Cowboys. Cattle. Culture
– “One of these things surely doesn’t belong.” Except, I recently discovered, in the lively mosaic of experiences found in Forth Worth, Texas, it all belongs!
I also discovered I didn’t have enough time! Forth Worth could easily occupy a visitor for many days and nights, but unknowingly, I allowed only one day and two nights, not nearly enough time to fully explore the wealth of entertainment this city has to offer.
Fort Worth, “Where the West begins” and the last stop for many trail drivesl, became in modern times the lesser-known next-door neighbor to Dallas. But Fort Worth has successfully re-positioned itself as a destination place in its own right. Three distinct areas offer great entertainment and educational opportunities.
The first of these three distinct areas, Sundance Square, is the re-developed downtown, a delightfully renovated urban area of several blocks of diverse stores, galleries, and restaurants, with the beautiful Bass Concert Hall and Theater Complex as the main impetus and attraction. Shops ranged from haute couture to art galleries to souvenir shops. Restaurants ranged from sandwiches to gourmet, and don’t miss the chocolate shop! The Bass Performance Hall offers world-class cultural performances most nights. We did not allow time for one, but his will be on my schedule next time.
I enjoyed eating our evening meal at Reata’s on the 4th floor outdoor patio overlooking the city lights. The food, termed “Legendary, Western Cuisine,” we found delicious. We sampled Tenderloin Tamales, Grilled Salmon with Horseradish Dill Sauce, and BBQ Enchiladas. Unable to choose one, our desserts included the Chocolate Bread Pudding Tamale, Dessert Tacos, and Dutch Apple Crisp. All delicious! Do make reservations, as it is very popular.
Sundance Square, received its name from Fort Worth’s most notorious citizens, Butch Cassidy, and the Sundance Kid, along with their Hole-in-the-Wall gang who used Fort Worth as their stopover between bank heists. Cassidy’s girl friend, Etta Place, is memorialized by a wonderful Bed and Breakfast located in Sundance Square and named for her. Although we did not stay there, we toured it and know we would choose to hang our hat there the next time. Spacious rooms decorated with an upscale Western theme invited us to return.
Another downtown feature I am glad I visited are the Water Gardens. This interesting water feature is a park created with high falls, deep valleys, and stair areas simulating mountains, all with water flowing through, a delightfully cool spot to visit on a hot Texas day.
Cowboys and Cattle
Cowboys and Cattle – ¬ the distinction which originally created Fort Worth and which always belonged continues to be celebrated at the Stockyards found about two miles North from Sundance Square.
We began our tour at the Stockyards’ Visitor’s Center. Armed with brochures and information we exited in time for the Stampede, the twice-daily Fort Worth Herd cattle drive recreates what made Fort Worth prosper. The present day drovers dressed in authentic gear hung around to allow us to pet the horses, have a photo op on a real steer, and answer questions. Once thousands of animals filled the streets for as far as one could see, driven to Fort Worth to market, the last stop on the Chisolm Trail.
Today computer imaging in the Live Stock Exchange Building replaces the original auction with virtual ones, more comfortable for the cow and cowboy; however, this preserved slice of history allowed me a more informed understanding of the favorite American protein choice.
So many places to see at The Stockyards! The annual draw is the Live Stock Exhibition and Rodeo in January and February. The Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame celebrates renowned cowboys and cowgirls with individual booths exhibiting aspects of their talents. The Sterquell Wagon Collection also housed there gives a glimpse of the way the West received the necessities of life out on the open prairie. All of the then-up- to- date trappings of society arrived by way of these specially adapted wagons.
A third exhibit provides history about the Chisolm Trail, the 800-mile trail created in 1865 to herd cattle and other animals from San Antonia to Abilene, KS. This is the way steak arrived in the American diet and its contribution to the development of the American West. US 81 follow the original trail and remnants are visible North of town.
If your trip includes an authentic souvenir of the old West, I found plenty to choose from in shops lining the streets of Stockyards National Historic District. Maverick, Fincher’s and Leddy’s sell everything Western from cowboy hats to saddles. The Stockyards Station shops and restaurants now occupy the old sheep and hog barns.
For fun and/or a drink, don’t miss the White Elephant Bar on Exchange Ave. A herd of elephants awaits you! Thousands of white elephant replicas from the world over adorn every inch of wall space and even provide the bar railing. A collection of cowboy hats covers the ceiling.
Captain Buckley B. Paddock built the Moorish style Texas Spring Palace in 1889 in the shape of St. Andrew’s cross, with a massive 150’ dome. Trains brought visitors from as far as Chicago and Boston for the festivities. Fire destroyed much of the original building, but the wall and moat remain. The building now houses a delightful network of shops. Don’t miss the colorful mural of Texas history in the center.
A statue of Quana Parker and several references to him caught my attention, and in the Live Stock Exchange Building I discovered his identity. Parker was the last War Chief of the Comanche and epitomized the Western spirit to the rest of America. This is a good place to begin your tour as the museum explains the historical importance of the Stockyards.
The Stockyards Hotel with its old reservation area, chairs upholstered in longhorn hide, Pawnee Bill’s show saddle, and other century-old accessories made me think I had returned to the1800’s! We lunched next door at the H3, a “live hickory wood grill” on enormous portions of brisket, pulled pork BBQ, ribs, and salads.
At H3 we enjoyed two specialties: tortilla chips with guacamole prepared at the table. (The waitperson expertly removed the pulp from the avocado shell with a spoon and mashed it smooth while adding traditional ingredients of our choice.) “Anita Ritas” are margaritas made with Fresno pepper infused Triple Sec. This “hot pepper margarita” had a delicious bite! Don’t miss the bar, which appears to have had a bison run through it. Both the Stockyard Hotel and H3 have been known to have ghosts stroll through or join one in the bed, so be on watch!
Culture – “the one that doesn’t belong” resides in the Fort Worth Cultural Center located about two miles from Sundance Square. Five first class museums anchor this area. We had time to visit only two, but if they represent the others, all are well worth the time and effort. The interests range from modern art to Western history to science.
The National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame stands as a must visit for every woman, whether she is young or young at heart! Here the “cowgirl spirit” or the “pioneering spirit of women” is celebrated in all walks of life. I would put this as a destination for all Girl Scout Troops and other organizations that guide young women; older women will also benefit – a group of the Red Hat Society ladies entered as we exited!
This museum celebrates and honors “the bond between women and their work “ in many walks of life. Not only cowgirls like Dale Evans, but Sandra Day O’Connor, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Clara Brown, and many others exemplify “this place of untold stories.”
The museum divides into three exhibits, which also blend together into the encompassing theme. “Into the Arena,” “Kinship with the Land,” and “Claiming the Spotlight” develop these women’s singular sense of purpose, “resilience and courage, in face of great odds.” The introductory video says of these women, “Believing you can do it, with hard work, a spark, and a dream make the braid of her rope.”
If I ever have granddaughters, the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame in Fort Worth will be a must-do trip for us together! While waiting for this to happen, I can also take classes in the “pioneering spirit of adventure.” Some offerings this year include leather tooling, jewelry making, and a Women’s Retreat to experience outdoor activities. Check it out at: http://www.cowgirl.net.
Four other museums blend together in the Fort Worth Cultural Center for a complete educational experience in an entertaining setting. We also toured the Amon Carter Museum built in 1961 to answer the question: ”What are the western aesthetic qualities of the land?” The museum specializes in art that ”pictures the vast, strange land of mountains and plains.” Fredrick Remington (1861-1909), Charles M. Russell (1764-1925), and Georgia O’Keeffe epitomize this western art in many of our minds. Their work is liberally displayed, but the collections include many others less familiar.
Additional exhibits in the Amon Carter emphasize conservation of works of art, printmaking, and artistic framing of pieces. Our visit here was well worth our time.
Our time did not allow tours of the Kimbell Art Museum, which houses “America’s best small museum” of masterpieces, which include El Greco, Cezanne, Rembrandt, Picasso, and Matisse.
The Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth holds the second largest collection of modern and contemporary American and European art in America. The Fort Worth Museum of Science and History is under renovation into an entire complex opening in 2009. I plan to return to complete my tour then!
One other complex in the cultural district is the Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum where the Southwest Exposition and Livestock show occurs. This involves a network of old and new exhibit halls for the animals and the mural on the front adds to the enjoyment of this complex.
A trip to Fort Worth would not be complete without a visit to Billy Bob’s the “world’s largest honky-tonk.” A BAR-PLUS, covering one acre under one roof with 34 spots to buy a drink, two stages, a dance floor with DJ, a caller, dance lessons on the latest “boot scootin’, live bull riding, and BBQ. Definitely spend an evening here for lots of fun!
Accommodations abound in and around Fort Worth. We stayed in the new Hyatt Place Cityview on Cityview Drive (817-361-9797), located near the malls. This beautifully appointed small hotel with Asian influence décor made a pleasant and convenient stay. Several lounges both small and large and a lovely breakfast (included in the price) add to the enjoyment. The new Hyatt Place is opening at the Stockyards this month.
Destination: Fort Worth! A great place to enjoy some leisure time!
Photos by Bonnie Neely