Amarillo, TX

The most interesting thing in town is the Big Texan, where I had the best steak I ever tasted. It is a kitschy place, but nice. You can get a 72 oz steak. If you eat the whole thing within an hour, it is free. The waitress says that about ten people a day try to eat the big steak and about three actually finish. They got a big table in front where the big eaters do their thing. Nobody was trying when we were there. It seems to me that it is embarrassing to lose and maybe even more embarrassing to win.

The town itself is mostly strip malls and hotels. It is not that bad a place, but not that good either. The thing I noticed in the paper is how cheap houses are. You can get what looks like a decent house for less than $100,000.

We visited the Plains Museum in Canyon, Texas nearby. The museum was nice and inexpensive. It is housed at West Texas A&M. Texas Universities are good and in state tuition is cheap. This school seems particularly good for geology, paleontology and agriculture. The most interesting part was the history of oil exploration. Texans worked hard to develop technologies to find, get oil and to get it to market. It is a ground up history, where many entrepreneurs innovated their way to success – very heroic. Oil is an interesting topic. Compare how the people of Texas created a resource to how the princes, potentates and nabobs of Arabia had an unearned resource handed to them by foreign companies. Oil corrupts third world counties because they don’t do anything to develop the resource. It comes free along with resentment of the firms that gave them this undeserved bounty.

There were also exhibits on Texas in the past, starting with the Pre-Cambrian. My personal favorite is the Pleistocene, but there is not that much you can say about a couple of bison skulls so let me skip to the last couple hundred years ago. Life was a challenge for people in the Texas panhandle. The land is semi desert. Adapting crops to the environment only goes do far. Farmers water their land with water drawn from the Ogallala aquifer, a giant underground lake. The aquifer was created 100,000 years ago by water runoff from the far away Rockies. It is no longer being recharged because the Pecos River now cuts through and drains off the water into the Gulf of Mexico. The water will last awhile longer, but needs to be conserved. Maybe we could plug up the Pecos in set the whole recharging thing in motion again.

I listened to AM radio on the way into town. Most people around here are conservative, if you survey what they listen to. But contrary to what we might think of people so far inland in the U.S., they are interested in foreign affairs. They have to be, since their agricultural commodities are sold on world markets. The local radio included interviews about markets overseas and a report of a trade delegation from Russia visiting the panhandle. They also had a call in program about how biotechnology is being received in Europe.