..............I looked around and seeing no one behind me deduced that it was said to me! My very first howdy, must have been my bush hat. My welcome came from a rotund, cherubic chap wearing a cowboy hat and a bolo tie. Was this my first cowboy? Then I noticed the name tag ‘Bob’ and realized he was the greeter. Slightly deflated I nonetheless gave a “howdy” in return whilst giving a brief tug on the brim of my hat and then walked into the store doing my very best John Wayne walk, which wasn’t difficult as I really needed the loo!
We had stopped in Johnson City to restock the larder before entering Pedernales Falls State Park. After setting up, Finley and I went for a stroll. The landscape had certainly changed. Suddenly cactuses of various types dominated the landscape along with the ever present Ashe Juniper trees. The ground had become dry and dusty but the falls and the Pedernales river created a narrow oasis where flora and fauna could blossom. Finley had his first cactus experience, while sniffing around his nose plowed into a Teddy Bear Cholla cactus. Unfortunately this cactus wasn't too cuddly and without a sound he returned to me with the entire front of his face covered in the cholla’s tenacious spines. It took me a good 20 minutes to remove all the barbs from a wriggling blue heeler. Heeler’s are very smart dogs though and he has never repeated this error again, despite running freely through the desert chasing roadrunners.
On our second day at Pedernales we went for a short 5 mile hike that to Finley’s delight started with a river crossing. Fin must have “crossed” the river 5 times at least splashing around in utter delight and drenching me with bloody cold water! After drying off we continued up the trail which climbed to the top of the ridge. There was sign of wildlife everywhere. Coyote scat abounded as did that of various deer populations. Large areas of ground that had been uprooted, a telltale sign of packs of wild boar. Finley was in heaven, his nose never left the ground as he sniffed and marked his way up the trail. Suddenly he stopped still, ears erect and one paw held above the ground. Then he tried to launch himself forward but the end of his leash was as far as he could go. However, this quick motion was all it took to flush three Bighorn sheep from their resting place. They stampeded through the brush and out of sight in a flash. I was surprised by how large they were, really magnificent creatures. I had never seen one before so this was a real treat. After the initial surprise I did manage to fire off a couple of shots with my phone but they were of very poor quality, such a shame.
On our last day we went on a hike out in the desert and found a spring leading to a perfectly formed swimming hole. Finley wanted to dive in, however, we were 20 feet above the water and it would’ve taken too much time to bushwhack our way down. Such a pity! It is amazing the effect water has on the surroundings. It’s obvious I know but when you see the transformation from desert to a lush riparian oasis it’s quite stunning. On our way back on the trail, I spotted a horse and rider coming towards us. Could this be the cowboy I’ve been hoping to see? He was wearing a cowboy hat so that was promising. As he came up to us he said “How YOU doin’?” In that unmistakable New York/New Jersey brogue. My shoulders sank and my eyes followed all the way down to his footwear. No cowboy boots or spurs, just a pair of Nike sneakers. The search goes on!
So to paraphrase, ‘if the mountain won’t come to Allan, Allan will go to the mountain’. In this case the mountain turned out to be the town of Bandera, TX which professes itself to be the Cowboy capital of the world. Surely my search would end here? The signs were everywhere, The Cowboy Store, The Cowboy Grill, The Cowboy Café, even the the streetlamps were adorned with wrought iron cowboy scenes. This must be ground zero of the cowboy world. Buoyed by the surroundings I headed for the Cowboy café, they must know where the cowboys are? I ordered a Cowboy coffee (basically just percolated) and asked “so where are the cowboys?” The barista snickered and then deadpanned “You’re a bit late, they stopped coming here in the 1908”. What a letdown, fooled by American marketing again. I should have known, Cowboy capital of the world is like saying best pizza in the world, just hubris. Deflated but certainly not defeated, the search goes on!