American Locations 3 – Ft. Worth Stockyards

The trip is from Natchez Trace, Tennessee, to Dodge City, Kansas, by way of Tucson, Arizona.


Ft. Worth Stockyards, Texas

0020_Fort Worth Stockyard

My wife and I drove southwest from Crater of Diamonds State Park to Texarkana, where we got back on I-30 and continued west out of Arkansas into Texas. On the drive through northeast Texas we saw some impressive cattle ranches along the Interstate. Then we reached Dallas. The city passed by in a blur of rush-hour Interstate traffic. All I remember is weaving back and forth across six and eight lanes of irritated motorists over and under and around overpasses and underpasses. My Garmin showed spaghetti. You know, when there are so many roads and lanes and on-ramps and off-ramps the screen looks like a heap of stringy pasta. So Dallas was merely one of those bad places I was passing through in order to get to somewhere better. Sort of like going to the dentist.

Our destination was the Ft. Worth Stockyards. It is a living museum, representing a world long gone. This was once the end of the trail for cattle drives. After the steers arrived here they were loaded onto trains and shipped all over the world. At its height one-fifth of all steaks consumed world-wide passed through these stockyards. It was a wild place, where hard-working cowboys could relax after their work was done.

Most of the stockyards now are gone, only a few remain to represent what once was. And a few cattle. And a few cowboys to tend to them.

0021_Ft. Worth Stockyard

And faded photographs, and other paraphernalia from that era.  Such as saddles.

0015_Ft. Worth Stockyard

And other oddities, such as a chair fashioned out of steer horns.

0014_Ft. Worth Stockyard

And the people who work in the museums, most likely volunteers, who try to describe what it was like here, once.

There is an arena where rodeos are held.

0023_Ft. Worth Stockyard

And a honky-tonk, Billy Bob’s Texas, purporting to be the largest saloon under one roof in the world. Of course it is, because you know how everything is bigger in Texas.

0032_Billy Bob's

It even has an indoor rodeo, where on the weekend drunken cowboy wannabes can ride a real live bull, not the mechanical kind found elsewhere.

0026_Billy Bob's

Luckily, I wasn’t there on a weekend. Though I can’t imagine the bulls they allowed people on could be very feisty, for insurance reasons.

If you want to get a sense of what the old west cowboy cattle drive scene was all about, Ft. Worth Stockyards is the place to go. Seeing even this faded hint of what it had once been like is a more real experience than watching an old John Wayne movie.




American Locations 2 – Crater of Diamonds

The trip is from Natchez Trace, Tennessee, to Dodge City, Kansas, by way of Tucson, Arizona.


Crater of Diamonds State Park, Arkansas

0003_Crater of Diamonds

From Natchez Trace State Park in Tennessee my wife and I continued west on I-40 through Memphis and across the Mississippi River into Arkansas. We followed I-40 to Little Rock, where we picked up I-30 and continued southwest. We stopped at Crater of Diamonds State Park to dig for diamonds. I didn’t expect to find any. But I dug anyway. Sort of why people buy lottery tickets. They don’t really expect to win. But they just might. People had found diamonds here, a few of them valuable. Like winners at the lottery.

Only buying a lottery ticket was easy. Getting here took effort. We were traveling this way and it was a only short detour from our route. But the drive wasn’t scenic, and the park itself had nothing to offer other than a plowed field. Where you could dig for diamonds. Ages ago there was a volcano, which produced the diamonds. A company had mined the place, but once all the easily-reached diamonds were gotten it had gone out of business. Then someone had opened the place up to fortune seekers, charging them for the opportunity to dig for diamonds. After that had gone out of business the state of Arkansas bought the property and turned it into a state park and established a campground. They also built a visitor center detailing the history of the place, which is where I learned all this. And they opened up the field for digging.

0007_Crater of Diamonds

Every two weeks they plow the field. This supposedly turns up new diamonds. The park ranger told me it had just been plowed, so our chances were good at finding a diamond. The field was several acres, so there was plenty of space to roam around, looking here, poking there, digging in various places. There was no rhyme or reason to it. You just hoped to stumble onto something.

0009_Crater of Diamonds

We weren’t alone. There were a dozen or so of us diamond seekers that day, scouring the dirt for fortune. And we were outside, in the open air. And it was a pleasant day. And we were getting some exercise. And this was something different, I had never dug for diamonds before. Also, I did find some interesting rocks. So I persisted.

Then it started to rain. I’d like to say I quit. My wife had before the rain even started. Most of the others quit once it did. But I continued to slog through the mud. For the same reason the 49’s wasted their lives going to California to dig for gold. I was willing to work a little for the chance to gain a lot. Only these pioneers had helped settle what became the richest state in the union. All I accomplished was to get muddier and wetter than I have ever been in my life.

But I persisted. With the mindset, ‘I can’t quit now.’ I had already invested so much time and effort. Just a little more effort might produce results. I let momentum carry me through the mud. Sort of like that definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

It rained harder and harder. It became difficult to pull my feet free of the muck with every step I took. So, finally, I quit. I cleaned my boots, took a shower, and put on clean dry clothes. It was an experience, one that I can’t imagine I’ll ever repeat. I’d rather buy lottery tickets. It’s easier. And cleaner.