As we crossed the Texas panhandle, we planned on visiting Amarillo just to see what there was to do there. We found free camping and a handful of attractions, making it a good, budget-friendly place for us to spend a few days.
Free Camping near Amarillo, Texas
We chose to take advantage of free camping at Lake Meredith National Recreation Area, about 40 miles from Amarillo. Visitors can camp at Lake Meredith for 14 days in a 30-day period, and there is a total limit of 60 days per year. There are no hookups, but many campsites to choose from, most with a picnic table, fire ring, and shade ramada. Fires are only allowed in grills and rings, and you may gather dead and down wood for campfires. A dump station is available in the park, but no potable water, so fill your tank or jugs before you get there! There are dumpsters and bathrooms with flush toilets and showers. Quiet hours are from 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM. Pets should be on a leash.
Lake levels are significantly lower than they had been in the past. Though you will probably have a view of water from your campsite, you won’t be able to walk over to the lake to swim from the upper campsites. Boat ramps are still open. Fishing, swimming and boating are all allowed, and Lake Meredith, being along the Central Flyway, is a great spot for birdwatching. There is also a Junior Ranger program for Lake Meredith.
Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument
One of the least-visited National Park sites, Alibates Flint Quarries is only a few miles from Lake Meredith NRA and worth a visit for those interested in geology, history, or archaeology. No entrance fee is charged to visit this National Monument. The visitor center is open from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM, seven days a week, closing only on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day. In the visitor center you can watch a short film about the Monument, see exhibits about the people who relied on the flint quarries and the processes they used, and pick up Junior Ranger books, Because many artifacts remain in place, the site is gated and only accessible on a 2-hour guided tour. The hike to the quarries is approximately 1 mile round-trip with an elevation gain of 170 feet.
There was no charge for the tour and our volunteer guide was very knowledgeable and enthusiastic. We walked in on a weekday and were the only ones on the next tour, but the park website does say to call the visitor center to make reservations. Visitors should call 806-857-3151 (weekdays) or 806-857-6680 (weekends) to make a tour reservation.
The children all enjoyed the hike and completed their Junior Ranger books quickly. Our guide was very happy to answer their numerous questions and set a pace that was reasonable for Tiny.
Prized by ancient peoples for its utility, forming projectile points and other useful tools, Alibates flint is sought-after today for its striking beauty. It’s unlike anything we had ever seen before, and we enjoyed learning how it formed and was quarried and used.
Don Harrington Discovery Center
While we were visiting Amarillo, we went to the Don Harrington Discovery Center. Admission is $11 for adults and teens, $8 for military, seniors, and children 3-12, and free for children 2 and under. Our family’s admission was free under the ASTC Travel Passportprogram, saving us $76.
More a general children’s museum than a science museum, the Don Harrington Discovery Center has a variety of exhibits and hands-on activities. One large display taught younger children about the human body. Another featured a small conveyor that drops small pieces of dry ice into an enclosed pool of water, where it gives off a fog-like vapor (carbon dioxide gas) and is propelled around the pool as it sublimes. At least, we believe it was dry ice and plain water. There was no sign explaining the exhibit or the scientific principles behind what was observed. Dusty and I had the knowledge base to figure it out, but I’m not sure the average visitor would. Interpretive signs explaining the reaction would be a great improvement.
There were large-scale block-stacking and marble-drop games, simlar to Jenga and Kerplunk. There was a bearded dragon and a tarantula to be seen on “Critter Row.” The “Space Gallery” teaches visitors about phenomena such as solar flares, cosmic rays, and auroras. The children’s favorite part was a temporary Lego exhibit featuring Lego dioramas and a Lego building area for children.
Planetarium shows were included, but we were very disappointed with the old, poor-quality projector. At one point during the show, the system crashed and the projectionist had to reset everything and start over.
Don Harrington Discovery Center might be a good way to pass a cold or rainy day if you get free or discounted admission and are already visiting Amarillo, but I would not recommend going very far out of the way or paying full price.
Our Favorite Part of Visiting Amarillo- Jack Sizemore’s Traveland RV Museum
Amarillo’s Traveland RV dealership is home to Jack Sizemore’s RV Museum. The museum is in its own building behind the dealership and there is no charge for admission. The RV Museum houses an impressive collection of camping vehicles, including motor homes, travel trailers and more, as well as vintage Harley motorcycles. Visitors can walk into many of the RVs and see the interiors. A few of the older units that should not be touched or entered are clearly labelled.
We saw the bus from the movie “RV,” a motor home that previously belonged to Max Factor, the oldest Airstream there is, and much more. We were so busy looking at and exploring the museum, we didn’t really get many photos! If you’re an RV traveler visiting Amarillo, you have to go to the RV museum. For more information about the exhibits, see the museum website.
Visiting Amarillo, TX and Lake Meredith was a fun way to break up a long drive and see a few less-commonly seen attractions. We camped for free and got into the museums and NPS sites we visited for free as well, making this a very budget-friendly stop for us.