For the love of Longhorns…

Valentino, majestic longhorn extraordinaire

Our love affair with longhorns began before we even arrived in Texas.  Texas is famous for these creatures, and I suppose we thought it would be relatively easy to catch a glimpse of one. We had never seen one in our lives – that is, until a few short days ago. Our trip to Dallas and Fort Worth was an eye-opening one. We made the 4-hr journey north (never in our lives had we ever envisioned living south of Dallas, TX of all places!) through Salado, Temple, Waco (famous for all the wrong reasons), and up through Italy. Italy, TX was a wonderful surprise – what began as a random turn off the side of the highway resulted in the best gas station pit-stop in the world.  Imagine pulling up to a gas station with a live country band, a smokehouse, more beef jerky made in-house than you can shake a stick at, tonnes of food, sparkling restrooms, unfailingly friendly staff…well, who would have thought such a place existed when you were most desperate for a break. And who would have imagined there was a place called Italy, TX (afterall, it is Paris, TX that skyrocketed to fame because of the Wim Wenders film).  While the journey from Austin to Dallas is a bit of the straight and narrow, the highways are lined with the kinds of gorgeous wildflowers for which Texas is known, adding some bits of visual interest along the way.

Did we anticipate Dallas as being a vast urban centre with an extremely dense downtown, with apparently more restaurants and shops per capita than NYC…no, we certainly did not. Were we slightly swayed by the general misimpression (like much of the rest of the US *hangs head in shame*) that Dallas represents a kind of yee-haw Texas where everyone drives a massive truck? Yes.  Were we totally and utterly wrong? Absolutely.

While it can be said that here in Austin, people (mostly women) wear cowboy boots in a very ironic, hipster way (afterall, Austin is one of those too-cool-for-school cities) they are in fact worn without irony in Dallas and Fort Worth. Cowboy boots (often with spurs!), hats paired with lavish, artisinal (and extremely expensive) belt buckles are de rigueur amongst the elite, contrasted with designer clothes and stiletto heels. It is a very interesting mix indeed. I got to see some spurs first-hand while dining at Chef Tim Love’s new restaurant, Woodshed Smokehouse. Folks, we weren’t in Austin anymore, that was for certain. Those spurs were serious, and definitely of the “don’t mess with Texas” variety. I imagined the men wearing them were some sort of oil barons, who’d swung by the resto for some rabbit and rattleskin sausage. I kid you not. I also avoided all eye-contact.

Fort Worth, just a short 35 minute drive from Dallas is a city that stands on its own two feet. Old, historic buildings from the 1800s mixed with new architecture, pedestrian-friendly streets, shopping, eateries…

Bass Performance Hall – the crown jewel of Forth Worth
Tarrant County Courthouse, reminiscent of City Hall in Leeds, UK

After exploring downtown Fort Worth, a visit to the historic Stockyards was in order. Our best surprise -longhorns, at last!- awaited us. Now that we have visited with these animals up close, I can say with certainty that they are nothing short of extraordinary beasts. What are longhorn cattle? Well, ages ago, the early Texas settlers bred their own Eastern cattle with feral Mexican cattle they found bound between the Nueces and Rio Grande rivers. The result was a kind of long and mangy cow with varied speckles, hues and horns extending up to 7 feet (roughly 2.1m) in length. They are extremely hearty, resistant to most diseases and able to endure intense heat and challenging weather conditions; their meat is some of the leanest beef you’ll find, much like American bison. They are kept both for the quality of their meat and also because of their integral link to Texan history.

The fellow you see at the top of this post is Valentino. We were totally enamoured by him. While the sign said to stand back 20 feet (even though they look docile, these creatures are easily agitated!), Valentino kept coming closer and closer to us. We were stood on a promontory, chatting to him while overlooking his pen. As such, we got to admire him up close, taking in his very impressive set of horns.  I will say this about the longhorns: from the look of those horns, there is no outrunning or escaping from them should ever you find yourself being pursued by one!

REAL cowboys.

Magnificent Valentino takes a drink

My favourite horse of the afternoon

Lead cowboy prepares the cattle for their march through the city

Longhorn cattle  – all so different and beautiful in their own way
Wall of longhorn ID photos – can you spot Valentino?

Longhorn cattle march peacefully through the city – beyond impressive!

Chef Tim Love’s fine dining restaurant

Must pause and pay homage to a legendary American writer 

My belly, my boy, a lollipop and…Wyatt Earp!

A requisite stagecoach picture for my husband

Americana door detail

Hacienda style

Remnants of historic Stockyard Station

Attractive horse lanterns – would love these at our house!

We will most certainly return to the Dallas-Ft Worth area to explore in the future, having barely scratched the surface of all there is to see and do there.  Highest priority on our list: a visit with our new friend, Valentino. Hook ’em horns!

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