We had the choice between two routes, leaving Slidell. Either head north towards Natchez and Dallas, or heading more directly west towards San Antonio. After much deliberation, we decided to head towards Natchez, a lot of people had recommended going here and apparently the visitor centre had a place to camp for free. It was around a 3 hour drive from Jeff and Shannon’s house and we set off around mid-afternoon. Sure enough there was places to stay at the visitor centre which offered electric hook up and water. Even though we had only just stocked up on everything, it was still good to be able to maintain our batteries and have access to toilets. We spent a while faffing around the car park trying to get something level where we could still reach the plug socket. As the whole car park is on a slope, this didn’t really prove to be successful and in the end was somewhat of a wobbly compromise.
After not the quietest of nights, Lee ended up borrowing milk from the couple in the RV next to us who happened to English too. Apparently they had managed to swing a year long visa trip and were heading back down towards Florida. They said that a lot Natchez was shut down but that maybe we could go visit some of the mansions that used to be situated on the plantations, back in the days where slavery had existed here. We had also wanted to see some of the Natchez Trace Parkway, which is nice scenic road. Unfortunately I didn’t realise that this roads starts in Natchez, and heads north east from here towards Tennesee, which couldn’t really be in more of a wrong direction. This left us with looking at some of the houses and we drove to one nearby. At the gate we were told the entry was $50, which seems like quite a lot considering that I’m not overly interested in this particular part history. Don’t get we wrong, I’m happy to go and learn something new, but not for that price I’m afraid! Feeling like this was a bit of a pointless venture, we decided to continue our drive north west. We highlighted some free campsites around 2.5hours away in the Kisatchie National Forest. Going further west, the drive was definitely getting more interesting. Even the interstates, which we aren’t big fans of, were smaller, quieter and more scenic. The drive up through the forest was nice, no incessant red lights or busy traffic, just a steady cruise on empty single track roads. We arrived around an hour or so before dark and were happy with our choice. The campsite had water, fire rings, toilets and a nice level pitch. There was even a stack of free firewood near the fire pit!
I walked around trying to find signal, and found none at all, although weirdly the internet was working fine. It was also quite pretty by the river which circled around the site, and noticeably chillier.
Lee got started on a fire and we settled down for a nice peaceful night away from the roar of a major road. We were hardly disturbed, with only a few cars coming into the sight the whole time we were there and I would have happily stayed another night if we weren’t so keen on getting to the deserts further west.
The morning we continued on our way, picking out another free place to stop as we worked our way west. This time we ended up in the town of Hawkins, blagging ourselves another beautiful spot by the lake all to ourselves.
Feeling happy to have had a few days of peace and quiet, we spent some of the morning flying Steve and letting Amy explore.
The next major stop for us would be Dallas, one of the last major cities for a while. We debated about whether we actually wanted to go into Dallas itself as it looked like it was on permanent gridlock from a traffic point of view. Did we really want to go to another major city, cities seem only to be fun if you can spend the money to be in them and we had had an expensive month. However, both of us want to go to a proper Texas saloon bar, so as I drove the final section, Lee researched options. In the end we went for visiting Fort Worth, this is supposed to have more of the old western vibe. While not actually Dallas, the two cities are pretty much joined and very close together and this was supposed to have some cool events on as well. We arrived on a Wednesday evening and parked up, having to pay $7 for the privilege. We were right in the Stock Yards, and it certainly had that Western vibe to it.
We started off parking up near the actual stock yard, but then moved when some people told us that they needed the space for a large van.
They were part of a group called Brulé performing an act in the local theatre that would be starting on Friday, it was described as rather a blend cultures including Native American dance combined with a light show and rock and roll. We met a couple of the people who were involved and said we should come check it out. One of them, called Paul was very friendly and also invited us to come and visit on of the Indian reservation in South Dakota. While not on our route, it sounds interesting and something we’d definitely like to see one day.
In the meantime, the daily cattle drive was beginning and we rushed down to the street to have a look. The horns on these things are really incredible!
They do the cattle drive twice a day, and as we kind of missed the first bit when we were talking, we thought we like to see it again tomorrow.
In the meantime, we looked around the rest of the town, including some very nice looking cars.
We also identified our saloon that we wanted to go to called The White Elephant Saloon. It was pretty cool in there too, the ceiling was lined with cowboy hats!
We chatted to Freddie the barman as it was quiet at this time and we got talking about travelling and VW’s. He recommended some places for us to go in Seattle, and let us have a sample of a banana pudding shot too. We also met a couple in the bar, one of whom used to live in England. This is now a talking point for us, after months of barely hearing English accents we kind of zone in on them now. We went over for a chat and it turns out they’re very into their crime dramas (as are we) so we swapped some good TV series recommendations before they headed off.
We collected Ruby, and went on to the next place.
We decided to move on another bar we had found called Sam’s Saloon, it had some karaoke on and we hoped that we might be able to stay in the van in their car park overnight. We went inside to a fairly dead bar, and ordered a couple of bottles of bud. I think Lee was trying to be to tactful when he asked if the barmaid knew anywhere we could park for the night and she then looked a bit confused and suggested Walmart. Still, we had beers to drink and Lee decided he was up for a bit of karaoke. We got chatting to David who was in charge of the karaoke and also knew the owner of the bar. He messaged Sam who said we were ok to park up around the back for the night and that was that. We stayed all night, met some more new people and I watched as Lee drank more and got worse at karaoke. Still, he had a brilliant time, singing 3 different songs, while I point blank refuse to join In despite a lot of attempted persuasion. As I explained there is the sober me who will not sing karaoke and then the passed out drunk me who is now not able to sing karaoke, there is no in-between where me, microphones and an audience are involved. It was a good night though and always convenient to be parked up right on site.
We had decided we would stay till Friday to see if we could see the Brulé show, but when we looked up the price of tickets we realised that they were way out of our price range. We were interested in seeing the Friday night rodeo though, which meant we had two days to do stuff around the area. After a bit a bit of a late night, I wanted an easy day and we decided to go and walk around the shops in the stockyards. They sell a lot of cool, if expensive, clothing and cowboy related items. I quite fancied myself some cowgirl boots, but they carry about a $150 price tag so instead I thought I might look in some of the second hand shops later. In the meantime, we moved the van around to some free parking we had driven past the night before and we wandered around the various shops until it was time to watch the cattle drive again. We then headed back to Ruby, decided to cycle to a thrift store and see if I could find a cheaper pair of boots. What we didn’t realise is that the road there was incredibly hilly. Several people told me Texas is flat, this bit certainly wasn’t and we were both incredibly out of breath and dying by the time we puffed our way to the top of this hill.
We went to two shops, which are not really like the kind of charity shops I’m used to. In England, charity shops are often a bit snobby and refuse to accept a lot of items. They’re also normally fairly small. These places were huge warehouse style buildings which compromised of rail upon rail of clothes all for incredibly cheap prices. It’s probably not the place to find what I was looking for, so we started to cycle back to the van and find some food. We were just coming back into the Stock Yards when Lee spotted a pawn shop and thought that maybe they’d sell boots. Turns out this was a good shout and they had a pair that fitted me. I even managed to get myself a $15 just for having an English accent, can’t complain. Pretty chuffed with my new boots.
It was now definitely time for food and we began the mission of trying to find vegetarian food in Texas. We went to several bars which claimed to serve food and didn’t and some restaurants that were completely shut. We visited the brilliantly named Filthy McNasty’s Saloon, but despite the exciting name it didn’t have all that much going on. We were also on a quest to tried to find somewhere with decent Wi-Fi, failing at this too. After a while we ended up at Love Shack which sold a vegetarian burger (very surprising!!) although the person serving us did check, “did you really want that? It is vegetarian…?”. They even had internet that just managed to let us upload our YouTube video before they closed, a result in the end!
Not feeling the need for another late night, we went back to keep our kitty company. I was just debating whether to move the van to another spot in the car park while Lee went off to find toilets. I must have looked suspicious as while I sat in the van waiting for Lee I got a knock on the window and the police had arrived. He said he had a report that someone might be breaking into the van and wanted to check everything was ok. While he was talking, another police car pulled up blocking the van in. He was almost apologetic for disturbing me, but I was happy that the police response was so quick! If someone was trying to steal the camper I’m glad the police were so fast to respond. At this point Lee had returned, slightly confused as to what was happening. He gave us his name and the contact details for the police in case we ever needed any help and then wished us a good night. We took this as permission to stop in the car park and settled down for the night, so far Texas was treating us well.
The morning brought our last day in Fort Worth, and Lee headed over to the shop to purchase tickets for the rodeo that evening. With some time until the evening, we thought we would take Aimee for a walk as she had been cooped up the van for the last couple of days. We saw a there was a nearby area called Marion Samson Park, that looked like it has some walking trails and would be good to kill the afternoon. With Aimee on her lead we set off.
She’s pretty good on her lead, but initially she was so excited to be somewhere new that we didn’t get very far. She had to smell everything, and then either climb up it or try and dig it up. After a little while, she got into the swing of it and we spent a good few hours walking around with views of the reservoir and river.
Aimee is pretty good on walks, but she is still less than 4 months old and needs a break every now and then!
It was time to head back to the car park and cook some food before the rodeo. We had to pay $5 to park this time as there as an event on, but the woman on the gate told us we could stay until the morning and it’s always nice to have that reassurance that you’re actually allowed to be there. We cooked blackened Mahi, with vegetables and made ourselves a proper decent meal after what feels like a long time!
Then we walked down to the rodeo, which started at 8pm. They told us on the door that our tickets also got us into Billy Bob’s which was right next to where we were parked and apparently is the world’s largest honky tonk (honky tonk = disreputable bar according to google). We took our seats for the rodeo which started with the national anthem playing.
There was then a load of different parts to the show, including a cowboy showing off some skills with a lasso.
There was then a competition involving cowboys and girls trying to catch and tether a calf on horseback.
A brief interlude, where they invited all the small children down into the arena and had them try and catch a calf, which was interesting!
Then there was a competition involving riding around a set of three barrels in the fastest time, without knocking them over.
Right at the end was the main rodeo, there was 6 riders in total and also two guys dressed in a ridiculous American flag outfit. Despite their silly dress, these men were pretty ballsy. It was their job to distract the annoyed bull and stop it trampling the bull rider when they inevitably fell off.
I’ve never been to a show like it, and it was pretty good fun and interesting to see something new. After the show we went to look at the basement bar which had been recommended to us. It reminded me of The Kerry in New Orleans with its decor. We stayed for a drink, but then appeared to get caught up in the midst of someone’s Christmas party and left so they could get on with it! We decided to go and check out Billy Bob’s as we could get in for free anyway. This place was huge, it had its own merchandise shop in the bar as well as about 20 pool tables, several bars and stalls and the main stage. We had a couple of drinks and I beat Lee at pool (again, in fact I believe he’s becoming a better loser!), we also watched the band for a bit before calling it a night. At $7 for a bottle of beer, it wasn’t the place to stay and drink! In the morning we would be heading out on the road west again, in the direction of Amarillo.