Treasures of Texas (7/22/03 - 7/23/03)

Last updated 7/28/03                                                                                                                                                     Russian translation here

Just west of Amarillo, TX on the I-40, in the literal middle of nowhere (dusty expanse of yellow nothingness whichever way you look), an odd sight catches the eye of the bored traveller: ten old Cadillacs half-buried in the ground in a straight line, each one positioned at the same exact angle to the horizon as the Cheops pyramid in Egypt. Mirage? No, the Cadillac Ranch -- a modern art statement created by San Francisco-based Ant Farm artists in 1974 and backed up by Texas-derived money of the helium millionaire Stanley Marsh III. The classic Cadillacs (make 1949 - 1964) were bought from local junkyards at an average $200/car and had their wheel caps and fenders welded onto the body before being inserted into the ground (still, some are now missing hoods). The cars are covered in graffiti all over, so one could say they are still "work in progress" pieces of art, as nearly every visitor adds a new detail to their appearance - mostly "Bob was here" sort of creative work, but you know, that's how Inscription Rock ended up a national monument!

Detour: as I'm writing this, we're driving south on I-55 towards New Orleans, and we just passed an 18-wheeler carrying cages with live chickens. Strange place, South!

All over Texas and onward south-east, we saw ads for "Sonic: America's drive-in", and thought it was something like Mel's in Berkeley which kept "drive-in" in name only but is really just a 50s style diner. I was under impression that real drive-ins were long gone and forgotten... However, Sonic held a pleasant surprise in store for us: it's an honest-to-God drive-in! The kind where you drive your car up to a stall with a menu board, make your selection, push the speaker button, place the order, and wait IN YOUR CAR. A smiling waitress shows up some five minutes later with your food on a tray, manages payment right there at the car, and leaves you to enjoy the burger (chicken sandwich, tots, ice cream, shake, malt, root beer float). We didn't get to put the tray on the car door because we didn't order enough food to make it worthwhile, but I think the tray was indeed the kind that locks onto your lowered window. It was an awesome experience, exactly like they do in 50s-60s movies, and I'm going to go back to Sonic one of these days and completely pig out on the good ol' American fare.

Texas keeps its heritage alive not just in terms of food (yes, we had barbeque as well -- see Fort Worth) but history and culture, too. Next to Palo Duro Canyon (second largest canyon in the U.S., by the way, and very pretty) we discovered a museum of Texas Panhandle history and spent a highly entertaining couple of hours there. The museum contains a life-size model of a cowboy town, complete with stables, school, law office, church, homes, where some of the buildings are authentic, donated by the locals. The section on survival in the Panhandle (nearest tree 20 miles away... hot, dry, deadly) has a number of exhibits on native Indian tribes, including a highly disturbing video "How to skin a buffalo" (I swear to you, after watching it once you can go ahead and do it -- everything is explained and visualized in great detail). There are also large collections of old buggies, 20s automobiles, guns, clothing, even dinosaur bones. The 2nd floor is devoted to more modern history of the Panhandle -- the time of oil discovery. There you can see mock-ups and part of oil rigs and learn all you ever wanted to know about drilling for oil, making gasoline, etc. Most exhibits are interactive: we pushed the button on the drill bit, and it started pounding loudly into the ground and never stopped until we left the hall. Entertaining and informative. Go Texas!

Palo Duro Canyon, besides being a beatiful place (deep narrow canyon with red/yellow/lavender hues of rock formations), is a historic landmark. This was the location of a battle fought by Colonel McKensie and his Union troops against the native Indian tribes. The Indians fled, leaving a thousand horses behind, and the brave Colonel gave his infamous order to shoot the horses, reasoning that without horsepower Indians would die out (otherwise they would get their forces together again and more battles would have to be fought). The soldiers, who spent most of their waking hours on horseback, hated to kill the innocent animals, yet the order was enforced, and over a thousand horses died in Palo Duro. These days the canyon houses an outdoor musical show "Texas Legacies". The performance is held in a natural amphitheater, with canyon walls serving as a backdrop and night sky with bright constellations instead of a roof. The plot encompasses about a century of Texas history -- battles with Indians, Civil War, settling of the Panhandle -- and the obligatory love story of a cowboy and a cowgirl turned city lady turned cowgirl again. All this is spiced up with lots of country music, singing, dancing, special effects like snow and lightning, and a dash of patriotism. The grand finale has impressive fireworks!


Cadillac Ranch as seen from the road       There's 10 Caddies there       Check out the graffiti!       Planted nose-down in dirt...       Cadillac Ranch

Sonic Drive-In sign       Our Corvette at the drive-in       Sonic, the last surviving drive-in chain in the United States, as far as I can tell.