In the midst of the great West Texas prairie is a gem hidden in plain sight--the city of Lubbock.

Home of Texas Tech University and the birthplace of Buddy Holly, Lubbock and the surrounding area offers much more to visitors than they might expect.

Palo Duro Canyon

Start your trip south on I-27 from Amarillo and take a morning drive through Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Palo Duro is the second largest canyon in the United States and was home to Charles Goodnight's JA Ranch in the late 1800s. For just $4 per person, visitors can drive down into the canyon, or they can choose from more expensive jeep tours and guided horseback riding tours of the park conducted by private entities. During the summer months be sure to check with the ranger station on educational opportunities for children and adults. Camp sites with full hookups are available, but be sure to reserve one in advance. These spots get snagged up quickly in the prime vacation season. And, be sure to set aside a Tuesday through Saturday night from June 5 to Aug. 17, and watch the epic production "Texas!" in the amphitheater at the base of the canyon.

    

Silent Wings Museum

On the north edge of Lubbock, driving south on the Interstate, you'll pass the Lubbock International Airport, home of the Silent Wings Museum. Admission is just $4 per person. This museum is dedicated to telling the story of World War II glider pilots and the role of the U.S. Combat Glider Program. Lubbock was a prime training location for pilots during the war and has a rich aviation history. The majority of American glider pilots received their wings at South Plains Army Airfield, now the site of Lubbock International Airport. On display in the museum is an actual glider used in WWII, as well as war memorabilia brought back by soldiers and handsomely preserved for visitors.


  

Lubbock Lake Landmark

Just west of the airport, and still north of the city limits, is the Lubbock Lake Landmark, an offering of Texas Tech University. Admission is free. Not many people realize that the city of Lubbock was built on the edge of a prehistoric great watering hole. This ancient lake drew animals and their hunters for many generations. The lake eventually dried up, but the fossil remains of the animals that frequented it, and the people who hunted them, were left behind. In 1936, the site was re-discovered when the city of Lubbock dredged the dried up lakebed in order to revitalize the underground springs. Today the landmark offers historical displays of fossils and tells the story of the prehistoric Lubbock residents, and it serves as a field lab for geology, soils and radiocarbon dating studies. During the summer months, actual fossil digs are ongoing and visitors can observe scientists in their work. There are also educational days where children and their parents can learn about the history beneath their feet all summer long.

For more information, call the Lubbock Lake Landmark offices at 806-742-1116.

American Wind Power Center

In a town full of museums, the American Wind Power Center rises tall above the rest. Admission is a suggested donation of $5 per person. The center boasts the most comprehensive collection of historic windmills in the world and displays the evolution of windmills on the High Plains. The giant barn hosts hundreds of examples of all types of windmills, and the rolling grounds outside are home to representations of the past and future of wind energy. The center also has a reception facility that is ideal for family reunions and other large gatherings.

American Museum of Agriculture

Every family has one tractor buff. Make his vacation extra special by taking a swing through the American Museum of Agriculture, next to the American Wind Power Center grounds, on the east side of Lubbock. The grounds outside showcase antique equipment donated by Lubbock area farm families, which were in use to bring agriculture to the West Texas Plains. Inside, see refurbished examples of antique tractors and machinery, as well as a large collection of 300 scale model tractors and 70 restored pedal power tractors. The museum is staffed by volunteers from the Lubbock area, all of whom have a real passion for preserving the history of farm equipment and its role in taming West Texas.

Buddy Holly Center

Lubbock's favorite son, Buddy Holly, tragically died in a plane crash Feb. 3, 1959 just as his rock and roll career was taking off. In this stirring exhibit, trace his path from small town boy to rock and roll legend. Perhaps the most poignant part of the collection is the lone pair of black spectacle frames, once worn by Buddy Holly. The frames were found by investigators at the site of the fatal plane crash, and were eventually returned to the Holly family. Other objects include Holly's Fender Stratocaster 1958 Sunburst guitar, the guitar the rocker played on his final tour. While the guitar was undergoing conservation, a white pick was discovered wedged between the pick guard and the body of the guitar, placed there by Holly as a spare while on stage.

Rotating art gallery displays also tell the story of music in the Lubbock area and showcase artistic talents from around the West Texas region. And, be sure to stop in for Buddy's Birthday Bash, Sept. 6 to 8, for special activities.

The center is on the edge of the live music district of Lubbock, called The Strip. Listen to the best West Texas musicians in the clubs and see why this area produced Buddy Holly and the Crickets, as well as Waylon Jennings and countless other musical artists.

Texas Tech University

Take a drive through the Texas Tech campus and see why most residents agree that it is one of the prettier college campuses in the nation. From the Spanish Renaissance architecture to the flower gardens, Texas Tech is a great spot to wander. Be sure to stop by the statue of Will Rogers and his horse 'Soapsuds,' and ask a passing Raider student the hidden meaning behind its placement. Or, drop by the Blarney Stone outside the Electrical Engineering Building on campus--an actual piece of the original Irish Blarney Stone--and exchange a kiss for the gift of eloquent speech.

On the northerly edge of campus are the twin buildings of the Museum of Texas Tech University and the National Ranching Heritage Center.

Museum of Texas Tech University

The first step into the Museum of Texas Tech University will have your family's jaws dropping. See the fossil display of an adult Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus Rex in combat. Trace their "steps" inlayed in the tile floor and be prepared for awe. Among the collections in this quirky attic of Texas Tech are art pieces from major western artists, including Frederick Remington, a room of Hopi and Plains Indian artifacts, and still more dinosaur fossils. Or, stop by the Moody Planetarium and learn about the mysteries of the sky.

National Ranching Heritage Center

Just next door, at the National Ranching Heritage Center, wander through outdoor displays of the ranching history of West Texas. Learn the story of Burk Burnett, legendary cattleman and owner of the 6666 Ranch, and his contemporaries who became the cattle and oil barons of Texas. The center has created an outdoor path that takes visitors through 45 authentic furnished ranch buildings and structures that have been relocated to the NRHC. Children of all ages will enjoy the room to roam through the ranching history of the area. Most notably on display is a replica of the barn at the 6666 Ranch, as well as the actual railroad loading pens from the King Ranch.

Throughout the year the Center hosts special events and offers educational opportunities for families.

Science Spectrum and Omni Theater

If your kids are looking for action, take a break from the heat of a West Texas summer and cool down in the air conditioned comfort of the Science Spectrum. Let your children explore science through more than 200 hands-on interactive exhibits designed just for them. Or, watch one of the many educational films in the Spectrum's domed Omni Theater.

Stars and Stripes Drive-in Theatre

Tired of spending the night cooped up in a hotel room with the family? Well, for an extra special vacation activity that you can't find just anywhere, treat the family to a night at the Stars and Stripes Drive-In Movie Theatre. Take a drive down memory lane and build some family memories for the younger generation who won't get to experience the fun of a drive-in movie in their hometown. The drive-in is a refurbished original Lubbock landmark and has been featured nationally.

With so many options of family entertainment, it's easy to see why Lubbock is a gem of a vacation destination.

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached by phone at 620-227-1807, or by e-mail at jlatzke@hpj.com.