am
2,050 miles from home

Amarillo, Texas

We're finally awake and caffeinated and ready to go.

Robert's sister Mary Ann and her husband Jim (yes, both of Robert's sisters married someone named Jim; efforts are under way to convince Laura to change her name) have lived in Amarillo since February of this year. So they've had plenty of chances to find all the screwball sights in town and are eager to take us on the tour.

We're eager to go.

10:40 am

Combine City

The first sight is about two miles east of their house along Claude Highway and is called "Combine City"—11 old combines buried nose-first in the dirt on a farmer's land alongside the road.

There's a sign posted that says "Combine City," which is how we know they're combines (combines seem to be the machines that scoop up the grain and shoot it out the side, combining several manual functions).

This is actually a parody of the better-known "Cadillac City" (which we'll get to in our next stop).

Mary Ann says that farmers like to keep old equipment around to use as collateral for loans ("Yup, I got eleven combines!"). Apparently, this farmer was seized by a neo-ironic post-modern impulse and decided to bury them.

A quick picture of Robert and his toothbrush and we're on our way.

11:00 am

Cadillac Ranch (I-40 between exits 60 and 62; about two miles west of Amarillo)

So there's this local artist named Stanley Marsh 3, who's done a number of odd things around town (see "Ozymandias Legs" later on for even more of his art). His masterpiece—at least in terms of publicity—is "Cadillac Ranch."

Cadillac Ranch is ten Cadillac cars planted nose first up to the driver's seat in the ground. They are at the same angle as the sides of the pyramids—giving them the power to sharpen razor blades, we think.

And people are encouraged to bring cans of spray paint and tag the cars with whatever they want.

As we arrive, there're visitors from a tour bus and a couple of cars. There's no admission, no gift shop, no nothing. Just a gate you can walk through and then out to the middle of a big farm field (that grows weeds).

While there, we do a little cleanup and collect some spray paint cans and lids (there IS a dumpster by the gate, but a lot of people are too lazy to carry their trash all the way back out).

As a reward for our cleaning efforts, we find a can that still has some paint in it, so Mary Ann tags a couple of cars with drawings of dogs, while Robert adds a donut face to one car.

Tip: Bring two cans of paint—one to lay down a background and another to actually draw with. Otherwise, it's hard to see what you've drawn.

11:40 am

Our next stop is in a nearby town of Groom, TX about thirty miles away. We're headed for the Largest Cross in the Northern Hemisphere, which (according to the promotional literature) can be viewed from 20 miles away.

11:50 am

We're now 14 miles from where the cross should be, and still no sign of it. We're beginning to lose faith and our supplies of soda are almost gone. Will we ever see the cross?

Along the road, we do see cotton fields and a strange, small plant that looks like shrunken corn. None of us can figure out what it is— although one faction favors the idea that they're growing the little tiny corns you get in salads. The plant is two to three feet tall with a brown, cone-shaped tassel about five inches tall on the top.

[Later on, our crack research department (Mary Ann) determines that this is sorghum, which is used to make starch, dextrose, adhesives, and sizing.]

12:00 noon

At six miles out, the cross finally appears. A billboard advertises "A Spiritual Experience You'll Never Forget."

12:10 pm

Largest Cross in the Northern Hemisphere, Groom, Texas

[Actually, our research reveals this is the SECOND largest cross in the Northern Hemisphere. There's a larger cross in Oklahoma someplace. But this is Texas and we're not about to point this out to any Texans until we're a couple of states away.]

We're now at the base of the cross, and boy howdy! This is one BIG cross. It's 160 or 190 feet tall (depending on which statistic you read) and is made out of what looks like corrugated roofing material. There's no admission charge to wander around to all the attractions.

At the base of it are the Stations of the Cross, done as 3/4 life-size bronze statues. It's a pretty cool way to do it. We notice that whoever did the statues got the placement of the nails correct (the nails were driven through the wrist, not through the hands).

(Robert, Master of Bad Taste that he is, wonders if the cross also doubles as a giant sundial with the stations serving as time indicators. "Look, it's half-past Simon of Cyrene! I'll be back about Pontius Pilate!")

To one side is a replica hill that contains three scenes. At the base of the hill is going to be bronze statues showing the Last Supper. Right now, there're only three figures, so it's more like The Last Snack, but it's headed in the right direction.

The top of the hill has Jesus and the two thieves on their crosses. And along one side of the hill is a replica of the empty tomb, with the rock rolled away from the entrance and everything.

There is, of course, a gift shop, where you can buy crosses (just like the one outside!) and quite a lot of kitschy Christian knick-knacks. One of our favorites is a poster of the Virgin Mary wrapped in the American Flag on background lettering stating "God Bless America" with the label: Our Lady of America.

There's also a picture of the cross as the launch point for some hot air balloons. One of the balloons is shaped like Jesus floating on a cloud with little people crowded around him. oog.

12:45 pm

Blessed Mary's Restaurant, Groom, TX

It's lunchtime, so we head for the nearby town of Groom and Blessed Mary's Restaurant. There are no prices on the simple menu (about 10 items). Instead there's a statement: "Please pay a comparable price per person for you meal." There's a jar by the door where you put your money. Basically, they give you lunch, and you make a free-will offering in return.

We think it's a great idea, but brace ourselves for mediocre food. We're pleasantly surprised to discover it's pretty darn good chow! They even have pecan pie for dessert to Robert's great delight (pecan pie is the only kind of pie that Robert likes).

Robert chats with the waitress—an elderly woman who volunteers there twice a week. All the help is volunteers, so the money collected easily covers expenses. The profits are used to help people who need it.

We have a much better spiritual experience here than at the cross and we leave filled up in more ways than one.

1:50 pm

Driving back towards Amarillo, we have a rare double-state-trooper sighting! We see not one but TWO state troopers on the highway. One of them is zipping along about 10 mph faster than the speed limit, while the other one pokes along about 10 mph slower.

We're not sure what they're up to, but Jim's going the speed limit, so we don't worry about it.

2:00 pm

Rattlesnake/Bug Ranch, Conway, TX (exit 96 on I-40)

We visit yet another parody of Cadillac Ranch. Maybe it just gets dull in these parts and people end up burying things to break up the monotony.

In any event, there are five Volkswagen Bugs buried nose first off the exit here (on old Route 66!). These only have the front part buried, so you can still get in the passenger seats to pose (which, of course, Robert does).

They are next to an old antique store/gift shop called "Rattlesnake Ranch" which looks to have been closed for years. There's an old rusted-out Chrysler truck, some theater seats, and a sign promising "Free Texas Souvenir." We poke around for a bit and then move on.

2:40 pm

Ozymandias Legs (Exit 115 on I-27—Sundown Lane)

Here, in a field of cows alongside the freeway is a giant pair of sandstone colored legs about 20 feet tall. One begins just below the knee and the other one extends to mid-thigh.

Nearby is a "Historical Marker" saying that Percy Shelley came across these while crossing America and wrote a famous poem called "Ozymandias":

"I met a traveler from an antique land
who said two vast and trunkless legs of stone
stand in the desert, near them, on the sand,"

If, like Robert, you hate poetry and poets and therefore find this totally plausible, we should point out that this is Mr. Marsh at it again. Shelley never visited America, and the poem isn't about these legs.

Stanley Marsh 3 (he disdains using Roman numerals) has also put up a number of street signs around town. We didn't realize this at first and found our foreheads creasing as we ran across signs like the following:

I Saw Her Again
King of the Hill
National Journal of Reproductive Technology
I want to open a saloon in my garage
They called him Count Dracula
There are more tears shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones

We're guessing that Stanley's goal is to make people stop and go "Wha?" because he's an artist and that's what artists like people to do.

We wish there were more people like him because they make us smile.

3:15 pm

We're back at Mary Ann and Jim's house and they're showing us their storm shelter. Seems that we are at the edges of tornado country and sometimes tornados come by (the last one was in 1949, but still).

So they have a storm shelter—like the one Dorothy was headed for when she got conked on the head. It's an underground room about 10 feet by 8 feet. They've put in some supplies and a hand-cranked radio, so if a tornado ever does arrive, they can listen to music while it rearranges their property.

6:35 pm

The Big Texan, Amarillo, TX

You can't go two miles in Amarillo (or any place within 30 miles) without seeing a giant billboard advertising "Free 72 oz Steak" available at The Big Texan. This is a restaurant that's grabbed ahold of the whole touristy Texan thing and kissed it full on the mouth. Outside is a giant steer and a fleet of limos decorated with giant long horns and a giant Texas-shaped swimming pool and a motel decorated like an old-time Texas town.

There is, of course, some fine print on the free 72-ounce steak offer: you have to eat it in one hour. And not just the steak, but also two sides. And if you don't, then you have to pay for it (about $100).

As we enter the dining room, there are two guys on stage who have taken the challenge and are at the 30-minute mark. They have looks on their faces like "Uh-oh, what was I thinking?" and after a few minutes, they give up and call for take-out boxes.

Here're a few statistics we got from our waitress about the Free Steak challenge:

  • The fastest time was nine and one-half minutes by a baseball player

  • The youngest person to finish was an 11-year-old boy

  • The oldest person to finish was a 63-year-old woman

  • About one in seven men who try it actually finish

  • About one in four women who try it actually finish

  • One time a father and his 13-year-old son both finished

  • More than 8,000 people have successfully finished

Even Robert has more sense than to try to eat four and half pounds of steak at one sitting, so we order more conventional-sized steaks. The food is yummy and there's plenty of everything (we all contribute leftovers to the take-out box).

And the desserts are Texas-sized, too. Each "mega" dessert can feed "four normal people or one hungry Texan." Jim gets a mega-carrot cake (the only size it comes in) and sure enough, finishes about 1/8th of it before putting it in a take-out box.

After dinner we wander around the gift shop and look at rattlesnake walking sticks, genuine Texan souvenirs, BBQ sauce, and a surprising amount of merchandise from Archie McPhee in Seattle.

8:45 pm

We arrive back home, stuffed to the tippy-top with good food, good company, and good sights.


Tomorrow: Homeward bound

Robert & Laura
Square State Tour

Prev Day  

Next Day