In case y’all hadn’t heard, Texas is a big state. Huge. Ginormous. About 800 miles north-to-south and a good 770 miles east-to-west, according to the Texas Almanac. To put it in perspective, it takes longer to make the trek from El Paso to Houston than it does from El Paso to San Diego.
Because of its epic scale, there’s really no such thing as a quintessential Texas road trip. You’re simply not going to see everything this state has to offer in a single pass. Your best bet is to break your Texas road trips up into manageable chunks.
In this article, we’re going to hit some highlights on perhaps the most famous stretch of road to cut through Texas. We’re talking about the Mother Road. The Will Rogers Highway. The Main Street of America.
We’re talking about Route 66.
Take the Highway That’s the Best
Commissioned in 1926, Route 66 was one of the first major U.S. highways. It ran from Chicago, Illinois to Los Angeles, California, passing through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona along the way. At the height of its popularity during the ‘30s and ‘40s, the road provided an economic boom to the hundreds of small towns along the way.
Sadly, Route 66 no longer exists as it did back then. As a major highway, it was rendered obsolete by the U.S. interstate system and was eventually decommissioned in 1985. The 180-mile stretch of road cutting across the Texas Panhandle has, for the most part, been replaced by I-40. However, many of the original roadside attractions are still standing and still catering to folks who are willing to travel off the beaten path in search of Americana and adventure.
The Best Texas Route 66 Attractions
If you ever plan to motor west (or east, for that matter) on a Texas Route 66 road trip, here are some attractions you won’t want to miss.
Route 66 Historic District (Amarillo)
Amarillo is home to one of the few portions of Route 66 that is still drivable in Texas. The road in this historic district is lined with quirky, colorful shops and restaurants, many of which have stood there since US 66 was a major thoroughfare decades ago.
Cadillac Ranch (Amarillo)
Possibly the most famous Route 66 attraction in Texas, Cadillac Ranch (also known as “Carhenge”) features ten Cadillacs half-buried, nose-down, in the dirt and covered entirely with decades of colorful spray paint. This piece of “public art” was commissioned by eccentric Amarillo billionaire Stanley Marsh 3 and constructed in 1974 by a San Francisco commune of hippie artists calling themselves, “The Ant Farm.”
Floating Mesa (Bushland)
Stanly Marsh 3 (who always insisted on the Arabic numeral because he found Roman numerals “pretentious”) also created this optical illusion that makes it appear that the top of a large mesa is floating in mid-air. This was done by painting a white stripe along the east side of the mesa’s rim. Admittedly, the illusion only works when the sky is slightly overcast to match the shade of the stripe. But still, you really have to admire the scope of this artistic project.
VW Slug Bug Ranch (Conway)
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. This Cadillac Ranch parody/homage features five wrecked Volkswagen Beetles buried nose-down in the ground and covered with spray-painted graffiti. Slug Bug Ranch (also known as Bug Ranch, Bug Farm, and Buggy Farm) was created in 2002 by the Crutchfield family to attract business to their Longhorn Trading Post and Rattlesnake Ranch. Sadly, the Trading Post closed in 2003, but Slug Bug Ranch remains a popular attraction.
Midpoint Cafe (Adrian)
The Midpoint Café in Adrian, Texas is at the geographic midpoint between L.A. and Chicago on historic Route 66, hence its slogan: “When you’re here, you’re halfway there.” The business has changed hands many times and undergone several name changes since it was first constructed in 1928. The Midpoint Café is known for its homemade pies and other tasty offerings, but has expanded over the years to include a souvenir and antique shop.
Tower Station and U-Drop Inn Cafe (Shamrock)
Built in 1936, this historic art deco structure has long been a favorite Route 66 attraction in Texas. Legend has it that architect J.C. Berry designed the building’s two flared towers after being inspired by the image of a nail stuck in the soil. The building fell into disrepair with the decommissioning of US 66, but after it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1997, the city of Shamrock set out to refurbish it. The Tower Station and U-Drop Inn Café now look much as they did during its heyday, but it now operates as a visitor center, chamber of commerce office, and community center.
Don’t Forget to Bring a Cooler
For many folks an ice chest or cooler is an indispensable piece of gear for any road trip. It lets you have cold drinks and snacks in the car. It’ll let you shop for groceries even if you’re hours away from the hotel and can even serve as an in-room icebox if you wind up in a room without a fridge. Plus, if you’re partial to picking up items that need refrigeration when you’re browsing souvenir shops and roadside eateries, you’ll have a place to keep them.
Bison’s Gen 2 coolers are just the ticket for a long road trip. They’re rotomolded to hold in the cold air and built tough enough to take a beating in the backseat or trunk. These coolers feature two inches of wall insulation, which makes them ideal for carting your perishables. Plus they come in a wide variety of sizes and colors.