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January 30, 2008

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Where's Mike?                                          Dallas/Fort Worth!


Destination: Dallas
Mission: Find something truly Texan -- real-life cowboys!
By Mike Manna

There is a certain mystique that surrounds the state of Texas. Its unique geographical characteristics and diverse culture give it a distinctive nature that conjures up images of legendary American heroes roaming unbounded plains. But Texas is much more than intriguing Homeric figures riding on horseback into a picturesque sunset. It's a fascinating state where the South becomes one with the Southwest and where its culturally diverse people are proud of their long-standing traditions.

For as long as I can remember, I have admired this grand state and have been a devoted enthusiast of those celebrated cowboys from Texas. And finally, the time came for me to visit this illustrious land, the Lone Star State. Without hesitation, I headed for the largest metropolitan areas north of the Rio Grande and south of the great plains of Oklahoma. My destination? The Dallas, Fort Worth, Arlington, Metroplex area.

The climate in North Texas varies from season to season. Summers can be typically hot and humid, but during the spring and autumn, the weather is downright pleasant. So I packed my suitcase accordingly, with attire suitable for temperatures in the warm 80s. Without further ado, I saddled up onto a comfortable, three-hour American Airlines flight out of New York's LaGuardia Airport (LGA) and headed for the massive Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW). The airport is so large that it has its own post office, zip code and public services and is listed as the fourth largest airport in the world. Yes, it may indeed be true that everything is bigger in Texas. Visitors also have the option to fly into Dallas Love Field, another conveniently located commercial airport in the area.

I was definitely looking forward to my journey to the Metroplex and was quite eager to come across those renowned Texan figures, adorned in classic hats, fine looking boots and gloves. My mission was to find those illustrious cowboys of the Lone Star State and in the blink of an eye, my journey was underway.

Upon arrival, I reckoned that McKinney Texas would be a great place to start my search for them cowboys. After all, it is has one of the largest historic districts in the state and is located a mere 30 miles from Dallas. Traveling by car is a must when visiting the Metroplex area because the region's mass transportation system is still in its infancy but the modern highways will make any trip over the vast flat terrain quick and pleasant. My ultimate destination in McKinney was the charming Chestnut Square Historic Village. The site features nine notable houses and buildings decorated with original furnishings, art and heirlooms that date back to the 1850s. The historic village beautifully captures "the old days", providing a unique perspective on 19th century life in Northern Texas. Being at Chestnut Square was like stumbling into the past. My search started with the enjoyable discovery of this enchanting historic village, but unfortunately (and much to my dismay), I did not see any of those celebrated cowboys. My journey had to continue. Chestnut Square Historic Village, 315 S. Chestnut Street, McKinney, TX 75069, (972) 562-8790.

Back in Dallas, I remained focused and determined to find them cowboys. I knew it was just a matter of time before I stumbled upon one of those legendary figures. Then without notice, there appeared a massive shape out of the corner of my eye. My pulse quickened and my brow began to sweat as I headed in the direction of this gigantic life form. Towering at a height of 52 feet and supported by size 70 boots, this figure soared effortlessly into the blue Texas sky. With a stylish 75-gallon hat resting atop his head, my eyes laid witness to Big Tex, the largest cowboy in Texas and the hallmark greeter at the State Fair of Texas.

Fair Park is a national historic landmark and the proud host of The State Fair of Texas, the largest state fair in the nation. The park was the site of the 1936 World's Fair and today claims 277 spacious acres filled with exhibits, entertaining shows, the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic football game and the Dallas Summer Musicals. Fair Park plays host to more than seven million annual visitors and prides itself on having the largest collection of 1930s art deco exposition buildings in the United States. The entertainment and recreation complex is open year-round and is home to an IMAX Theater, a planetarium, The Dallas Aquarium, a music hall and eight delightful museums.

For 24 entertaining days, from late September to mid October, The State Fair of Texas makes its home at Fair Park and opens its doors to about 3.5 million visitors. There are plenty of rides (the fair prides itself on having the largest Ferris wheel in North America), entertainment and fried food dishes, including crowd favorites like fried cookie dough, deep-fried Twinkies and deep-fried lattes. Yes, deep-fried lattes. I can't imagine that Starbucks has plans to add this beloved southern item to their menu anytime soon, so you'll need to head to the State Fair of Texas to experience it for yourself.

In 2007, the State Fair unveiled the much-anticipated Texas Skyway where its gondolas offer a unique view of the Fair Park and panoramic views of Dallas in the in the not-too-distant background. The 2008 State Fair will open on September 26th, so if you find yourself suddenly craving a deep fried latte, head to Dallas. You won't be disappointed. Visit for ticket and parking prices.

Onward to Dallas. Discovered in 1841 by French settlers, the city of Dallas came to prominence as a center for the oil and cotton industries, particularly in 1930 when the discovery of oil occurred only a few miles east. Today, there are more visitors to Dallas than any other destination in Texas. Visitors will definitely discover a cosmopolitan city that presents a unique blend of sophistication with the charm of the old west. The city's friendly people, along with exciting museums, exclusive shopping and fine restaurants, create a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

While I was wandering through this marvelous city, I stumbled onto a spacious grassy site and a large oak tree that seemed awfully familiar. The location was Elm Street at Dealey Plaza, where on November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was tragically assassinated.

Forty-five years ago, Lee Harvey Oswald committed a villainous act that silenced anxious onlookers and left millions around the world stunned. The event is one of the most significant events in American history and remains shrouded in controversy. At the center of all the controversy is the sixth floor of the former Texas School Book depository, where, after the assassination, authorities found a sniper's nest, three spent bullet cartridges, a paper bag near the window and a rifle stuffed between boxes located adjacent to the staircase.

Today, the former book depository is open to the public as The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza and provides tourists from all over the globe with fascinating exhibits that examine the life, death and legacy of President John F. Kennedy. The well-designed exhibits use historic films, photographs and artifacts.

After the one and a half hour audio tour, the overwhelming chronological facts and specifics surrounding the ongoing debate of the assassination, I was rendered speechless and spent much time in deep contemplation. A trip to Dallas just won't be complete unless you pay a visit to this historic location. The museum is located on the sixth and seventh floors of the Dallas County Administration Building at 411 Elm Street (at Houston) and is open every day but Christmas. Entrance times are from 10am to 6pm, Tuesday through Sunday, and 12pm to 6pm on Monday. The museum is a non-profit organization and receives no government funding for operating expenses, so there is an admission fee: $13.50 for adults and $12.50 for youths (6-18 years) and seniors (65+ years). Due to the sensitive subject matter and international profile, guests are required to enter through a metal detector. Remember to be courteous and respectful since the museum is a place for remembrance and commemoration. The museum prohibits the taking of pictures as this would disturb visitors. For further information, visit

I continued my journey through this fascinating city and came upon a quaint section named Highland Park. New York has Fifth Avenue, Palm Beach has Worth Avenue and L.A. has Rodeo Drive but in Dallas, Highland Park Village reigns supreme as the city's premier upscale shopping district. Highland Park Village is located at the corner of Mockingbird Lane and Preston Road and offers a first-rate shopping experience with retailers such as Chanel, St. John, Ralph Lauren and Hermes. The historic plaza, known for its expensive boutiques and distinguished Mediterranean-Spanish architecture, creates an atmosphere that is both conducive and friendly to shoppers. Considered the first shopping plaza in the United States, this shopper's paradise even offers complimentary, covered valet parking. I didn't have time to shop as the setting sun quickly reminded me that another day was soon to end. It was time for me to find a hotel so I could get the much-needed rest my body and mind were calling for. So I headed for the delightful Omni Hotel in Las Colinas.

Situated along the shores of Lake Carolyn, the Omni Mandalay Hotel at Las Colinas is a luxury hotel, which offers 421 guest rooms and suites. The grand lobby, decorated with palm trees, complements the well-appointed antiques and has an Asian-influenced decor throughout. The natural light pouring through the large windows illuminates the lounge area and presents scenic water views.

The decently sized rooms are furnished with cherry wood furniture and the suites include a small living area and walk-out balcony, which offer up panoramic views of either Lake Carolyn or the city of Dallas, depending on where your room is located. Daily rates for a deluxe room start at $129 and suites begin at $179, and both include modern amenities and a complimentary USA Today, delivered to your room each morning. Marbled bathrooms include plush robes and makeup vanities. Wired and wireless Internet access is available in each room for $9.95 per day plus tax.

Guests can enjoy the hotel's fitness center or enjoy the calming waters of the heated lakeside swimming pool and whirlpools; both are open year-round. There are well-placed jogging and biking trails located around the hotel and bicycles are available for rent. After all this physical activity, treat yourself to a massage from the in-house masseuse. Massages are available by appointment only. Or, just sit back and enjoy a relaxing gondola ride on the water canals that encircle the property as the hotel attempts to capture the charm and elegance of Venetian grandeur. Hotel services include nightly turndown and morning housekeeping, 24-hour room service, dry cleaning and laundry, express check-in and check-out, concierge assistance, shoe shine, complimentary town car and van service for travel within the Las Colinas area, self-park and car valet. Omni Mandalay Hotel at Las Colinas, 221 East Las Colinas Boulevard, Dallas (Irving), Texas, Tel: (972) 556-0800.

After sleeping comfortably at the Omni Mandalay, I felt energized and eager to continue on my search for those celebrated cowboys. Next on my list was Fort Worth, the proclaimed city of cowboys and culture. Located 30 miles from Dallas, it was without a doubt a sure bet to find what I was looking for. Established in 1849 as a protective Army outpost, the city of Forth Worth developed into a bustling town when it became a stop for those lengthy cattle drives along the legendary Chisholm Trail. During the cattle drives, Fort Worth was the last location for cowboys to stock up on supplies before setting out on the remaining 500-mile trek into Kansas, where ranchers and cowboys could sell their cattle for three times more than their value in Texas. In 1876, with the arrival of the railroad in Fort Worth, the cattle drives to the north came to an end. As with every ending, there is a new beginning and this was no different in Fort Worth when ranchers and cowboys realized that the 206 acres of holding pens were the perfect place to hold their cattle until the next train came steaming into town. Later, with the introduction of meatpacking plants, the city began to prosper and Fort Worth became one of the world's major cattle centers, earning it the nickname Cowtown.

Cattle and cowboys have been synonymous with the Old West and the Fort Worth Stockyards offer an unforgettable glimpse of the cowboy days of yesteryear. Today, Fort Worth, with its laidback charm and old-fashioned ways, offers visitors the unique opportunity to experience the glorious Old West and in my opinion, one of the best places to capture it is the Fort Worth Stockyards. The Stockyards National Historic District is on the National Register of Historic Places and allows visitors to see the world's only daily cattle drive. I was truly amazed as the skillful cowboys escorted these massive, one-ton cattle with six-foot-wide longhorns, through the historic streets and towards their destination at the Trinity River. There is no cost to view the pageantry so come early and find a strategic place to view the show. Weather permitting, the event occurs twice daily from March 15th through November 15th, the first drive beginning at 11:30am. Don't worry if you miss the morning session. The Texas Longhorn's return trip begins at 4pm as the mighty Longhorns return from the Trinity River and head back to the Stockyard. Dallas may appear to be more cosmopolitan and chic, but Fort Worth had much to offer. This was undeniably the city of cowboys, but believe it or not, there weren't any of the cowboys I'd been searching for. My journey could not end until I found them so I had to continue my search for those celebrated Texans, known for their speed, strength and agility.

My next stop was Mesquite Texas, home of the Mesquite Rodeo and without a doubt should have been a guaranteed location to find them cowboys. The rodeo is the official sport of Texas and is considered by some to be America's first extreme sport. It was championship night, the last night of rodeo season and enthusiastic fans both young and old started to fill the seats. I didn't know what to expect at my first live rodeo as the crowd began to settle in. Watching in awe, I was captivated as a fearless cowboy jumped off his galloping horse onto a steer, grabbed it by its horns and wrestled it to the ground. For two action-packed hours, the rodeo succeeded in entertaining its loyal followers. Events include Chuck Wagon Racing, where two racing wagons are each pulled by four horses around position barrels and Cowboy Poker, where four cowboys test their poker skills, luck and bravery. The winner of this game is the last cowboy left sitting at the poker table as a bull charges into the ring. The audience was mesmerized. Other events, like bareback riding and bull riding electrified the crowd. And who can forget those memorable rodeo clowns who, during the bull riding competition, helped prevent injury to the riding cowboys by sacrificing their own wellbeing.

Prominent world leaders such as President Ronald Reagan, Prince Rainier of Monaco and President George W. Bush are some of the acclaimed guests reported to have attended the Mesquite rodeo. Fun for the whole family, Mesquite Rodeo runs from the months of April to September. The gates open at 6:30pm and the rodeo starts at 8pm. The cost for admission is $7 for the reserved grandstand and can cost up to $30 for box seats. For further information, visit

Over the years, allegations of unkind and cruel behavior to animals have surrounded the rodeo. Animal activist groups such as PETA have claimed that cruel treatment of animals occurs while the animals are in the chute. The Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA) has dismissed those allegations and has argued that the animals are born to buck and that their behavior is completely natural and instinctive. There are strict rules set forth for rodeos to adhere to, which include a veterinarian's presence, provisions for injured animals and spurs with dulled, free-spinning rowels. During the competition, I went to view the cowboys at the chute and saw the animals up close and in person. From my perspective, there was no cruel behavior at this rodeo. Giddy up! Unfortunately, I discovered that these were not the cowboys I was looking for. The journey had to continue. After an entertaining evening, it was time to head back to the delightful Omni Mandalay Hotel where I planned to formulate a strategy on where to find these elusive cowboys. I had one day remaining and my hopes were starting to dwindle.

The sun-filled morning brought with it a new day filled with promising possibilities. Cowboys are accustomed to the sight of big game but I was looking for "The Game". As I waited patiently in the lobby of the hotel, news arrived of a potential sighting. Since time was of the essence, the City of Dallas kindly provided a stretch limo with a police escort to the home of them cowboys. Yes indeed, I was heading to the home of the legendary and world-famous Dallas Cowboys. This was a dream come true and in no time I was at Texas Stadium to watch them Cowboys live in action.

Built in 1971, Texas Stadium seats 65,675 adoring fans and is one of the most famous sport arenas in the world. The stadium's original designs were for a domed stadium but engineering problems and financial issues left the project incomplete with its roof opening exposing the field while the stands remained covered. Maybe the reason for the hole in the roof was "so that God can watch his team," as one former player was quoted as saying. The ring of honor has legendary names such as Staubach, Dorsett, White, Landry, Aikman, Irvin, Smith and others who have exemplified Cowboy brilliance. Construction has begun for the Cowboy's new stadium in Arlington Texas, which (at the time of publication) has no name and should open before the 2009 season. The new retractable roof stadium will be a world-class facility with a capacity of 100,000 and will host the 2011 Super Bowl. Check out for further information. Being a Cowboys fan, I was delighted with the stellar plays from Romo, Witten, Owens, Barber, Jones, Williams and the rest of the Cowboys who all turned out a tremendous performance. Alongside a thrilled and anxious crowd cheering for America's team, Texas Stadium was completely rocking as the Cowboys triumphed over the St. Louis Rams. I was overwhelmed that I had finally found those celebrated cowboys and their victory was the perfect end to a truly remarkable visit.

After the action-packed game, it was time to head back east. I had successfully found my cowboys and discovered some other fabulous attractions in the area. The well-known Texan hospitality made for a most unforgettable stay. My trip to the Metroplex was a memorable experience and I look forward to making another trip soon. How 'bout them Cowboys?

*Please tell us what you think of this week's newsletter!

All information presented here is accurate at the time of publication but prices, dates and other details are all subject to change. Please confirm all information before making any travel arrangements.

Note: This trip was sponsored by Dallas/Fort Worth.

Pictures From

The Trip



Cattle Drive


Shawnee Trail


Bank of America Plaza

Reunion Tower

Chestnut Square Historic Village


Johnson House

Big Tex

Cotton Bowl

Texas Skyway


The State Fair of Texas

Pioneer Plaza

Fountain Place

Lake Carolyn

The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza

Sculptures by artist Robert Summers

Highland Park Village

Expensive Boutique

Omni Mandalay Hotel

Grand Lobby

Water Canals

Lakeside at the Omni

Fort Worth Stockyards

Head 'Em Up, Move 'Em out, Rawhide

Forth Worth Live Stock Exchange


Bill Pickett, Bulldogger

Texas Longhorn

Mesquite Rodeo

The Official Sport of Texas

Chuck Wagon Racing

Stretch Limo

Police Escort

Texas Stadium

Dallas Cowboys

“Cheering for America's Team”

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