“Keep your eyes peeled,” I say to Bill as we cross the border from Oklahoma into Texas near Amarillo. We are looking for two icons of the road — the Great Texas Steak Ranch and buried Cadillacs at Cadillac Ranch. T
hen it strikes me, if I may digress for a moment. Why would we tell someone to keep their eyes “peeled?” The mind boggles at the thought! The answer may surprise you. Robert Peel, former Prime Minister of Great Britain in the 1800s, is credited with creating the modern police force known as the Metropolitan Police, aka Scotland Yard, when he was Home Secretary. Policemen were known as “peelers” and were told to keep their eyes “peeled” for trouble. Hence the expression which survives today.
Back to our search for the two Texas icons.
Everything in Texas is BIG! The State itself is enormous, second only to Alaska as the largest in the United States. It is no surprise, therefore, that things on Rt 66 in Texas are also huge, especially the Great Texas Steak Ranch, which became an icon on the road when it opened in 1960. Sure enough, after miles and miles of billboards advertising the restaurant, a few miles inside the state, an enormous bright yellow building appears, surrounded by even bigger statues — a huge cowboy, a lizard wearing cowboy boots and a gigantic cow advertising the restaurant’s claim to fame — the 72 oz (4.5 lbs, 2.4 kg steak)! I told you Texas was big! There is a twist to the tale. If you eat the 72 oz steak, together with the baked potato, salad, bread, and shrimp cocktail in an hour, it is free! If you saw the movie, “Waking Up in Reno” then you saw Billy Bob Thornton try to eat the steak, served on a raised platform, under a digital clock.
For the rest of us, a table in the enormous, Victorian-style dining room, with animal trophies watching us from the walls, is enough. We order a “normal” size steak and salad which actually turns out to be pretty tasty! Over 500,000 people a year stop here, attracted by the kitsch and the aroma of broiled sirloin that wafts through the parking lot where Cadillac taxis, complete with longhorns on the hood, wait for clients. Across the parking lot is a motel designed to resemble the main street in an old western town. There is even a horse motel in the back so that your horse can be stabled and fed while you grab some shut-eye in the motel. Clearly a tourist trap but a fun one!
As you drive about 10 miles down the road west of Amarillo, the Bruce Springsteen hit “Cadillac Ranch” comes to mind as a strange sight awaits you — 10 vintage Cadillacs buried nose down in the middle of a large empty field — Cadillac Ranch. The Cadillacs (or shells of the cars) are covered in colorful graffiti. Empty spray paint cans are tossed around the field. The cars are the creation of local millionaire Stanley Marsh, who wanted to pay tribute to the golden age of car travel. The cars periodically are repainted white to provide a fresh canvas for artists. It is perfectly acceptable to bring a can of spray paint and add to the decor. However, a sign over the gate warns you that the State of Texas will not permit you to spray paint anything on the outside of the fence.
The thing about traveling on Route 66, irrespective of whether it is in Texas or elsewhere, is that you have to keep your eyes “peeled” so that you don’t miss these gems.
IF YOU GO
Big Texas Steak Ranch (17701 East I-40, Amarillo, Texas; Tel 806-372-1000; Open 0700 to 2230 365 days a year. On the north side of I-40 at exit 75.
Cadillac Ranch is located between exits 60-62 on the east side of I-40 just outside Amarillo, Texas. The cars are visible from the highway. The best way to reach them is to drive along the frontage road until you reach a gate that leads into the pasture.