Nearly equidistant from each coast, Amarillo sits at the crossroads of America, where it has served the same purpose for centuries: A pleasing last stop before travelers set foot in the Old West or the New World, depending on which direction they're heading.
Today, getting there is easier than ever. Amarillo has connecting flights from every major air terminal in the central U.S. and sprawls along the nexus of Interstate 40, one of the most popular highways in the nation, and Interstate 27, where Francisco Vásquez de Coronado became the first European to set eyes on the high plains.
Since Coronado's 16th century journey, which was long before pilgrims rowed their boats past Plymouth Rock, the American Southwest has been drawing cattlemen, oil prospectors and plucky souls looking for adventure. Lately, though, there's a new industry in this spirited city: tourism.
Amarillo's unique ability to showcase working ranches employing timeworn techniques while still supporting modern industry is ushering in a vibrant new visitor-based economy. And it's easy to see why. Amarillo, which means "yellow" in Spanish, is named after the yellow blooms on the area's yucca plants. It registers more than 270 sunny days each year and has constant breezes that supply fresh air. In fact, Amarillo's been rated nationally as having the cleanest air in America by the American Lung Association.
Shake the Dust Off Your Boots
Amarillo may be cowboy, but it's culture, too. From the lush Amarillo Botanical Gardens to the Amarillo Opera, there are plenty of reasons to shake the dust off your boots. Hit the links at one of Amarillo's eight golf courses or do some serious retail damage at the Georgia Street Mall, Westgate Mall or Wolflin Square and Village. Order a steak bigger than your head at the infamous Big Texan Steak Ranch, Brewery and Hotel (after all, 72-ounce steaks are perfect for keepsake photos) and then walk off your indulgence by taking a historic tour.
Pioneer Town at Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum is a must-see. After a year of renovation, Pioneer Town reopened in June 2012, and it's easy to understand why it's the historical museum's most popular attraction. Set foot in this frontier town and you'll feel like you're in the late 1800s. Take the family or plan a value-added group event; Pioneer Town is ideal for large parties.
In fact, meetings are welcome at many of Amarillo's attractions, including:
» The American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame and Museum, a modern venue dedicated to the horse that won the West.
» Amarillo Botanical Gardens, where visitors can view native species and tour the Mary E. Bivins Tropical Conservatory.
» The Kwahadi Museum of the American Indian, which preserves the American Indian legacy on the high plains. If you schedule in advance, you can even see a performance by the Kwahadi Indian Dancers.
» The Jack Sisemore Traveland RV Museum, Amarillo's newest attraction, celebrates the RV lifestyle. Be ready for an up-close view of 20 vintage RVs and 10 vintage motorcycles, all part of the personal collection of local RV dealer Jack Sisemore and his son, Trent.
Make the Most of Your Meetings
There are big plans afoot in Amarillo, with talk of a full-service convention hotel, stadium and event facility-all in the city's downtown district. But if you just can't wait to gather in this energetic city, check out the Mack Dick Group Pavilion. It's the newest venue in nearby Palo Duro Canyon State Park and is designed to host cozy corporate meetings and conferences for up to 160 attendees. Planners will appreciate the site's new digital and audio-visual systems, as well as its modern kitchen.
For large-scale meetings and events, nothing substitutes for the Amarillo Civic Center. Located in downtown, the civic center offers easy interstate access and boasts 340,000 square feet spread throughout a coliseum, exhibit halls, ballroom, auditorium and multipurpose rooms.
For 17 years, the Amarillo Civic Center has been selected by the Working Ranch Cowboys Association for its World Championship Ranch Rodeo. The four-day event occupies the entire civic center and racks up at least 5,000 attendees each day, as well as the company of competing ranch teams from several surrounding states, says Mandy Morton, the association's manager.
"Amarillo and the people of Amarillo have that hometown appeal, even if you are from out of town," Morton says. "From suit jackets to boots and jeans, from meeting halls to cattle calls, Amarillo is a great place to be."
Like other meeting planners, Morton has been especially impressed with the civic center's newest addition: the Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts. This 1,300-seat stunner offers nearly perfect acoustics and is home to the Amarillo Opera, Amarillo Symphony and Lone Star Ballet. It's also the perfect destination for a special event.
Coleen Robbins, CMP, director of meeting and event planning for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, recently orchestrated the organization's statewide annual meeting at the Amarillo Civic Center. The 2,000-attendee event went off without a hitch, and Robbins credits the Amarillo Convention and Visitor Council and the civic center's staff with the success. "They made the event their event, and took responsibility to make sure everything fell into place," she says. "Nothing was impossible."