A song that sticks in the ears like cotton candy on the hands once made the city in northern Texas famous in Europe. Tony Christie’s „Is this the way to Amarillo?“ is rarely known by anyone in Texas, but at least it helped garner some international interest in the city whose name (the Spanish word for „yellow“) presumably derives from wildflowers common in this region. Amarillo is located in the center of the Texan Panhandle, in a rather flat, dry and sparsely populated area known as Llano Estacado. Giant ranches dominate the scenery here; more than 55.000 km² of agricultural acreage surround the city. Some 30 minutes by car outside of city limits is Palo Duro Canyon, one of Texas’ most important attractions.
Amarillo owes its founding and its relatively quick growth to the railroad. Founded in 1887 as a stop along the Denver-Fort Worth route, business men quickly purchased large tracts of land and offered it cheaply to inhabitants of the nearby town of Berry, then the administrative center of Potter County. The concept worked well and in 1893, Amarillo became the county seat and the city rapidly developed into one of the most important market places and embark points for cattle. From 1919 on, the city experienced the next boom, when large natural gas and later crude oil resources were discovered. To this day, the American strategic helium reserves can be found here. Temporarily struck hard by depression and the Dust Bowl, Amarillo soon became a traffic crossroads, where famous Route 66 intersected with three other major roads. The opening of the Air Force base after World War II at latest marked the end of the economic crisis for the city, which could more than double its population numbers until 1960.
While the base was closed again in 1968, Amarillo could still further increase its population number over the decades to now 191,000. There are today significantly more women than men living in the city’s 68,000 households. Some 22% of the population identified themselves as Hispanics in the most recent census. The city’s largest employer is Tyson Foods. In addition, the Pantex company is headquartered here, that’s the company in charge of maintaining and dismantling of the American nuclear weapons arsenal. Furthermore, agriculture is important for the region; wheat, cotton, corn and other products are being grown in the area in large numbers.
Amarillos best-known attractions are located outside of city limits. Next to Palo Duro Canyon State Park, which is about half an hour by car south of town, the Cadillac Ranch must be mentioned. The work of art, installed in 1974 (see photo) shows ten Cadillacs built between 1949 and 1963 that are buried halfway into the ground. The often-photographed modern monument is located on private property, but entering is explicitly enocuraged, as is tattooing the cars with signatures and paintings. Every once in a while, the Cadillacs get a new paint job, which usually results in them receiving a new layer of graffiti within minutes. Departing from Amarillo in the opposite direction will lead visitors after some 50 kilometers to the Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument near the town of Fritch. Thousands of years ago, Native Americans came here to retrieve flintstone, which they used to construct arrowheads for hunting. The historic monument can be explored in guided tours, for which advance reservations are mandatory..
In the city proper the Western American heritage is centerpoint in many places. One example for this is the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame (2601 East Interstate 40) with its associated museum, where visitors can learn a lot about famous representatives of this species. The Hall of Fame is run by the world’s largest horse husbandry association, which is headquartered in Amarillo. The organization is also the driving force behind the art event called “Hoof Prints of the American Quarter Horse”, which until today has set up 90 plastic horse statues within city limits which were then individually designed by local artists. Each year in September, the multi-day Tri State Fair & Rodeo is held in Amarillo, an event encompasssing an entertainment program, a fun fair and the characteristical rodeo as well as cattle auctions and art exhibitions.
However, the city is about art all year long. The Amarillo Museum of Art (2200 S. van Buren Street) focuses on Asian art and also has alternating special exhibitions. Furthermore, workshops and other programs to promote the arts are held regularly. Admission to the museum is free. Art of a somewhat different kind can be found at the Dynamite Museum, that’s a project that has created numerous artfuilly designed traffic signs with a twist which can now be found in many places within the city. Finally, performing arts in Amarillo have found their home in the Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts in Downtown (401 S. Buchanan). The multifunctional event grounds were opened in 2006 and has capacity for up to 1300 spectators. The Center is home to the Amarillo Opera and the city’s symphonic orchestra. From September through May, theater performances are being held here. In addition, Globe-News Center regularly hosts sports events.