“Do you ride horses to school?” people not from Texas used to ask me when I was young.
I wish! My mom dropped me off at my elementary school in her yellow Ford and our existence seemed what I would later categorise as completely suburban – casseroles twice a week, piano lessons, garden club for my mother.
That Texan existence, full of the myth and glamour, the wide open plain and real-life wranglers, was lacking from my everyday life. But if I want to be a cowgirl, now I know where to go: Wildcatter Ranch.
This 1,500-acre Texas guest ranch near Fort Worth offers a real-life cowboy experience. I stayed along with my husband, 13-year-old and 18-year-old while on our Deep in the Heart of Texas #Hertztrip.
Our Texas road trip
We were driving round the heart of Texas in a comfortable Hertz rental, discovering the best the state has to offer, from cities to little towns, on highways and farm roads. The Hertz Road Trip Planner helps you plan trips all around the U.S., with cool stops and authentic experiences. For my Jenography trip, Hertz covered the cost of the car, we chose the route.
On the map below, you can see where the Wildcatter Ranch is — the top middle arrow — just up from I30 between Abilene and Fort Worth.
And this ain’t no rhinestone cowboy experience, no phony gilded-spur pantomime. A stay here with kids is extremely comfortable, in parts luxurious. But it feels real and natural in a way that makes even a native Texan like myself charged up.
“I love all the activities,” my 13-year-old daughter said. Some of these were organised, like our guided horse ride up the hills and to outlooks on the ranch land. I’ve been on plenty of guided horse rides. For many of them, I could just as well be sitting in a rollercoaster car on rails. This one felt a bit more athletic and oh what views!
We also did a stint of clay pigeon shooting. Careful readers of this blog will know I absolutely love shooting and this was great fun, with the opportunity to push ourselves, doing two clays at staggered times and different angles.
One of the great things to do here: attend the daily feeding of the longhorns in the large pen that borders the drive up to the resort. A ranch hand in hat and boots shows you how to take some of the food sticks from the large bag and hand feed the animals that linger like friendly dogs around the dinner table. It’s the perfect time for a “lelfie” (longhorn selfie).
Plus there are the unorganised activities.
Infinity pool – It’s not massive but allows plenty of room for a splash with younger kids and, as we discovered, high-spirited beach ball water volleyball with teens.
Horseshoes – It’s the sport of kings. Or the sport of people who have extra bent iron pieces lying around and the desire to throw them at a short pole stuck in the ground. Harder and more fun than you’d expect and the basis for a great family mini-tournament after a swim.
Tether ball – The last time I played this game I was in the schoolyard in the West Texas town of Lubbock. The kids were ridiculously mad about this game. Probably because they kept winning in our adults v kids games.
Volleyball – On the day the kids went to the sand court, they had a run-in with black biting insects of some sort (veeery authentic) that had them running back to the pool with stories of their derring-do in the face of danger. We ran out of time to play properly, but I would bring bug spray. It’s Texas after all.
One of the nicest things about the resort is the rooms themselves. They were rustic but with comfortable mattresses, cool decor and a connected patio out the back with astonishing views. We sat out here enjoying the view and the shaded heat in the late afternoon. In the mornings, it was wonderful to step out with your cup of coffee, made in the kitchenette area and just listen to nature.
The kids slept on the trundle bed in the same room, although interconnecting rooms are available.
Other winning bits were the breakfast, served in the main resort lounge, with limited but satisfying options. I had the biscuits and gravy (because, c’mon, when it’s available, you have to have it). The kids and my husband had muesli, OJ, yoghurt, tea and coffee.
Across the road is the Dinner Bell restaurant, which is all about hand-cut mesquite-grilled steaks plus a bar big enough to be a great place to have a beer, cocktail or mocktail while playing cards (one of our favourite pastimes).
Wildcatter Ranch is just outside Graham, a great little Texas town with an old-style square, a drive-in cinema (yes, they still exist!) and fantastic examples of lovely Texas houses with wide porches. The square is bordered by small local shops — a cafe, a florist, a clothes shop, a guns and ammo outlet and more. We had a very friendly drink at Neri’s on the Square — definitely worth visiting. We also stopped for lunch at Clayton’s BBQ one day. The decor is half the reason for coming here — it’s very authentically Texan and just-folks friendly, on the road leading out of time. Definitely order the peach cobbler.
What to expect from a visit
A visit to Wildcatter Ranch in Graham is a wonderfully encapsulated experience of Texas — thrilling, authentic, stimulating and truly “yeehaw!” It’s also out in the country, which means you can slow down and really relax.
While we were there we saw families, couples of getaways, a group of women away for a girls’ weekend — and it accommodated all of them effortlessly.
We spent 3 days and 2 nights there and would have enjoyed at least one more of each. That porch out back is still calling to me. The pool with a view still calls to me. And I reckon given another chance, I just might win at horseshoes. At least one round.
6062 Hwy 16 South, Graham, TX 76450
Neri’s on the Square
523 4th St, Graham, Texas
1820 380 Bypass, Graham, Texas
Disclosure: This post is part of our #hertztrip, promoting the U.S. Road Trip Planner on Hertz’s website. The U.S. Road Trip Planner plots out routes in regions across the U.S. My family and I are following parts of the Deep in the Heart of Texas route, highlighting family stops along the way. Hertz UK has covered the cost of our vehicle rental; all opinions are my own.