Bandera, Texas - The Cowboy Capital of the World. A small off the beaten path town, dotted with dude ranches and golf courses.
In 1853 settlers choose a section of the Medina River to establish a lumber mill. By the 1870's, this small town turned into a staging area for major cattle drives through the Bandera Pass and along the Western Trail to Montana and Kansas. This is how Bandera earned its nickname "The Cowboy Capital of the World."
Bandera is no longer the staging area for cattle drives, but it is still the Cowboy Capital. The small town, 47 miles up Rt 16 North of San Antonio, it is known for its dude ranches and rodeos.
The downtown is of the same era as the American "ghost towns", but this little tucked away spot is still kicking. It could have gone the same way as the gold and silver rush boomtowns when the cattle drives faded. Instead, it reinvented itself and continues to flourish.
You can catch a rodeo through late spring and into the fall, on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday nights. These family events are the training grounds for many National champions. Competitors compete in the classic events such as bull riding and bronco bustin'. The evening always starts with a crowd favorite as the young members of the audience are invited to the arena to catch a greased pig. The pig always wins, but by the time this warm up event is over, the allure of the rodeo has captured the audience.
Dude ranches, like the Flying L, draw a crowd year round. The facilities are rustic and the prices all inclusive. "Dude cowboys" try their hand at riding the range during the day and cooking over a campfire at night. Flying L also has facilities for swimming, tennis, and golf. Accommodations include a main guesthouse, condos, or a bunkhouse. Spring and fall are the best times of the year since summer temperatures often soar over the 100-degree mark.
Shopping ranges from authentic western wear to gift shops full of Texas gear. Always in high spirits, expect Texan cowboy t-shirts with sayings like " I've never met a woman I didn't love, but I've met a few I wish I'd never married." Or signs for sale that read "Men, no shirts, no shoes, no service. Women, no shirts, no shoes, free drinks." Also, armadillos decorate everything that isn't already covered in the Texas state flag!
The Main Street Stage is an open-air bar that features wine, beer, lemonade, coffee and iced tea. Live performances start at noon and fill the downtown area. The crowd comes for the music and is tamer than the other saloons in town.
This is not an urban cowboy kind of town. The saloons and other hotels cater to the rodeo crowd. Which seems in sharp contrast to the other major sport - golf. There are several courses in the areas - par 72's, with long par 5's and difficult water holes. Prices with cart start at $20 for weekday play making this a well-kept secret of the San Antonio golfers.
Families find the lazy Medina River a perfect place to go tubing and have a picnic. Creek would better describe the waters here. Four feet deep at its deepest point, slow moving and crystal clear. No need for formalities, locals just kick off their boots and hats and jump in wearing t-shirts and shorts.
To top off this perfect vacation spot choose Harvey's Steakhouse or Busbees Bar-b-que. Both are downtown and both feature a large menu in the style of a 1950's diner. For the best food in Texas, just follow your nose. You'll find both are a true bang-for-your-buck kind of restaurant.
If you are interested in historic buildings, Bandera has its share. Harvey's is located in the old First National Bank building - a historic landmark. You'll notice Texas markers on a number of the homes, most of the downtown area, and the St. Stanislaus church. Photo opportunities abound.
Bandera, population 900, may be one of the best-kept secrets in Texas. But, once you discover it, you'll be back again and again.