Cowboy Junkies

Get your Wild West fix at the Wildcatter Ranch Resort

For an authentic “Westward Ho” experience, would-be wranglers can visit the Wildcatter Ranch Resort & Spa. Nestled in North Texas Hill Country, the resort’s locale was the setting for Lonesome Dove and for numerous classic John Wayne Westerns.

A two-hour drive from the Dallas airport, the 1,500-acre spread is operated by the great-grandchildren of original settlers. Sixteen guest cabins perched high on a bluff overlooking the Brazos river valley feature giant wood-frame beds and central stone fireplaces. Each unit’s name honors a different aspect of the colorful frontier and wildcatter oil-well history. Photographs on the walls of my “Warren Wagon Train” cabin show the site of that expedition’s ill-fated ambush and its seven martyred pioneer teamsters.     

Activities begin early when a tractor-pulled covered wagon takes guests to feed Longhorn cattle that are tame enough to accept tubes of cottonseed by hand. ATV tours or wrangler-escorted horseback trail rides explore the terrain. There are trails for hiking and biking, plus there’s fishing and canoeing on Connor Creek. Marksmen can try archery, skeet shooting or paintball in the field of haystacks. An infinity pool and hot tub overlook the cactus landscape, and the Sage spa offers a full menu of treatments.

Just 10 minutes from the front gate, the town of Graham retains Old World charm with storefronts surrounding a central square. A walking tour passes the Old Post Office Museum and Art Center and the “western-Romanesque”-style Graham Memorial Auditorium, where local thespians present hometown productions of Broadway shows.

Popular dining spots include Dinner Bell, Clayton’s and Mi Familia. But the highlight is definitely “Bob the Cook” Bratcher’s Western cuisine at the Wildcatter Steakhouse, featuring mouthwatering steaks and other ranch favorites. Each inch-thick, perfectly marbled tenderloin is carved by hand, rubbed with cinnamon, thyme, garlic and oregano, and grilled over mesquite. “Mustang Salad” is a popular side, while banana pudding flavored with Mexican vanilla is a great dessert. Local Texas varietal wines (or beers from the Blowout Saloon) enhance the courses. The Steakhouse serves a special Thanksgiving menu, but no worries: Visitors can work off all those calories on the Wildcatter Ranch’s many scenic trails.