Texas offers more than cattle drives through town, a world of culture and fun to keep little eyes and hands occupied.
While Texas might be considered cowboy country where everyone wears boots, Dallas is anything but country. Fort Worth, however, a mere 30 minutes from Dallas, is “Where the West begins.” There, you can see the world’s only daily cattle drive and enjoy the Old West in the Stockyards National Historic District. Urban in most respects, families can take their pick of site-seeing fun, including museums of art to museums of firefighters, historic districts, parks, an arts district and live music. As a Texas native, I firmly believe that anyone should visit the Lone Star State at least once. As the saying goes, “It’s like a whole other country!”
A Fair Day at Fair Park
Landing in the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport put us smack in between Fort Worth and Dallas. We decided to visit Dallas first, and in particular Fair Park. A National historic landmark and home to nine museums, Fair Park is also the site of the annual fall State Fair of Texas, famous for the Texas Star – the largest Ferris wheel in the Western hemisphere. Luckily, fun can be had in Fair Park even when the smell of hotdogs and popcorn doesn’t permeate the air.
For lively learning fun, we toured The Science Place and found exhibit halls, a planetarium and an IMAX® theater. Permanent exhibits include the Kid’s Place, where ages 7 and younger can learn about the properties of water in Waterworks or math in the Numbers Forest. In the Medical Gallery, we climbed through a larger-than-life heart and viewed a mock operating room.
Next stop: the Dallas Aquarium, a long rectangular room filled with 5,000 aquatic animals. We arrived just in time for the daily 2:30 p.m. feeding and educational talk, and learned all about the resident sea turtle’s plight with litter, which caused it to loose a flipper and wind up in the aquarium. Other days, families might learn about and see the feeding of the piranhas, Moray eel, shark or alligator.
From the aquarium, we strolled to the Texas Discovery Gardens, a calming respite with lush, tropical gardens, an All-American garden, herb garden, shade garden and butterfly habitat. Designed to promote native Texas plants and their relationship with insects, Texas Discovery Gardens showcases plants grown organically with methods that conserve water and protect the environment. A live butterfly exhibit is under construction and scheduled to open in early 2006.
We could easily have spent another day exploring Fair Park: The African American Museum houses one of the largest collections of African-American folk art in the nation. The Age of Steam Railroad Museum possesses one of the oldest and most comprehensive heavyweight passenger car collections in the United States, and the Women’s Museum tells the stories of women’s accomplishments and contributions to American life and history.
Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden
Minutes from downtown and Fair Park, we explored the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden, with 66 acres of gardens – 25 ornamental and 41 natural woodland. Most famous for the spring Dallas Blooms festival – with more than 400,000 spring-blooming bulbs this year – the Arboretum is perfect for lunch on the patio or just running around and playing. Paved paths make most gardens stroller-friendly, and once the blooms start (March 5 through April 10, assuming the weather cooperates!), the color is breathtaking.
On to Fort Worth. Originally settled as an army outpost in 1849, the cattle industry became king, and the town has not forgotten its roots: A visit to the famed Stockyards National Historic District, which hasn’t changed much in 100 years, took us back to that bustling cowboy town. We missed the twice-daily cattle drives down Exchange Avenue, but at the rodeo at Cowtown Coliseum we experienced traditional rodeo events including bull riding, saddle bronc riding, bareback riding, roping and barrel racing.
Young cowboys and cowgirls can learn about some of the best in rodeo at the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame, located in the Stockyard’s original mule barns and honoring Texas men and women who have excelled in the sport of rodeo. Aside from the cowboy photographs and memorabilia, the Sterquell Wagon Collection, an authentic collection featuring wagons and carriages spanning the 1800s and early 1900s, intrigued me in its depiction of a lifestyle foreign to most of us driving family sedans and SUVs.
Of course, Fort Worth isn’t all cowtown — art museums, a water garden, zoo and science and history museum help make Fort Worth a city abuzz with activities. No matter what your family fancies, you can find fun worth having in Texas.
Planning a Visit?
Dallas • visitdallas.com
Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden • dallasarboretum.org
Dallas Aquarium at Fair Park • dallas-zoo.org
Dallas Museum of Natural History • dallasdino.org
Fair Park • fairparkdallas.com
The Science Place • scienceplace.org
Fort Worth • fortworth.com
Cowtown Coliseum • cowtowncoliseum.com
Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame • texascowboyhalloffame.com