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Our very insider-y guide to Amarillo, where kitsch meets cool


The following story ran in the June 1, 2012, edition of the Dallas Morning News.

June 7, 2012

By Kristie Ramirez

Until now, the strongest connection you may have to Amarillo may be a George Strait song. Or perhaps it’s a means to an end, I-40 being the main thoroughfare traveled to get to resort towns in Colorado and New Mexico. We get it. You probably think of flat, beige land and hair-whipping wind. Perhaps you conjure the gluttonous glory (and the waived check) for forcing down the infamous 72-ounce sirloin at the Big Texan Steak Ranch. Or maybe, just maybe, you know a little something about Amarillo’s thousands of acres of cattle ranches or its beat-up stretch of Route 66. But dig deeper, meet a few Amarilloans and an endearing discovery will unfold. Even Vogue editor Anna Wintour, the arbiter of all things chic, could see beyond the hackneyed kitsch. There, in the March issue of the world’s most famous fashion magazine, was an eight-page Mario Sorrenti shoot of supermodel Karlie Kloss in Yves Saint Laurent and Dries Van Noten, vamping around a chorus line of graffiti’d vintage Cadillacs, half-buried in the ground, noses down, just outside of town.

As much as parched roadways and jumbo steaks have come to define the Panhandle city, there’s a beauty to the place that is mythic among insiders. There are the orange sunsets on the plains that give way to the inkiest black skies, brilliant with a million stars. There is, just 30 miles southeast of the city, the surprising Palo Duro Canyon — the second-largest canyon in these United States of America, mind you, after That Other One — with its majestic red mesas dramatically rising from ravines blanketed with emerald junipers. And then there are the people: a motley crew of oil, gas and cattle millionaires mixed with eccentric small-town folk, all unified by their rigorous loyalty to one another. A few years ago when both Krispy Kreme Doughnuts and 7-11 convenience stores tried to make a go in Potter County, the locals downright refused to patronize them. It wasn’t that the big-city staples weren’t good, it’s just that the Donut Stop and Toot’n Totum, two locally owned and staffed mainstays, were where your aunts, uncles, cousins and neighbors had always gone for doughnuts and gasoline. You had to look these people in the eye at church on Sunday. The support of locals extends to non-native families, too, as is the case with the burgeoning Thai population, relocated here by Catholic Charities. Among the by-products are the unexpected — and very popular — authentic Thai-food restaurants that dot the city.

Amarillo’s signature mix of topography, kitsch, food and friendliness make for an experience that only happens in Texas. “Yes, there are hokey things in Amarillo,” says Lainie Kritser, an associate at the David Sutherland furniture showroom in Dallas, who grew up branding livestock on her family’s cattle ranch on the Canadian River. “But there is so much more to it than the Big Texan restaurant. It’s beautiful, and the sky goes on forever. I cherish it. It’s one of the most special places in the world.”

Anne Clayton Ware, 37, may live in Dallas now — she came here for SMU, where she earned a bachelor of business administration degree in finance and a masters in liberal arts — but she bleeds Amarillo. Her family is five generations strong there and counting. The Wares are, according to the Amarillo Globe-News, “the first family of Amarillo banking,” as in Amarillo National Bank, one of the largest family-owned banks in the United States. Texas Monthly took it a sizeable leap farther: In its December 1999 “Best of the Texas Century” issue, it named Ware’s family the “Bankers of the Century ... at the vanguard of the banking business, giving

Texas its first drive-up bank window in 1950 and its first automatic teller machine in 1978.” In Amarillo, the Ware name graces everything from scholarships to a park. So when Anne Clayton Ware recommends partaking in certain charms there, take heed. Herewith, a shortlist of musts, from a woman who certainly knows:

“I moved to Dallas as an 18-year-old, first-year student at SMU. One constant since then has been that when I mention Amarillo, some version of ‘We stop in a roadside motel there on our drive to Colorado every year!’ or ‘Have you ever eaten the 72-ounce steak in under an hour?’ is soon to follow. While these comments are always given with warmth and enthusiasm, I find it peculiar that these two seemingly obscure aspects of my hometown are so prominent in peoples’ minds. There is so much more to the Panhandle city. As a fifth-generation Amarillo gal whose entire family is still there, I have always wanted Dallasites to know that in Amarillo the sky is vast; the sunsets are amazing; the people are quirky, kind, fun-loving and friendly; and it is worth getting to know the city and its surroundings. The next time you are en route to Amarillo by mornin’, explore off of I-40 and see some of the wonderful quirkiness that ’Rilla has to offer.”...