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Explore the Wild West

“Mom, did the days of cowboys and Indians really happen? Or are they just on TV shows?” my 6-year-old asked me last spring. While our family does a fair amount of traveling around Texas, we’d never really explored the Wild West. So after a quick search of the Texas Forts Trail Region, we planned a weekend to Fort Griffin.

For the protection of the settlers of West Texas and the trade routes in the late 1800s, the U.S. Army established Fort Griffin. Located atop a high plateau and near a flowing river, it was the ideal location for the fort and nearby town to be established. Fort Griffin became a major support post, dispatching both buffalo soldiers and Tonkawa scouts in several campaigns that ended the Kiowa and Comanche domination of North Texas. And while the fort was abandoned in 1881, it was deeded to the state and has been open as a historic site since 1938. Today, all that remains are a few ruins, but history seeps out of the land, making it a must-see for any Texan.

Getting There
Fort Griffin is located 167 miles northwest of Dallas, a 2.5-hour drive on Interstate 30, which turns into a scenic route along Highway 180 to Breckenridge.

Why it’s Family-friendly
Fort Griffin is nestled in the country, where peace and quiet overwhelm you. Walking on a self-guided tour of the fort’s remains allowed us to talk about what life must have been like and explore together. It’s great to get out of the city and see what the Wild West was like. There is a great deal of history that can be learned in Fort Griffin.

What to do
Starting at the Fort Griffin Visitors Center, you can get a brief history of the fort and the importance of defending the West Texas frontier. Pick up a walking guide and tour the extensive grounds, where you’ll discover the ruins of the sutler’s store, a bakery, a hand-dug well and an administration building, as well as a reconstructed mess hall and barracks. Call in advance to schedule a guided tour. A walk around the fort will take approximately two hours.

Fort Griffin also served as a route along the Great Western Cattle Trail, and a portion of the official Texas longhorn herd still grazes here. Every Saturday afternoon, the herd is gathered for an up-close experience, where you can hear tales of the cattle drives of yesterday. The town of Fort Griffin, known as one of the wildest towns in West Texas, is located close by, though all that remains is a historic sign.

Camping at Fort Griffin is a fun experience with nearby nature trails, fishing on the Brazos River and stargazing. Light pollution is very low on the fort, and the stars shine bright here. One weekend a month, the fort hosts campfire tales and a stargazing party.

Don’t Miss
Stop along the way in Mineral Wells for some Crazy Water. The water of Mineral Wells is known for making people “feel good inside and out.” Crazy Water is open Monday–Saturday. Learn about the history of the town’s famous water, and take a sip. You can bring your own water bottles (one gallon or larger) to fill up at the original Famous Pavilion.

Published March 2015