There it was, the Welcome to Texas sign, proof that we had crossed over to the real West. An exciting moment for me as I love watching westerns, a passion that was fomented as a young lad watching them on TV every Saturday morning. When would I see my first cowboy hat? Would I see a cowboy roaming the range any time soon? I made a mental note to cue up a couple of John Wayne movies to watch that night.
We headed for the Town of Nacadoches. I’ve always liked the way the name sounded, as if it belonged in a nursery rhyme. I first heard it uttered by John Wayne in, you guessed it, a western. Points awarded if you can tell me which film in the comments below. I was surprised to find that the town bills itself as the oldest town in America, settled 10,000 years before St. Augustine, FL by Caddo Indian tribes. The quaint town is also the home of Stephen F. Austin University bringing in youth and many coffee shops to the historical mix.
Our first stop for the night was at the humorously named Naca Valley Vineyards. The owner Buzz showed me around their compact property and let me know that they were hosting a couple of private parties that night and that I was welcome to gatecrash. Of course I said I would be delighted. That night I nestled up to the bar and Buzz’s wife Wanda gave me a tasting of their wines. Most were a bit too sweet for my taste but the Syrah was quite palatable so I bought a bottle and ordered the chef’s special, a brisket, portobello mushroom, caramelized onion and jalapeño wood fired pizza, delicious!! The parties were in full swing so I sat back and people watched and listened to the band whilst sipping my wine. One chap was even wearing a cowboy hat and several pairs of cowboy boots were in attendance, so all in all a modestly successful introduction to the West.
The next day we moved south to Jasper and the Twin Dikes campground. This an excellent campground built by the Army Core of Engineers and located on the Sam Rayburn reservoir. Our campsite had a lovely view of the lake and we spent the next few days catching up on chores and exploring the shoreline.
Finley was in his element, endlessly retrieving sticks that I threw in the lake for him. He was so happy, soaking wet, tongue hanging out and smiling ear to ear. His happiness was infectious and I smiled in tandem.
There was also a pair of American Bald Eagles who had taken up residency in a nearby tree. I spent hours watching them hunt for fish and bring sticks back for the nest they were building. Magnificent birds, watching them and listening to their calls was a privilege. When he wasn't chasing sticks, Finley found the the local black squirrels impossible to ignore. I had never seen a black squirrel before but they are cute little chaps. We had a wonderful stay at Twin Dikes but it wasn’t very western, we could have been almost anywhere, so the search for the real west continued.
We next spent a night at the lovely Holly Dew Farm in Franklin. No cattle and no cowboys here unfortunately. Darren and his wife Karen raise ducks and rabbits and make all manner of specialty condiments.
After watching Darren feed the ducks, we toured the rabbitry which was quite an operation. All manner of floppy eared bunnies rested in their crates along with litters of impossibly small baby rabbits. They were mostly all females along with 4 males who were tasked with um servicing them. We witnessed one pair in flagrante delicto and Darren said “oh good you get to see the flop”. I looked at him quizzically and shortly after, the male having completed his task flopped on his back with his eyes rolled back. All he needed was a cigarette to complete the scene. Truly comical! I purchased all manner of delicacies the farm, including duck eggs, rabbit kidneys, rabbit bacon and rabbit chorizo. All I needed now was some mushrooms and tomatoes to create a Tex-Mex-Brit breakfast!! What a fun visit and Finley even had a chance to make friends with their guard dog.
We hot footed it to Fredericksburg, a town settled by German immigrants in 1846. Main Street had German inspired architecture and was a bustling place, a bit like Gatlinburg, TN. Some people love it but it wasn’t my cup of tea. Horses for courses as we say in England.
Our stop for the night was the Lone Star Bar and Grill, a very eclectic place. I’d call it western boho hippie. After Finley was walked and fed and then walked some more, I headed to the bar and grabbed a beer, a Lone Star of course. A cowboy looking chap was playing guitar and singing country songs so I took my beer into the very oddly appointed beer garden. As well as the customers, the garden was the home of Minnie Pearl the pot bellied pig, who snuffled around the tables and chairs hoping to find some scraps. She was a dear little thing really.
There was also a tree which obliged by growing horizontally and was appointed with a row of saddles for children (mostly) to ride. I do think we are getting closer to the real west and I really did enjoy our stay here. Finley however, cut a frustrated figure. As well as Minnie Pearl there was also a flock of sheep who freely roamed the grounds. Of course Finley wanted to round them up but the end of a 6 foot leash was as far as I would let him roam. To get back at me that night, Finley was the source of some odious aromas aimed at my head and repeated often. Heelers can be evil little buggers when then choose.
Our next destination was Pedernales Falls State Park in Johnson City. Peculiarly the road to Johnson City was lined with wineries instead of cattle ranches, in fact it was very reminiscent of driving up Hwy 29 in Napa Valley. Again not my idea of the Wild West.
Feeling slightly parched, I decided to stop at Kuhlman Cellars and taste their wines. They had a lovely garden area with tables set with a view over the vineyards. They were also very dog friendly so Finley could hang out with me while I gave the wines a thorough inspection. I was actually surprised at the quality of the wines and was also impressed with my sommelier Nicole, who was very knowledgeable and had a very pleasant personality. Texas is now the fifth largest producer of wine in America behind only California, Washington, New York and Oregon. I purchased a few bottles to be enjoyed during our stay at Pedernales. So vineyards replacing cattle ranches is this what the west has become? Everything was feeling a little too genteel.
Then everything changed, sort of.......