Across the Texas Panhandle

Eastern Texas – Oklahoma Border to Amarillo

Leaving Oklahoma behind us, we continued west on the Mother Road across the state line into Texas.

It’s a bit ironic, but the largest of the lower 48 states hosts the second shortest mileage of Route 66, second only to Kansas. Essentially, the highway ran about 180 miles east/west across the Texas panhandle. As it ran across the flat panhandle landscape, the only major Texas city it went through was Amarillo.

The Mother Road was virtually replaced by I40 in Texas, and in most areas the original highway is either relegated to frontage road status or has been totally obliterated by the interstate. This can make for a rather dry and boring ride, save for a few interesting towns with remnants from the hey days of the Mother Road. There are also only a few stretches of original paved road that are available to ride on.

The first stop of note was Shamrock, about sixteen miles from the state line. The city of about 2000 hosts a number of Route 66 icons. Shamrock was settled by sheep ranching Irish immigrants in the very late 1800’s, but the discovery of oil in 1925 and the routing of US66 through the town led to growth and prosperity. Unfortunately, the city’s fortunes changed once I40 bypassed the city and Route 66 was decommissioned.

In the heyday of Route 66, Shamrock made an effort to capitalize on its Irish heritage by hosting one of the largest St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Texas.  Started in 1938, the event grew to a multiday event that drew attendances of up to 30,000 people in a town of less than 4,000 citizens. In 1959, a piece of the Blarney Stone was provided to the city of Shamrock to further emphasize their Irish heritage

In 2013, the State of Texas adopted a resolution proclaiming Shamrock’s celebration the official St. Patrick’s Day celebration for the State of Texas.

As I mentioned previously, Shamrock hosts quite a few remnants from the days of Route 66. Some are nicely restored, some not so much, some have been repurposed and their previous life is long past. The city has tried to keep its Mother Road heritage alive, hosting several Route 66 events and a local artist, Tye Thompson has painted several murals throughout the city.

We found his latest mural, a tribute to Route 66, painted on a retaining wall for an abandoned property on 12th Street on the east side of town.

The mural stretches a full block and has a separate panel with a classic car for each state on Route 66. The concept of the mural is cool, and it’s nicely situated to greet travelers entering Shamrock from the east, but it would really be nice if the property would be developed into a true recreational space, maybe quick introduction to the history of Route 66 in Shamrock. Having a classic Ford Mustang convertible painted on the wall would help as well  ; )

Just across the street from the mural we saw the first of what was likely a remnant of the old Mother Road. Now a bit disheveled, the small, art-deco building with decorated parapets looked typical for an early gas station or tire repair shop built to serve traveler’s needs on early Route 66.

Just a few blocks further, we found Shamrock’s crown jewel to their Route 66 legacy. In 1936, the U-Drop Inn was built in Shamrock at the then major crossroads of US Route 83 and US Route 66. The combination gas station and restaurant was designed in an ornate art-deco style designed to be a beacon to travelers through Shamrock.

The U-Drop Inn was considered one of the most impressive examples of Route 66 architecture by the Texas Historical Commission. Unfortunately, when I40 bypassed the city and Route 66 was decommissioned, the property, like many others, fell into disrepair. Nonetheless, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997, then purchased by the First National Bank of Shamrock in 1999 and given to the city of Shamrock. With a federal grant, the city was able to restore the property to its previous elegance and adapt it to a museum, visitors’ center, gift shop, and the city’s chamber of commerce.

An interesting addition was made to the property in March of 2014 when a Tesla Supercharger Station was built on the site.

The charging station reflects an interesting transition for Route 66, from the gasoline driven travel of yesterday into the concept of electric cars for tomorrow. In both cases, the lure of the road is enticing.

Continuing through town, we found a nicely restored Magnolia Gas Station from circa 1929 that proved to be a treat, with its old-time restored gas pumps and decorated with the classic Mobil Pegasus logo.

It was near 4PM as we cruised west out of Shamrock on old Route 66. Our plans for the evening were to stay in Amarillo, and we still had about an hour and a half to go. With the sun dropping in the west, we planned our travel to speed our way to our hotel.

Just west of Shamrock, the old Route 66 becomes a frontage road for Interstate 40, running about 30 miles west through the small towns of Alan Reed and McLean. The small Texas towns reach out to their Mother Road legacy (none as much as Shamrock), but they also retain their Texas heritage. McLean boasts about their “Devils Rope Museum” and each small Texas town along the route wear their grain elevators and windmills like badges on the flat pan handle plain.

West of McLean, the old 66 becomes dirt road past Jericho; we cut over to the Interstate along this stretch and rejoined the paved frontage road just west of Conway. This particular stretch of old Route 66, concrete with just a bit of blacktop, is fast somewhat straight and veers just enough from the Interstate to give you a taste of the original route before arriving in Amarillo.

At the out skirts of Amarillo, we picked up the Interstate again and took the freeway into the downtown area where we planned to stay at a newer Marriot Courtyard in a converted classic 1928 bank building.

We were nicely upgraded to a small suite on one of the upper floors, giving us a nice place to stretch out and rest.

After we settled into our room, we went out and found found a small Mexican restaurant tucked away a couple blocks from the hotel.

We got back to our room just as dusk fell across Amarillo and we watched the as the neon turned on to brighten the downtown skyline.

Our original plans were to spend two nights in Amarillo, allowing one day to explore the National Historic Route 66 District along the original path of Route 66 through Amarillo. After settling into the hotel after a great dinner, we decided to change our plans and stay one more night in Amarillo, allowing a side trip for Kathy to visit a stitching store in Lubbock and a visit to Palo Duro Canyon, a Texas State Park just south of Amarillo.