Although "amarillo" means "yellow" in Spanish, the word also has a figurative meaning: "wild horse." Considering the Texas Panhandle's rich cowboy culture, the term is perfectly suited to the city of Amarillo.
Now the commercial hub of the Panhandle, the city of Amarillo rose from the dusty plains when the railroad arrived, connecting Forth Worth to Denver in 1887. Since area ranchers were already raising cattle, railroad access turned the nascent town into a major center for cattle shipments—a distinction that still survives, thanks to the Amarillo Livestock Auction. These days, the city is a popular highway stop and gives even a day-tripper a good taste of Texas twang.
Whether passing through town briefly or kicking back and enjoying the spacious Texas plains, a first stop is Amarillo’s popular attraction, “Cadillac Ranch,” a ground-breaking public art installation that features 10 classic Cadillac cars buried front-first, at an angle, in the dirt. Visitors to Amarillo are encouraged to decorate the autos with graffiti and other messages, and the evolving paint jobs keep the installation fresh.
After washing the spray paint from your hands, tap into your inner cowboy with a horseback ride. Several trails loop around the area, particularly in Palo Duro Canyon State Park, just south of the city. Riders can bring their own horses and hitch up at the equestrian campground, which features a corral, or opt for guided tours and rental horses at the Old West Stables. Additional facilities, such as the Figure 3 Ranch, serve the park with wagon rides, campfire breakfasts and leisurely explorations of the canyon floor.
Learn a few tricks for future rides by watching the professionals. Every November, Amarillo hosts the World Championship Ranch Rodeo, where working cowboys compete in events like bronco riding and wild-cow milking. The Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association World Finals is another popular event in the fall that advertises "hard ridin' and straight shootin'." For a quieter look into equine history, visit the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame and Museum, which includes kid-friendly interactive exhibits.
After taking in Amarillo's natural beauty and exuberant events, try eating like a cowboy as well. The Big Texan Steak Ranch caters to outdoor-sized appetites. The restaurant promises that if a diner can eat a 72-ounce steak dinner in an hour, it is on the house. Beyond that distinctive challenge, the Big Texan is an Amarillo attraction all its own, with a shooting gallery, a formidable taxidermy collection, live rattlesnakes, costumed cowboy musicians and a gift shop specializing in Western kitsch. Amarillo visitors staying in the adjacent Big Texan Motel can even "swim across Texas" in a pool shaped like the Lone Star state.
With its lush stretches of canyon and affection for its cowboy roots, it is little wonder that Amarillo inspired the well-known song “Yellow Rose of Texas.” The city may no longer be as untamed as a wild horse, but residents do not stray far. As the song notes, “My heart's in Amarillo, and that's where it will stay.”