Sunday, November 30, 2014

Texas Road Trip: Amarillo

This Thanksgiving, my family of 5 took a road trip to Amarillo, Texas. Actually, we were a family of 6 in the car because my sister flew down from Indiana to join us on this road trip. The reason we went to Amarillo is because it is roughly the halfway point between Dallas and Denver, where the rest of my family still lives.

I know most of you think that we only take Disney vacations, but we usually explore Texas at least once a year on smaller trips (see my blog posts on San Antonio, Wichita Falls, Galveston, Victoria and Jellystone).  

We had passed through Amarillo before on a trip to Colorado, but we only stayed one night. This trip, we were staying for 3 nights.

The car trip to Amarillo takes 6-7 hours from either Dallas or Denver, depending on traffic and the number of rest stops. We brought our lunch and ate at rest stops each way. There are 2 rest stops on Highway 287 with kids' playgrounds. We love these!

Before our trip, we also stopped at a Family Video store and rented 8 movies for $2.17. Yes, that's right. The store has many kids movies for $1 and many that are free to rent.

Getting out some energy at the rest area playground

A bigger playground on the way back
After roughly 6 1/2 hours, we made it to our hotel, the Holiday Inn West Medical Center.
My brother and sister-in-law chose this hotel because they could stay on points and it was the only hotel in Amarillo with a water slide. 12 of us would occupy 3 different rooms.
Texas stonework in the lobby
We had reserved one of the few rooms that would sleep 5. It had 2 queen beds and a sofa sleeper.

The room also had a sliding table, refrigerator and microwave that came in handy for eating some meals in the room.
And the highlight of the hotel....the pool.
My kids love to swim, so getting to play in this pool for 3 days was a really big deal for them.

Small kiddie pool

Hot tub
If you ever plan on staying in Amarillo, I recommend this hotel if a nice, indoor pool is important to you. Because the pool was really the highlight of the hotel. Our sofa bed was so uncomfortable that none of my kids would sleep on it, and my parents reserved a handicap accessible room months in advance that for some reason was unavailable when they checked in. The water slide was only open on Friday nights and select hours on Saturday. (Also, the west side of Amarillo had a strong cow manure smell that we didn't experience on the east side of town on a previous trip).

My family arrived on Wednesday around 4:00 p.m. The kids immediately changed and played in the pool for an hour before we had dinner at a nearby Mexican restaurant (El Bracero, it was so yummy). My parents and my brother's family didn't arrive until later that night, but we waited up for them and the kids got to swim with their cousins before the pool closed down for the night.

The next day was Thanksgiving. We had 1:00 p.m. reservations at The Big Texan restaurant for the Thanksgiving buffet. You may have seen this restaurant on the show Man vs. Food. It is famous for it's 72 oz. steak challenge....if you can eat a 72 oz. steak within an hour, it's free. (We also ate here in 2011 when we passed through Amarillo on the way back from Colorado).

The restaurant was decorated for Christmas.

This was the first time EVER that my parents and all of their kids and grand kids have gotten together around the holidays. Ever.

The timers for the 72 oz. steak challenge
The kids got free cowboy hats with their meal.
We explored the gift shop and some of the restaurant's unique furniture.
The big chair
The kids enjoyed these haunted pictures that changed when you walked by....

And 3 cheers for a Thanksgiving meal that nobody in our family had to cook or clean up!

After we were stuffed, we drove out to Cadillac Ranch. There were several cans of spray paint left behind by previous users, so the kids took turns making their mark on the cars.

The rest of the day included more swimming and family visiting.

On Friday morning, all 12 of us went to the Don Harrington Discovery Center. This science museum had several exhibits as well as a planetarium.

And live animals!!


The tarantula

The museum had a Sherlock Holmes mystery that was good for the older kids and adults. It also had a prehistoric animatronic animal exhibit and a lot of hands-on science stuff. There was a special section for kids age 6 and under.

We spent about 3 hours at this museum. It was a good place for all 12 of us to explore together.

We ate lunch back in our hotel room, and in the afternoon we split up to go to different locations. My brother and his family went to the Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument, while my family went to Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Palo Duro Canyon was about 30 minutes from our hotel. While it was nowhere near the size of the Grand Canyon and it doesn't have quite the "wow" factor, it was pretty cool to see this canyon appear suddenly in the middle of the flat land.

We took a small hike in the canyon and drove the loop on the inside (which takes 30-45 minutes to complete).

The thing that impressed my kids the most? Driving through the water, since the river crosses the canyon road in 7 places but only has a bridge in one of those places.

On Friday night, all of us met up for dinner and chatting. My kids spent some time in their cousins' room again playing games. We said our goodbyes at breakfast on Saturday morning before driving our separate ways.

I'm not sure that I can persuade anyone that Amarillo is a "must-see" in Texas. But we really didn't go there for the sights. Meeting up in Amarillo gave us the chance to have some special moments like these:

All the cousins in the pool

Playing Sorry! with Aunt Eileen

Joshua and Grandma

Are we sure we're in Texas? Oh yes, the decor and the Texas-shaped waffles confirm this.

I would love to meet up with my family in Amarillo again sometime. It seemed that we were not the only family at that hotel that did the same for Thanksgiving.

Have you been to Amarillo? What did you think?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Training for the Next Event

Most people train for a 5k or marathon...we are training for our next vacation!

One of the memories I have from our honeymoon in France (10 years ago) is that we spent one day miserably sore. We had done a lot of walking the day before and climbed the steps of the Arc de Triomphe (284 steps to the top) and Sacre Coeur (270 steps to the base and 300 steps to the dome)--what were we thinking doing both of those in the same day???

We will be hiking the Diamond Head volcanic crater on our next big vacation. I can't wait to see the views! But I would like us to be in reasonably good shape for the hike.

Diamond Head Crater from the side

Diamond Head from above
Diamond Head hiking trail

While the hike is less than 2 miles long, it has 225 stairs, part of which are inside an old military bunker.

And now that the hot temperatures of summer in Texas are past us, we can resume our hikes around North Texas. (See Hiking in North Texas Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3).

Our training today wasn't a traditional hike; this time, we were practicing stair climbing. I found this run of 75 stairs with a gorgeous view overlooking a lake, so we climbed it 3 times and back.

And then as a bonus, we ran up this nearby hill and rolled down. Well, the kids rolled down, multiple times. There was a small playground at the bottom.
Let's see how our legs feel tomorrow.

Have you ever "trained" for a vacation? Are you glad you did?