Remember when I said Texas was massive? Well, yeah, it’s pretty damn big! So big in fact, that many have argued it should be it’s own country within the United States. But let’s face it, that idea is so outlandish that only Donald Trump would approve of it…
Anyway, this blog of the Great American Trek continues my journey across the Great State of Texas and focuses on Santa Fe and Amarillo. Two parts of Texas that are much further north of Austin but release some of the most “Texas” offerings that a traveller desires when crossing the states open plains.
After leaving Austin behind the Banana Bus headed out on it’s longest journey yet across the state of Texas; a journey that took us over 800km to complete. For those Australian’s playing, that’s pretty much Sydney to Melbourne and this was only one state! If there was one thing I always forgot when shifting to the newest position in the mini-bus, it was that I kept forgetting the proportions of the US.
Eventually we slowly crept towards our final camping spot for that night, inside the second largest canyon in the country (second to the Grandest of the US’s canyons) which was situated just outside of Amarillo. After settling next to what looked like the cast of Duck Dynasty and setting up camp – this time ensuring we were pig protected – our fearless leader Jaz took us on a whirlwind tour of the city of Amarillo before pulling up outside a furniture store where we were to await that night’s surprise.
Along our tour we visited such sights as the Ozymandias legs, a statue that was supposedly come across by Mary Shelley and her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley as they completed their own trek across America. This statue, which was diminished to only be a pair of legs and feet on a pedestal, inspired Percy Shelley’s Ozymandias. A poem GCSE student’s everywhere will shudder at the name of. For me, this was a bit of nerdy fun. For others, it was a head scratcher.
So, that night’s entertainment. We were hungry, we were sitting in the Banana Bus supposedly waiting….waiting for what? Suddenly it became obvious as two large limousines pulled up next to the Banana Bus sporting cow horns on the front of their sleek bonnets, we were having steak for dinner. Not just any steak mind you, we were headed to a restaurant that sported one of the largest steak challenges in the country! Where else but Texas, eh?
The Big Texan Steak Ranch is home to the 72oz Steak Challenge, complete with shrimp cocktail, baked potato, salad and a buttered roll. In other words, something that was out of my ability to eat. The challenge reaches all the way back to 1962 and has seen many step up to the plate to defeat to the 72oz piece of meat; many have fallen, few have succeeded. The complete set of rules for the challenge are below for your perusal.
Footnote: This ranch restaurant boasts some of the best steak I’ve ever eaten, if you’re looking for a genuine meat experience in the heart of Texas, then this is the place.
Full of meat and alcohol, we walked – no – waddled out of the Big Texan Steak Ranch were ready to fall into a meat-induced, comatose slumber.
The next day we continued our journey north, before hitting Santa Fe however, we first of all had to visit the Spray Graffiti at Cadillac Ranch – a must see for artists and environmentalists. The Cadillac Ranch is a series of near ancient, hollowed out cadillacs that have been dug vertically into the ground. It begun as a piece of art for the owner but slowly developed into a site for travellers and locals to leave their mark, mostly in spray-painted graffiti. The only downside was these graffiti “artists” littered the grounds of the Cadillac Ranch abhorrently. So, if you ever do visit the Ranch, do as we did and collect as many spray-paint cans as possible and toss them in the bin on your way out.
Onwards we ventured, through the desert and multiple stops for petrol and pee breaks until we reached Santa Fe. Little did I know that we were in for one of the wierdest and wildest nights of the trek so far. The particular night we landed in Santa Fe was the evening of the annual Burning of Zozobra Festival. The festival itself is the opening event of Fiestas de Santa, a 3-day celebration commemorating the Spanish re-taking the city from the Pueblo Indians in 1692. On this particular evening, the opening of the event, several thousand people amass in Fort Marcy Park to watch the burning of Zozobra as a means of “cleansing” all the bad emotions and negative feelings from the year that’s been.
As well as Zozobra, there was a unique museum on offer for us to visit, Meow Wolf. This museum is not so much a museum as it is an escape room, interactive art piece and adventure playground.
So, the plan was simple, dinner, Meow Wolf and then Zozobra, simple right?
We hit the doors of Meow Wolf and were immediately greeted with its unique quality as a 4-foot purple metal spider stood in its carpark. A sign of things to come. As you enter the museum of Meow Wolf you are greeted with a large two story house. Now, apparently there was some sort of story that you had to collect clues for in order to figure out the mystery of the missing child, but we ignored this because, boy , was this fun! AS you enter this two story house, it looks just like any ordinary house. It had a kitchen, television room, bedrooms bathrooms, kitchen. You know, house stuff. But, simply open the fridge and you’re suddenly greeted with a long, blinding white corridor. Follow this and you’re in a control room that could only be resembled to something from Star Trek. Confused, we backtracked and explored more of the house, we soon found the laundry room and opened what we thought was the laundry. Only instead of a barrel for the clothes, there was a slide. A slide that led to the remains of a dinosaur, whose ribs could be played with a like a xylophone.
This place was incredible! We ended up spending more time here than what we originally planned because there continued to be more discoveries around every corner.
The time came when our trek group split up, some remained to solve the mystery of Meow Wolf, others went back to camp, but the brave and the bold ventured onwards to Zozobra. The first thing we underestimated was the mass amount of people who went to this festival. Grabbing ourselves a ticket was relatively easy, standing in the downpour of rain that began, we shuffled forwards through the gates of the park waiting to get through. In the distance we could see fireworks beginning. Were we going to miss it? Suddenly, there was smoke and we heard the crowd chanting “Burn him! Burn him!”. We weren’t moving. Why weren’t we moving?
The local police had created a blockade at the gates, holding the crowds back as there were too many in the park already. In what could only be compared to an apocalypse movie, we chanted with the ever growing crowd to let us through. Succumbing to the agitation of the crowds, we were let through and we sprinted to the park, only to find that Zozobra had fallen. We were too late.
Not allowing this to be the end to the night, I led my group to the front of the park, through the drenched viewers who were leaving, over crumpled picnic mats and litter to get to the pyre where Zozobra had stood. We haggled with guards and jumped through gates, all the while sticking together, until, yes, at last we were at the pyre. The heat from the fallen, burnt Zozobra at our feet. So we took a selfie to commemorate our victory. I feel it perfectly shows that maybe we were on the wrong side of the smoke and perhaps a little too close to the fire.
So, if there is one thing that I can take from my visit to Santa Fe, it’s that you need to be prepared for the weird and wonderful and always be prepared to make the most of your evening. Take chances, don’t settle for less and run to the pyre.