Cowboys, bad karaoke and rodeo… Gotta be Texas!

Considering we were parked on a slope in a visitor centre car park, I actually managed to get a pretty decent night’s sleep. Even better, our new transformer was working a treat, charging up our failing batteries pretty nicely.Before leaving Natchez, we made a quick visit to a health drop in centre. Willow has a B-12 deficiency, and usually had injections in the England to help keep her levels up. It had been almost four months since her last injection, and as a result, she was feeling a noticeable drop in energy levels.

Informing the lady at the check in desk of Willow’s situation, she informed us that a consultation alone would cost $150, and then after that she would have to pay for the prescription on top. Although her health is a high priority for us, we didn’t feel the need to spend that much money, so politely told her that we wouldn’t be prepared to pay that amount. She did recommend visiting a hospital, informing us that their standard policy is to treat first and then try to chase money after. Now that didn’t sound like the American health service we hear such terrible things about over in the UK.
Not wanting to waste important services time, Willow settled on buying a bottle of B-12 supplements from the nearest Walmart. Hopefully they would help pick her energy levels back up a bit.

Before leaving Natchez, we were planning on visiting an old town house from the old slavery years. Apparently Natchez was steeped in history from America’s not so pretty past, however at $25 a person, we decided that reading information from Google would be just as informative.

A quick lunch break later and we were taking the scenic route to Louisiana, parking up in a gorgeous forest campground in the Kisatchie forest. The campground was very well maintained, and even had neat piles of firewood stacked next to a fire pit.
Being immersed back in the wilderness, we spent the rest of the day sat around a glowing fire, which illuminated the the army of trees around us.Living in our van, it is amazing how quickly our lifestyle changed from being isolated in the wild, enjoying the beautiful of nature, to being in civilisation, having to remember that it is not socially acceptable to walk outside the van in my underwear.

Campsite view
Aimee exploring her new surroundings

That night, I almost had the most peaceful of sleeps, only for it to be snatched away around 6am by a random dog wandering the campground alone, barking it’s head off.

Not one for lying in bed when I am awake, I got up to let Aimee loose so she could terrorise the local woodland.

With the remnants of last night’s firing still glowing in the fire, I gathered up some more wood from the other camp spots, and rejuvenated our fire, hoping to get it burning enthusiastically by the time sleeping beauty graced me with her presence.

Trying to keep all of our social media updated has been a real struggle for us during the trip. As I keep mentioning, we are not blessed with the gift of time in the States, and so cannot hang about for a week in a tranquil spot, dividing our time between enjoying the moment and updating our blogs and our YouTube channel.Willow had powered ahead with her blog, already publishing the events of the past weekend, and so she had turned her attentions to the YouTube channel.

We had reached the point where we needed to explain about Molly. We had always planned on doing a short video introducing her properly when the time came, but sadly we never got the chance to do so.

With a montage of the little video clips we did have of her complete, we felt we should explain to anyone who watches our channel what happened. And so we painfully explained the tragic events of her passing around the fire we had built.

Emotional memories

Although Molly’s passing had been a while back, and we now had Aimee giving us endless happiness, talking about Molly was tough.

When we had finished watching the final edit, we both had fresh tears in our eyes.
Before leaving the cosy campground that we had to ourselves, we heated up a bucket of water and had one of our infamous van showers, managing to not spill the bucket over like our earlier attempts in the Pyrenees.

All cleaned up, we said goodbye to Louisiana and crossed the state line into Texas. Stopping right beside a small picturesque lake in a town called Hawkins. Fortunately, this Hawkins didn’t have any demogorons ruining amok.

Eerie lake view
On the prowl
Not a bad morning view
She scrubs up alright sometimes

After two days of travelling, we were stating to get fidgety and so we felt like we needed to do something productive with our next destination.

After a good old Google search, we settled on a small town named Fort Worth, apparently a great place to immerse yourself in an old fashioned wild west type of town.

Pulling up through the main high street, past saloons where in the corner of your eye you could swear you saw Clint Eastwood ‘dressed to the nines’ in the latest cowboy clobber; we originally pulled up expecting to take a few pictures before parking outside of the town, somewhere a little quieter.

We parked Ruby in a car park, alongside a stable block for the local horses. We quickly found out that the town had a twice daily cattle drive, and we had timed it perfectly to witness the afternoon show.

Not your standard traffic jam

Within ten minutes, there were cowboys (and girls) riding on horses along the road we had just driven along, escorting a herd of cows past crowds of eager tourists.It turned out that we had parked in a loading bay for the local theatre, and a company who would be performing in the town over the weekend needed us to move so they could unload the equipment.

The production was a family run performance named Brüle, and we got speaking to the lady who managed the group.

She described the performance as light influenced rock concert interweaved with aboriginal dance. It sounded like something Jeff Lynne would create after a night of heavy drinking, but I thought it better to compare it just to E.L.O, the comparison making her very happy.

Her husband Paul, a native Indian descendent who was driving the lorry, came over to join the conversation. He was ecstatic to hear about my E.LO comparison, apparently being heavily influenced by Jeff Lynne. He also was very intrigued by our trip, and invited us to visit his reservation in South Dakota, as well as free entry to see their opening night performance.

We moved Ruby and left them to unload their equipment, and headed to the nearest saloon, for a taste of the true Wild West.

Want one
And one of these
Just your usual bull on the street corner

The bar had an authentic saloon theme, with wood cladding covering both walls and floors. It also had an eclectic collection of cowboy hats stuck to the ceiling. I’m don’t think that was an original feature!

Where did I put my hat?

Whilst in the bar, we befriended the bar man ‘Freddie’, who apparently was a ‘VW nut’ also.

Good car taste

He kindly gave us a few samples, and a free shot of banana pudding, made from a shot of some form of spirit and a blob of ice cream.

We were so caught up in Fort Worth, that we both knew that we couldn’t leave that evening; so we decided to stay till Friday and take Paul up on his offer to see his opening performance.

Ruby blends right in
Old western high street

Our descision to stay did leave us with the dilemma of finding a place to sleep. We decided to fall back on the ‘tried and tested’ plan of visiting a bar with a car park and bargaining a stay in their car park in the return for us spending the night there drinking. A clear win-win for us (I mean both parties!)

We settled on Sam’s Saloon, a bar which offered nightly karaoke. Seemed like a good place to get some free entertainment. What I didn’t realise then was that it would be me to offer up the ‘entertainment’ that night!

On our arrival to the saloon, we were greeted by a bearded red neck fella, who welcomed us to the bar and explained that he was the karaoke host. He eagerly asked us if we were going to partake in a little musical embarrassment. I don’t think that was quite how he said it. It was probably more like,

“Y’all gonna sing tonight?”

Now it’s fair enough to say that neither of us have been blessed with what anyone would consider as a nice sounding voice. Willow would much rather gouge her eyes out with a rusty screwdriver, rather than sing in front of anyone other than myself.
I however, have been drunk enough once before at Pontin’s, a shitty English holiday resort, and admirably belted out Busted’s legendary song ‘air hostess’.

Needless to say, it is very rare that my inebriation often meets perfectly with the opportunity to stand up on stage, to let my tuneless Brummie tones lose on the general public.

Politely informing the host that we would consider the offer, at the time we were both hoping to hide away near the pool tables, drinking beer in peace.
Ultimately, there would be three actions, that would result in me performing on stage that evening.

  1. We hadn’t eaten much that day.
  2. It was happy hour… so we had quite a few bottles of beer.
  3. Karaoke wasn’t due to start for at least an hour, and being from out of town, the Karaoke host felt gravitated to speak to us until it began. Repeatedly suggesting that we should get up and sing!

After eventually caving, and agreeing to sing a song, I had still hoped to hide away and become forgotten enough to not be requested.

Oh how naïve sober Lee was!

The place was fairly empty, and after a couple of games of pool, and a ‘couple’ bottles of beers; when my name was called out, I gladly strolled to the stage to ‘knock the socks off’ my eager audience.
In my defence, I don’t think I brought any shame upon Frank Turner, with my attempt to sing his track ‘I still believe’. And if you were to watch the footage Willow so kindly recorded, I think you will agree, that I sang my little brummie heart out.

🎶Now who’d of thought…🎶
🎶Something as simple as rock’n’roll could save us all🎶

Now in true Lemony Snicket’s fashion, I wish that I could tell you that I basked in my not too woeful performance and enjoyed the rest of the evening.

I did not.

Now, beer fuelled Lee craved more!

I felt that it was my duty to educate the five or six other guests with other English artists who I really enjoyed.

Sadly, two songs later, I ended on Ocean Colour Scenes ‘The River Boat Song’, underestimating how quick the lyrics were, completely butchering the song.

It was so bad, that one of the other guys who was singing, complemented me on the punk song that I had just sung.

It’s not a punk song!

My saving graces was that Willow was so amused by my terrible renditions, that she forgot to record them. Also, the bar was about to close, so I couldn’t do any more damage to reputable English classics.

Before We eventually skulked off back to Ruby to spend the night in Sam’s car park, we got to know our new friends more. We learnt that the Karaoke host’s name was David, and he had once been the lead singer in a fairly success rock band, who toured all over Europe.

We also spoke to another guy named Ricky, who had praised me for my rendition of ‘The River Boat Song’. It turned out, that he too was a fairly accomplished singer in his day. Maybe I taught some old dogs some new tricks… I strongly doubt it!

David the host
Ricky

Not surprisingly, we both woke the next morning feeling a little ‘worse for wear’. Our drinking water had run out, so I went for a stroll to the nearest shop to buy a few bottles of water to make our morning pot of tea.

Two pots of tea later, we were feeling normal enough to move on from Sam’s car park, moving the van to a free parking space, so we could spend the day looking around Fort Worth.

Old water tower
Trainee cowboy

We spent the Thursday, walking around all of the tourist shops in Fort Worth, trying on cowboy hats and bulking at the price of all of the items. I did manage to by myself a ring, which for me was a big deal. Apart from when I was a kid, I had never really been drawn to jewellery before!

I know a Wild Bill!
Old school store

After watching the daily afternoon cattle drive, we decided to ride out of the town to local thift shops. Willow was dead set on owning a pair of cow girl boots, but the tourist prices of the local shops was beyond our budget.
After a thirty minute bike ride, up some incredibly steep hills (I thought Texas was meant to be flat!) We looked in two separate thrift shops, only to be disappointed by the lack of cow girl boots.

We did find a funky pair of cow boy boots, but never in a million years would they fit my fat feet!Defeated, we set off back to the main town of Fort Worth, almost back, I spotted a pawn shop, and on a whim, I suggested popping in to see if they had boots for sale.
It turned out that they did! And after waiting ten minutes for anyone to actually acknowledge us, Willow eventually made the poor guy serving us check every boot to see what the size was.
She did eventually find a pair that was the right size that she really liked, and after boldly asking for a discount as he really enjoyed her accent, we left the shop with a pair of second hand cow girl boots.

‘New’ old cow girl boots

Willow obvious delighted.We spent the evening bouncing between bars, desperately trying to find one that served vegetarian food. It turned out, no of the bars we entered served food at all!

Good ol’bar crawl
Getting festive
What a name
Proper doors

Just before giving up hope completely, we found a venue next to the White Elephant Saloon we had visited the night before, and it served vegetarian mushroom burgers.

They apparently don’t get many vegetarians, as the girl serving us had to point out that the dish contained no meat!

Bellies finally full, we headed back to the van, only to find that Aimee had finally seen our toilet roll dispenser.

Considering the mess she had made, she was so darn cute playing with it, that neither of us could stop her. Instead, we got our phones out to record the carnage that she had created.

We had origins decided to stick around in Fort Worth to take Paul up on his offer to see his family performance of Brûlé. Sadly, when I had messaged his wife, who was also the manager of the performance, she informed us that she wouldn’t be able to give us complimentary tickets. So that morning, I went to the rodeo ticket office, to buy us tickets for the evening rodeo performance.

It seemed fitting to see an actual rodeo whilst we were in Texas, and there was no way we were going to pay for tickets to an arts performance we were originally offered complimentary entry into.
With time to kill, we headed out of the main town, as the car park was only meant to be free until Friday.

Willow had found an interesting walk not far from the town, and we felt it only right to give Aimee a proper walk, as she was clearly getting restless after the previous night’s toilet roll escapades.
The walk was a pleasant walk, around a near by lake. It felt nice to be back on a trail, with Aimee bounding along on her lead again.

Small walk
She’s getting the hang of it
Spoke to soon
Back on track
Mother Daughter time
Definitely not a plant you see in Birmingham

After a couple of hours, we headed back to the car park we had spent the original night. It turned out that we would be able to spend another night there, as long as we vacated by 8am. That suited us, and so we got ready for our first ever rodeo.Willow, primed in her new boots.

Walking in the arena, we were greeted by the fresh smell manure. You could tell this was a regular weekend event. Held every weekend of the year!

How hard can it be?

We had arrived early, to allow us time to buy a beer, find some seats, whilst soaking up the atmosphere as people slowly filtered in.

Almost show time

As 8pm approached, the announcer introduced the night’s events, and then a women rode around the sand area waving an American flag, whilst the sound system blasted out a very patriotic song.
With everyone feeling very pumped, the first events commenced.

The first event was a cow lasso competition. With a young calf being released for a cow boy to lasso, place on the ground and then their feet had to be tied.

First event

Sat in anticipation, the first calf was released, the cowboy set off after it on his horse. He prepared is lasso, ready to round up the calf. In one swift movement, the rope was heading towards the young cow…

He missed, and the young calf ran free to the other side of the giant sand pit.

Nearly

The other two cowboys were more successful.

Managing to lasso the calfs and bind their feet.

After the gents, it was the ladies turn to try.
Three young cow girls, dressed in denim jeans and flannel shirts and their cow girl hats.

We had hoped that the cow girls would show the guys how it was done.

Sadly, all three of them failed to lasso the calf, as they bolted out of the gate.The next event involved riders negotiating an obstacle course, with the winner being the rider who completed it the quickest.

All of the riders bombed round the course, struggling to keep their stead’s upright as the rounded the markers on the course.It was incredibly exciting to watch. The bond between horse and rider as they darted around at speed.

There was a brief intermission, where they released some sheep with a sticker attached to it. They rounded up all the children in the crowd, and set them loose, trying to catch the sheep to grab the sticker (winning them a prize).

There is no way an event like that would be allowed in England.

‘What if the sheep knocks a child over!’

I can hear the health and safety enthusiasts scream.

We were also treated to a lasso show, which a proper Texas cowboy, showing off his mad rope skills.

Mad skillz

Eventually it was time for the main event. Bull riding.

I don’t really think it needs explaining. People with a death a wish, sit upon a mighty bull and try to cling on for dear life for the allocated time frame.

He fell off

Some of the southern riders we watched, even decided to attempt it old school, without all of the extra padding for protection.

The real stars of the show for me however, were the two guys dressed as clowns. It was their job to distract the bull, if a rider was violently thrown off. Which a few of them were!

As quickly as it had started, it was over.We waited a while for the crowd to disperse, reflecting on the spectacle we had just witnessed.

Slowly, we made our way back into the main high street. We decided to check out a bar named ‘The Basement Bar’. Apparently, none of the oldest honky tonks in the west.
The bar was crowded with a large party, who seemed to be celebrating a work Christmas party.

Honky tonk

We stayed long enough for one drink, before deciding to leave, as the group was asking if they could extend onto our table.I did visit the loo before we left, and I was shocked to see that the main toilet did not have a door! What sort of barbarians are these Texans?

Before calling it a night, we visited one last honky tonk. Billy Bob’s, the largest honky tonk in the States.

And boy was it big!

Big belt buckle

After having a good look around (the place even had it’s own gift shop), we continued our game of pool.

Willow had defeated me at Sam’s and I am a terrible loser.

After the pool (It doesn’t matter who won), we headed down the the main stage to listen to a bit of the country band performing.

The night’s entertainment

I didn’t catch their name, but there was a lot of people watching them! As neither of us are big country music listeners, I couldn’t tell you if they were famous, or just a good cover band. The majority of the audience seemed to know the songs they played though, so either way, people were happy.

We eventually called it a night and headed back to Ruby, concerned to find what destruction Aimee had left us as a treat for being left alone for the evening.

In the morning we would leave Texas, and make our way further west. We had a craving for some desserts and mountains!