Thursday, January 14, 2016

Cattle Drive at the Fort Worth Stockyards

This is why Fort Worth is nicknamed "Cowtown"

Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? Heck no. That's why I spent the end of the year in the Dallas-Fort Worth area reconnecting with my old university and high school buddies. As a way to squeeze in some sightseeing, I suggested we do our catching up while strolling through the Forth Worth Stockyards. And to be honest, my kids don't do well sitting in a restaurant for hours and hours while mamma chats with her friends. Gotta keep them moving.

Some people have a stereotypical image of Texas where cattle walk through the streets while cowboys ride horses beside them. This is the place to go if you want to reinforce that picture.

cattle drive, longhorn
The Fort Worth Herd Longhorn Cattle Drive

Definitely watch the Cattle Drive

Twice a day, cowboys guide the Fort Worth Longhorn Herd on a cattle drive down the main thoroughfare. Hubby kept asking if this was the Running of the Bulls. Thank goodness it isn't because those horns have a mighty far reach. I wouldn't want even one of those guys coming after me. Actually, the cattle seemed rather well behaved and didn't need much redirection from the cowboys. There aren't that many of them, so it's all over in a few minutes unlike the olden days when huge herds would thunder past kicking up dust along the way.

The Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame has exhibits spotlighting rodeo champs and other famous Texans like Nolan Ryan

A Short History of Cowtown

Ranchers don't get rich raising cattle. They get rich selling cattle. And the place where they would sell it was at the stockyards.

Forth Worth was nicknamed "Cowtown" soon after the Civil War when it was a the last major town where drovers could stop and restock supplies on their way herding cattle from South Texas northwards to the Chisholm Trail in Indian Territory. In 1876, the Texas & Pacific Railway arrived in Fort Worth, and within the next few years, cattle pens, stockyards and meat packing plants opened nearby. For decades, this was one of the biggest stockyards in America. Business started dwindling in the 1950s when ranchers turned to more convenient livestock auctions closer to home and switched to transporting the cattle via truck instead of rail. In 1976, the area was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and the focus of business turned to tourism.

Fort Worth Stockyards
Visitors can view the longhorn steer between cattle drives in the pens behind the Livestock Exchange Building

Wall Street of the West

The Livestock Exchange Building, nicknamed the "Wall Street of the West," was built in 1902 to house the offices of all the businesses related to selling cattle and other livestock as well as the railroad and telegraph offices. Today, it's the home of the Stockyards Museum, although there are still some livestock auction companies operating in the building. The Fort Worth Longhorn Herd calls the pens behind the building their home, and a walkway above the cattle pens lets visitors observe the herd without accidentally stepping in any cowpies or run the risk of being pierced by a horn.

Stockyards Stables, stageline
At the Stockyards Stables, you can ride a stagecoach, carriage, or a plain ole horse

Keep the Kids A-Mazed

The kids favorite part of our excursion to the Stockyards was the Cowtown Cattlepen Maze, a Texas-size human maze. Entry tickets are timestamped when each person enters the more than 5,400 feet of frequently changed wooden pathways that look remarkably like tight versions of the cattlepens down the street. My friend and I headed up to the observation platform to attempt to keep our eyes on the our kids as they raced around. Inside the maze are four stamps that people must collect before exiting. My teen son's winning methodical strategy of walking fast and always taking every right turn had him out at just over 4 minutes. The slower members of our group took about 22 minutes.

Fort Worth Stockyards
He's only kind of lost in the Cowtown Cattlepen Maze

There's a petting zoo next to it which we didn't have a chance to try as it was getting dark. However, we did have time to stop and watch the contestants on the mechanical bull. Everyone from little kids to adults were trying it out. It wasn't nearly as wild as I expected. I had pictured John Travolta-style in Urban Cowboy.

Time for Shopping

As night began to fall, we decided to explore some shops. While there are plenty of choices up and down East Exchange Avenue, we opted for Stockyards Station across the street from the maze. It's a stop on the Grapevine Vintage Railroad and is filled with stores and restaurants. It's mostly touristy shops, but we did find what my kids called the "serious" section that had some supplies only real cattlemen would need like horse liniment. Of course, we couldn't resist trying out some of the leather saddles. There is also a candy store filled with barrels of bulk candy.

Yee haw! Time to saddle up.

Dinner at Joe T. Garcia's

When it was finally dinner time, my friend suggested Joe T. Garcia's, a long time Fort Worth institution which first opened in 1935 that serves traditional Tex-Mex fare. Even though the queue was so long that it extended out the door, our party of nine people was surprisingly seated almost immediately in  a room that seemed to be reserved exclusively for large groups. Later, I found out that the restaurant has a capacity of 1000 diners. We dug into our chips and salsa, and I ordered a frozen margarita. The all-day menu was so simple it didn't require a printed sheet. Beef fajitas, chicken fajitas, or the family-style dinner with cheese nachos, cheese enchiladas, crispy beef tacos, rice, beans and guacamole.

After dinner, I considered dragging everyone over to Billy Bob's Texas, a honky tonk that doesn't mind too much if you bring your kids as long as you keep them in arm's reach. But it was late, and everyone was ready to start settling down for the night. (I also thought about ditching the family and heading to the honky tonk myself but decided against it.)

  • The Cattle Drive takes place daily along East Exchange Avenue at 11:30AM and 4PM, weather permitting. The best places to watch the herd go by are in front of the Stockyard Station, Stockyard Visitors Center and the lawn of the Livestock Exchange Building.
  • View the Fort Worth Herd between cattle drives in their pens behind the Livestock Exchange Building
  • Drovers available before and after cattle drives for questions and photo ops.
  • Photo sitting on top of a longhorn: $5
  • Cost to watch the cattle drive: FREE

  • The historic Stockyards Hotel
  • Hyatt Place Hotel has standard rooms with two double beds and a fold-out couch that comfortably accommodated our 5-person family. Free breakfast and convenient parking

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  1. Any place with cattle drives and honky-tonks would call out for a visit. I love this kind of stuff coming from an agricultural area of Washington State where cattle, horses and this type of activity was an everyday occurrence. Miss that about living where we do. This goes on my 'must visit' list!

  2. Lisa @ Gone With The FamilyJanuary 14, 2016 at 10:23 AM

    This actually looks like a fun way to spend a day and learn a bit about the history of cattle ranching in Texas! I don't know about that maze though - I might never find my way out!!

  3. This looks like a great day out. The horns on those cattle are quite intimidating.

  4. You picked a really cool place to hang out and catch up.
    As they say everything is bigger in Texas and by the looks of those horns and the size of that restaurant - 1,000 seats? - looks like they're right. Add that to the cattle walking down the street in Ft Worth and the picture is clear. LOL! Sounds like you had fun.

  5. Michelle, I can't believe the timing of this post! When I got home form work my husband told me one of his good college buddies sold his house in Chile and it is going to move to Forth Worth for two months (his wife is from the area). We started to talk about paying them a visit. Then, I read your post. I will bookmark it because this looks like a fun activity that can be enjoyed by people of all ages. I hope we can really go.

  6. This looks so fun!

  7. I had to check this post out when I saw the name. Sounds like a win- win situation for both kids & adults/ Love your cattle photos.

  8. I'm loving the horns on the cattle. They look how Texas cattle should look to me!

  9. I don't know much about cattle, but it looks like you had a fun day. I'm not sure I've ever been in a restaurant that can sit 1000 people! No wonder they keep the menu simple, but it sounds good. Thank for linking up. #TPThursday

  10. Lesson learned: When going into a maze, always take a right turn. :p

  11. Even though it's stereotypical, this looks like such a fun experience and it really gets you into the mindset and personality of Texas. I always appreciate opportunities like that because you get a sense of how people live and what they value.

  12. Those Longhorn cattle are amazing! Coming from a dairy farm when I was young I love cows. They always have intrigued me. Great post.

  13. contented travellerJanuary 15, 2016 at 4:33 PM

    I really want to see this. I want the stereotypical experience in Texas, and will place this firmly on our list

  14. I would love to go to Texas, it looks so cool!

  15. This is the first time I've heard about the longhorn cows in the USA. I've seen them in Hungary, but wasn't aware we had them here too. Very interesting post, Michelle.

  16. I was just reading a Colorado cattle drive post last week. I guess January is the season in the US, good to know! Very nice photos. I find the cattle adorable.

  17. Yes, please visit. I didn't realize that there was much cattle in Washington State having only visited the big cities and the National parks and forests.

  18. That's why the University of Texas has the longhorn as its mascot. You should see one of these out on the side of the football field. I always wonder if the players worry about running into them.

  19. That big restaurant had so many rooms that I would have never guessed it could hold 1000 people.

  20. Forth Worth has a great art museum, too, and definitely try some authentic Texas barbecue when you visit.

  21. The restaurant has one kitchen that handles the fajitas, and the other one handles the family platters. I bet they don't wait for orders to come in but just keep making them one after another.

  22. I would have gone through the maze too if I wasn't so busy chatting with my friend.

  23. I heard about that theory a while ago and was glad someone had a chance to test it out. It worked!

  24. The cattle industry was such and important part of this town that I'm glad they've found a way to keep people interested in learning about it.

  25. I'm guessing no one tries to milk these very often.

  26. What a fun day! You were hanging out in our backyard - we love spending a day at the Stockyards every so often. You just missed the Stock Show & Rodeo, which is now underway. The area gets crazy busy, which makes the Cowboy Watchin' as much fun as watching the cattle drive! (No joke - saw a guy in full cowboy gear, on his horse, sippin' a Starbucks!)

  27. I didn't know Hungary had longhorns. I'll have to tell my husband to be on the look out for them the next time he goes there.

  28. You can actually have a photo taken on top of a longhorn. Wouldn't that be extra adorable?

  29. Sippin' a Starbucks?! I would have loved to see that.

  30. What a fun way to experience the history of Texas with some great family friendly activities that keep everyone amused.

  31. It was a really family friendly place. My friend who I met with told me that the local schools go here on field trips to learn about the city's history.

  32. Now I know why they call them long-horn cattle! What a great piece of American history and seems like it's done well.

  33. Those horns are loooong, and here I was thinking that Zebu cattle have long horns.

  34. Number One on my Fort Worth to-do list is to have a good, prime ribeye cooked Pittsburgh rare over an open flame. Where's the best place for a good steak in Fort Worth?

  35. This sounds like such a fun family day! There's something so appealing about a good maze - even my husband and I as 2 grown adults regress into competitive kids whenever we see a maze, he always wins :)


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