IT’S TRUE. YOU WILL FIND many cowboys in Fort Worth, especially during the infamous Southwestern Exposition and Livestock Show, which introduced its indoor rodeo in 1918. Of course, catching a glimpse of a genuine cowboy is not really surprising, when you consider that Fort Worth is also called Cowtown. In case you didn’t know, Fort Worth was the last major stop on the Chisholm Trail. Even now you can see an authentic cattle drive every day in the city’s historic Stockyards. But make no mistake. This small city has more to offer than a peek at life on the range. Fort Worth is a cultural city; its performing arts center attracts top talent, its zoo is nationally recognized, and its museums are some of the best in the state.
On a recent weekend jaunt to Fort Worth, my husband—a native of Fort Worth—and I were lucky enough to get our hands on some tickets to the rodeo. I’ll be honest. I’m not a huge fan of roping, but you simply cannot miss the rodeo. It’s a big deal. (Even folks from Dallas make the yearly trek west.) The action takes place at the Will Rogers Memorial Center, a venue big enough so that you don’t feel crowded but small enough to allow you to see the faces of the competitors. Bull riding rates top honors. It is quite amazing to see a guy hang on for dear life while a huge beast tries to throw him off. The seconds seem to go by fast for the spectators, but I’m sure they seem like hours to the riders. In addition to the activities inside, there is a midway outdoors (the Ferris wheel is enormous). Unfortunately, we didn’t make it over to the stock show area, where all the animals are kept. We’ll have to do that next year. Unlike the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, there are no big-name pop and country western performers headlining the show. Hey, we got to see Red Steagall sing the National Anthem. How authentic is that?
On Saturday morning we decided to hit the museums, which are located in the Cultural District, off Camp Bowie Boulevard. Our first stop was the Kimbell Art Museum, which has been called America’s best small museum. The Kimbell’s holdings range from antiquity to the twentieth century, including pieces from Fra Angelico, Cézanne, and Matisse. The modern building, designed by Louis Kahn, allows for the use of natural light. There were no traveling exhibits, so we took the opportunity to really study the items on permanent display. In addition to the collection of Asian art, we saw many paintings, including Caravaggio’s The Cardsharps. Once we were done, we took a moment to walk around the grounds, which are beautifully landscaped.
Next we went to the newly renovated Amon Carter Museum; the $39 million expansion added exhibition space three times larger than the original. The museum was founded in 1961 to house philanthropist Amon G. Carter, Sr.’s collection of paintings and sculptures by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell; naturally the collection grew and now holds nearly 250,000 pieces (mostly nineteenth and early twentieth century American art). The Amon Carter was filled with visitors (I’m guessing that it got additional traffic from folks across the street at the rodeo). We saw many sculptures, notably Frederic Remington’s The Outlaw, in the old building. In the new edition, which is very sleek, we saw two spectacular photography exhibits: “Laura Gilpin and Eliot Porter in New Mexico,” and “Abstraction in Photography,” which included images by Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, and Lázsló Moholy-Nagy.
We decided to check out the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the state’s oldest museum, despite the fact that its new home is going up right down the street. There wasn’t much to see (a traveling exhibit had just closed) except the drawings and plans for the new edifice. The opening date for the new building keeps getting pushed back, but we’re hoping it will be sometime this year.
The last stop on our museum tour was the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. Whoa! This place was jammed with children taking advantage of the many hands-on exhibits. We opted to see a movie at the Omni Theater (this one is circular so you can experience all the effects). Despite the fact that I had to shut my eyes from time to time to keep my stomach happy, I’m glad we saw Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure, an amazing story of an explorer on the South Pole.
The bright sunlight after departing the theater proved unrelenting at first, but after a brisk walk back to our car and a little fresh air, we were ready for more sightseeing. We made our way to the Stockyards. In 1876, when the railroad arrived in Fort Worth, the city became a significant shipping point for livestock, which brought about the construction of the Union Stockyards in 1887. Two investors and their associates purchased the Stockyards and the named was changed to the Fort Worth StockYards Company. In 1902 construction began on the present-day Livestock Exchange Building, which would house the livestock commission companies, the Western Union offices, and the railroad offices. Business boomed and the Livestock Exchange Building became known as the “Wall Street of the West.” In 1944, during World War II, the Fort Worth Stockyards processed some five million head of livestock. But once shipping began to rely on highways and trucking instead of railroads, cattle auctions at the stockyards began to decline. The Fort Worth Stockyards National Historic District was established in 1986 and many of the original buildings were restored, including the Livestock Exchange Building. On our visit, the area was bustling with tourists. Among the many shops, there are restaurants and hotels. We watched folks get their photos taken atop an old Longhorn while we waited for the main attraction, the cattle drive. That’s right. We watched ten or so Longhorns go up East Exchange Street to their observation pen where they spend the day.
After a long day, we tucked in early; we wanted to be rested for another walking adventure. Sunday morning we put on our comfortable shoes for the afternoon’s activity—a visit to the Fort Worth Zoo, which is home to one of the largest collections of animals in the Western Hemisphere. The zoo features many natural-habitat exhibits including the Asian Falls, a mammoth area that is home to a couple of big tigers, who happened to be horsing around while we watched. The Fort Worth Zoo is relatively easy to maneuver, but you should map out your route so as not to miss any exhibits that are off the beaten path. It took us roughly an hour and a half to see everything, and by that time we were exhausted and ready to call it a day.