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State spotlight: Texas

Texas is too big to fit neatly into any travel category, and that may be its greatest asset.

Groups could spend a two-week tour crisscrossing the Lone Star State without hitting the same city twice. A trek across this landscape takes travelers from bayous in the east to the wildflowers of the Hill Country in the center of the state and the expansive deserts of west Texas.

For groups with lots of different interests, there are plenty of ways to enjoy an authentic Texas experience in both big cities and smaller towns. They can learn about the area’s cowboy and ranching heritage in Lubbock or marvel at the mammoth Cowboys Stadium near Dallas.

Austin boasts a legendary music scene, and Houston is famous for its role in space exploration. Beaumont has a fascinating oil industry history, and McKinney makes its mark as a gardening and horticulture destination.

A tour of Texas presents a variety of exciting travel possibilities. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

McKinney’s Crape Myrtles
Unless you’re a gardening enthusiast, you may not be aware of the crape myrtle, a beautiful variety of pink, red, white or lavender flowering tree native to Texas. But in McKinney, locals are very aware of it — and they’ve created the Crape Myrtle Trails of McKinney to show off the botanical beauties to visitors.

In 2000, the city began planting crape myrtles on the medians of its major streets. Since then, some 4,000 trees have been planted along 16 miles of roadway. Many local businesses have also planted varieties of crape myrtle in support of the initiative.

Last summer, the area’s Craig Ranch opened a new World Collection Park to highlight crape myrtles. The park includes one of every variety of the plant from around the world, and organizers plan to add to the collection in coming years.

Beaumont’s Black Gold Trail
The discovery of oil plays a big part in Texas’ past and present. In Beaumont, a trio of sites introduce visitors to the “black gold” that put the area on the map.

Groups can start at Spindletop/Gladys City Boomtown Museum to learn about the world’s largest oil gusher, which erupted near Beaumont in 1901. The museum is a replica of the boomtown that sprang up around the gusher and features a re-created oil derrick that spews water high into the air.

The Texas Energy Museum goes into more detail about oil, as well as the geology and science that give Texas its large petroleum deposits. Talking robots describe early life on the oil fields, and interactive exhibits give visitors a chance to experience aspects of oil exploration.

The Black Gold Trail finishes with a tour of the McFaddin-Ward House, a 12,800-square-foot Beaux Arts Colonial Revival mansion that was built by a prominent oil family who lived in the home for 75 years.

Dallas Cowboys Stadium
Texans love their football, and much of that love is directed at the Dallas Cowboys. In the suburb of Arlington, Cowboys Stadium gives visitors a Texas-size experience.

The new Cowboys Stadium opened in 2009 to much fanfare. It’s the largest domed stadium in the world and features a massive high-definition television that spans 60 yards at midfield. Equally impressive as the stadium’s size, though, are its architecture and its collection of original art.

During nongame days, the stadium staff offers a number of tour experiences, including self-guided tours and art tours that highlight the museum-quality art installations found throughout the building.

For a complete experience, choose the VIP tour, which gives private groups their own guide. These tours visit elite private suites and the radio and press boxes, in addition to the locker rooms, postgame interview room and playing field, all included on self-guided tours.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.