Square State Tour

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Day 9
Moseying around Amarillo

Mon, Oct 8, 2007

7:00 am
2,050 miles from home

Amarillo, Texas

What better way to celebrate Columbus Day/Explorer's Day/Introduction of Syphilis to Europe Day than just hanging around a town in Texas? We couldn't think of any, so that's what we did.

Plus, there were some chores we needed to get out of the way.

11:00 am

First among those chores is trying to find a decent air mattress for the tent. We'll even settle for a raggedy sleeping mat. Something that doesn't leak and leave us on a "bed" with negative sleep numbers.

So we check the Internet and get a list of thrift stores in Amarillo, Robert fires up the GPS (which is now periodically spazzing out) and start driving through Amarillo.

1:00 pm

Four thrift stores later and we're getting kinda discouraged. None of these places even have any camping gear, much less an air mattress or sleeping pad.

We're also noticing that every single &$#%ing time we open the car door, a couple of flies jump in and we have to drive around with the windows down to get them back out again. (Mary Ann explains later that it's because the weather is cooling down and they're trying to find a warm place to spend the winter. Can't they see we're from Oregon, which is NOT a warm place to spend the winter? Idiot flies.)

1:30 pm

We have managed to find the Civic Center, which contains the Visitor's Center. Maybe we'll find some interesting places to visit while we're wandering around Amarillo.

Except that it turns out that just about every museum or place of interest in Amarillo is closed on Mondays. We ask the desk lady for an interesting place to go in Amarillo, and she tells us there's one in Canyon (about 15 miles away).

Robert mutters, "The most interesting place in Amarillo is in another city," as we walk away.

We're also noticing that our accents (or lack thereof) mark us as foreigners. Everybody here is talking with a drawl, just like in the movies. Nobody is talking regular. We hope they don't think we're Yankees.

2:10 pm
2,085 miles

Helium Monument / Amarillo, TX

One thing that the sharp-eyed Robert spotted on a brochure in the Visitor's Center was the Helium Monument. Why is there a Helium Monument in Amarillo? It doesn't matter. As a Chemistry Major, Robert is honor-bound to visit it!

It turns out that Amarillo is the Helium Capital of the World (it says so right on a plaque at the monument). Most of the helium in the US comes from around Amarillo.

[Short science break: Helium is the second-lightest element and is the first of the Noble Gases. It doesn't react with anything. Because it's so light and non-reactive, it tends to run away to outer space and never come back. The only way to get it is to mine it and it doesn't occur in very many places. There's another place in Russia that mines helium, but that's about it.]

The monument is four giant shiny poles forming a tetrahedron (like a giant jack), with the center about 20 feet off the ground. Just below the center is a model of a Helium atom (two protons, two neutrons).

And it's not just a model of a helium atom. The shiny legs are hollow and contain time capsules! Each leg has a designated opening date (one was scheduled to be opened in 1993, the next one in 2018, then 2068). The legs are filled with books and other artifacts showing what life was like back in the 1960's. (And, yes, it did make us feel old.)

But wait—there's more! The entire structure also serves as a giant sundial! That's right, the center shiny stick is aligned so that it moves around a giant clock face indicating the time.

Except that it doesn't account for daylight savings time. And because Amarillo is at the very edge of the Central Time Zone it's off by some more. But if you ever need to know the time within, oh a couple of hours, just head down to the Helium Monument and look for the shadow!

3:00 pm

After all that excitement, we're reluctant to return to our drab lives, but if we don't change the oil in the car, who will?

We hunt down (ha ha) a sporting goods store (which, since this is Texas, is filled with lots and lots of hunting goods—including a sale on bullets!) and find an entire wall of air mattresses. We decide to get one with a built-in pump that can double as a guest bed (we've slept on them and they're really comfy).

The cashier refers to us as "all y'all guys" (as in "All y'all guys have a good day!"), which drives us nuts. We can live with "y'all" or even "all y'all" but "all y'all guys"? Come on—that's like saying "All of everyone of all you people." Sheesh.

We get our oil change, which includes a free car wash. The car wash kills our space alien antenna ball, but it does include tire shining ("Wow! Look how shiny our tires are!" Laura exclaims later).

Finally, we stop at Ruby Tequila's a local chain that serves up Tex- Mex food ("completely different" from New Mexican cuisine, etc.) Because we order from the "teeny servings menu" (aka the Senior Menu) we get a rational amount of food, yet it's still filling.

4:00 pm
2,100 miles

Palo Dura Canyon State Park, TX

The only other attraction open in Amarillo today is also outside of town and is a canyon. The locals describe it as "Texas' Grand Canyon," but we think the locals have been hitting the tequila a little hard. It's a lovely big canyon, but the entire thing would fit in one shallow end of the Grand Canyon.

We hang around the visitor's center and watch a movie made in 1916 about the canyon (featuring authentic over-acting Kiowa indians) and learn about the geology. At one point, rivers carved a canyon, then the whole area was under water, which smoothed everything out. When it dried up, the rivers again started slicing away at it and moving sediment elsewhere, forming the canyon once more.

After the center closes, we drive around the canyon road, which takes us down into the canyon. It's nice to see trees and actual landscape again (instead of the relentlessly flat plains of this part of Texas), and we even see some wildlife (two deer in one of the campgrounds and 1,000 spiders in the men's urinal).

Then we head back to the homestead and relax for the rest of the evening.

Tomorrow: Weirdness, Amarillo style

Robert & Laura
Square State Tour

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