24 November 2016 by Simon Langley
By far the largest of the ‘lower 48’, fiercely proud Texas is a brash collection of sweeping plains, rocky bluffs and characterful cities. But look beyond its rancher’s swagger and you’ll find a thriving cultural scene in its artsy enclaves and a whole different colour palette to the Lone Star State in its wildflower-strewn highlands.
The only issue? The old apophthegm that ‘things are bigger in Texas’ holds true; the state covers nearly 700,000 square kilometres. To help, we’ve collated this short guide to the best stops so you can get the most out of your North Texas self drive.
Constantly updating, Dallas’s present is as rich as its past. Having started life as a humble trading post, successive innovations have given the world everything from cheerleaders to its eponymous television show that, for many, was the face of America. Today, while its superb museums and monuments memorialise such earth-shattering events as John F Kennedy’s assassination, the city is better known for its more forward-facing culture. Its giant Arts District is a veritable world tour of both contemporary classics and historic masterpieces while its thriving restaurant scene is a poster child for fine gastronomy.
However, that’s not to say that Dallas has lost its edge. Tuck into smoky briskets at roadside diners and sticky barbecues at country fairs or sample that great American pastime at one of its ballparks. In fact, a trip to any of its sports grounds is a spectacle in itself. Watch one of the most successful NFL franchises in the Dallas Cowboys, one of NBA’s best-supported teams in the Dallas Mavericks or head to next-door Arlington for Major League Baseball with the Texas Rangers.
If Dallas looks forward, its lively neighbour, Fort Worth, is a gateway back to the Texan Old West. Roll into town to the strains of a slide guitar, pull up a bar stool next to the cowboys and indulge at some of the best steakhouses around. Most introductions to the city’s unique culture will be made at the Stockyards where period buildings host everything from saloons to longhorn cows. There’s even a twice-daily cattle drive that recalls the city’s 19th century heyday when millions of heads of cattle passed through the city. For something more hands on, have a go at horse riding or call into one of the city’s many honky tonk bars where Lone Star beers are served alongside a healthy dose of two-stepping country music. Of course, it’s impossible not to mention Billy Bob’s, the world’s largest honky-tonk complete with its very own rodeo.
In fact, it’s this great Texan tradition that defines Fort Worth. After the morning cattle drive, return to the Stockyards in the evening for the Friday and Saturday night rodeo. Watch as the professionals compete to full houses in events such as horse races, horseback lassoing and, yes, bull riding. For a break from all the high adrenaline, head to the town’s eponymous zoo or the aptly named Cultural District where you’ll find the Cowgirl Museum and a collection of superb art galleries.
Spread across 1,500 acres, Wildcatter Ranch is a destination in itself. Just west of Fort Worth, it combines ease of access with a chance to experience authentic ranch living in the remote beauty of North Texas Hill Country. However, this is not Texas as you know it. Swap endless parched plains for a gently undulating landscape of verdant fields and wildflower pockets best explored it on gentle hikes or private horseback rides with the ranch’s cowboys along its 25 miles of riding trails. Return from sport clay shooting, archery sessions and 4WD tours of the region’s Civil War history to traditional accommodation; the Gabled Cabin Suites feature handcrafted beds, stone fireplaces and beamed ceilings while the rocking chairs and expansive porch of the homestead are equally evocative. In all, you’ll get a real taste of Old West living.
But that’s not to say that you’ll be without a touch of luxury. Take a dip in the hot tub and infinity pool or book into a therapeutic massage – the ideal way to soothe any horseriding aches. Similarly, the ranch’s restaurant serves gourmet takes on Texan favourites. Think stuffed jalapeños wrapped in bacon to start and expert-grilled steaks for main, all washed down with a fine Napa vintage.
Rest of Texas
But Texas is also so much more. Don’t miss out on its capital, Austin, who lives by its bumper sticker motto, ‘Keep Austin Weird’ as music festivals and colourful wall art have made it something of a hotbed for creative types. And, despite being no career-grabbing politician, the gorgeous 19th century Texas State Capitol building is well worth the visit. This being Texas, it’s the largest in America, built entirely from soft red granite. For further history, make for San Antonio where the drama of the state’s origin story played out.
Enjoy European canalside walks before calling into that shrine to Texan independence, the Alamo. And, between these two cities, you’ll find Hill Country proper where its rolling eponyms are dotted with gurgling creeks, pristine lakes and historic farming communities. And if this rural idyll appeals, continue down to Big Bend – a national park whose geography runs from towering mountains down to deep canyons. From here, you can take in views out across the state down to its Latin neighbour to the south.