Route 66

At the heart of the Llano Estacado, midway across the Texas Panhandle, Amarillo (pop. 199,582; pronounced “am-uh-RILL-o”) is a busy big city that retains its cowboy roots. Center of the local ranching industry that handles some two million head of cattle each year, Amarillo handles nearly 90 percent of all the beef in Texas and some 30 percent of the national total.

Old Route 66 followed 6th Street through Amarillo, past the brick-paved streets of the Old San Jacinto district around Western Avenue, where you can wander among ancient-looking gun and saddle shops, numerous Wild West-themed clothing shops, and kitsch-minded antiques shops. To eat and drink with the Coors-drinking cowboys and cowgirls of Amarillo, head west to the GoldenLight Café (2906 SW. 6th Ave., 806/374-9237), a fairly funky roadhouse famed for burgers, homemade hot sauce, green-chili stew, and Frito pies. Next door, the GoldenLight Cantina hosts frequent live music. Amarillo is best known for its many good steakhouses, the most famous of which has to be the 450-seat Big Texan Steak Ranch (7701 I-40 East, 806/372-6000), which started in 1960 along historic Route 66 and now stands on the east side of Amarillo, off I-40 exit 74, marked by a false-front Wild West town and a giant cowboy atop a billboard. This is the place where they offer a free 72-ounce steak, provided you eat it all—plus a table full of salad, baked potato, and dessert—in under an hour. If you don’t finish everything, the cost is $72; regular meals and good “normal” steaks are available as well.

There’s a Texas-shaped swimming pool at the Big Texan Motel (806/372-5000, $79 and up), and dozens of moderate chain motels stand along the I-40 and I-27 frontages, so rooms shouldn’t be hard to find.