It’s embarrassing to admit that sometimes I’m still stuck in my childhood stereotype of how I expect a place to be. When I learned I was traveling to Texas, I excitedly imagined a “Fievel Goes West” destination with dusty grounds, blowing tumbleweed, lawless saloons, and lazy cattle.
Greeted by the towering structures and modern buildings in Dallas wasn’t unanticipated, but rather “not up to scratch” with my vision. Where were all the cowboys? I had been warned that Dallas was not my imagined Texas, yet I still longed for spurs and saloons, not suits and skyscrapers.
But rolling in to the Fort Worth Stockyards satisfied my wild west craving.
The Forth Worth Stockyards, AKA “Cowtown” as it was known after the civil war, is a former livestock market that flourished from the 1880s to the 1950s. This was a center where cattle, horses, sheep, and hogs were bought, sold, or slaughtered. 160+ million head of livestock passed this district. The coupling of the stockyards and railroads was synergistic. Soon, Fort Worth was booming economically. The city grew as a fire department, public services, and communications were established. In addition to livestock trade, Fort Worth developed into an entertainment district for cowboys and desperadoes with gambling, dance halls, bawdy houses, brawls. Cue my “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” vision of Texas and don’t forget to include that Western whistlin’ tune.
It wasn’t until the 1950s when the stockyards saw decline as livestock auctions trended closer to their original production location and railroad transportation turned to trucks. The final livestock auction in Fort Worth was held in 1992. Now the Fort Worth Stockyards is a historic district on the National Registrar and capitalizes on times past with entertainment and museums and shopping venues. Over 2 million tourists per year flock to Fort Worth for a taste of that preserved western heritage (guilty).
The day was hot and sleepy when we arrived at the stockyards. We scurried between air conditioned building to keep comfortable. Perhaps it was the heat or the weekday, but the stockyards emanated a ghostly emptiness with the lack of tourists. But that meant there was no line to get my photo on a friendly steer:
So what to do on a hot day in Fort Worth?
Museums & Shopping & Galleries – Take the opportunity to soak in the cool AC. Peruse the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame which showcases famous faces and western lifestyle pieces including antique carriages/wagons. Browse through gorgeous artist galleries ($$$, look, don’t touch) or investigate leather shops, western wear, or kitschy tourist stores.
Texas Trail of Fame – Look down! If you step on bronze stars, you’ve stumbled upon the Texas Trail of Fame which honors the achievements of significant individuals in western culture. Try to find Teddy Roosevelt, Davey Crockett, Buffalo Bill or the Texas Declaration of Independence.
The Grapevine Vintage Railroad – This was a lovely way to pass the time while we waited for the infamous cattle drive. For $10 we embarked the open-air train car (air conditioned cars are available for an upcharge) for a nostalgic ride to Grapevine and back. The trip was short, sweet and leisurely paced. The train engineer entertained us with jokes and trivia. The lovelier scenes were of the Fort Worth skyline and crossing over a couple small rivers. Otherwise much of the view was of construction and new buildings. It was a pleasant journey. Actually, it was really hot and uncomfortable during the whole ride and wondered what the consequences would have been if I were to hang my body out the window to catch a breeze.
Cattle Drives – Stockyards Station is the only daily longhorn cattle drive in the world. It can be viewed daily at 11:30 a.m. or 4:00 p.m. And it’s free! The herd of cattle meander down East Exchange Avenue flanked by mounted cowhands. This cattle drive is one of the most recognizable symbols of Fort Worth.
I loved my balmy time in Fort Worth at the Stockyards Station. Although we only visited for less than a day, the taste of that Western flavor was served up big – Texas style.