Known as the Panhandle because of the way it juts north from the rest of Texas, this part of the route is a nearly 200-mile stretch of pancake-flat plains. Almost devoid of trees or other features, the western half, stretching into New Mexico, is also known as the Llano Estacado or “Staked Plains,” possibly because early travelers marked their route by driving stakes into the earth. The Texas Panhandle was the southern extent of the buffalo-rich grasslands of the Great Plains, populated by roving bands of Kiowa and Comanche people as recently as 100 years ago. Now oil and gas production, as well as trucking and Route 66 tourism, have joined ranching as the region’s economic basis.
Even more so than in New Mexico or Oklahoma, old Route 66 has been replaced by I-40 most of the way across Texas, though in many of the ghostly towns, like McLean, Shamrock, or Vega, and the sole city, Amarillo, old US-66 survives as the main business strip, lined by the empty remains of roadside businesses. A select few are still open for a cup of coffee and a sharp taste of the living past.