The Impulsive Traveler: Get an inside look at nature at the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine, Tex.
I like fake stuff. Shopping malls with wilderness themes. Indoor nature walks along meandering, well-swept concrete paths beside man-made streams that bloom with ersatz cacti and strategically placed Purell hand sanitizer stations. Or strolling a Texas prairie when "Texas prairie" means a climate-controlled resort under a dome six minutes north of Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, minus scratchy tumbleweeds and plagues of armadillos.
These are the charms of the Gaylord Texan Hotel and Convention Center in Grapevine, Tex.: adventures in simulacra.
Brought to you by the same folks who approximated Nashville's country music heritage at Gaylord Opryland and synthesized the American dream at Gaylord National in National Harbor, the 1,511-room Gaylord Texan is as fake as you want it to be. Sure, you could bike or hike trails that connect the 150-acre property to boating and fishing on 8,000-acre Lake Grapevine. But it's damned hot and humid in Texas, even in September, and there are, like, longhorn-size mosquitoes and flying roaches and other nasty critters out there. So why not order a Shirley Temple at the Gaylord's Silver Bar Saloon, recline in a plush leather chair next to a roaring gas fireplace to escape the frosty AC and listen to a piano man stumble through "Tiny Dancer"?
But the Gaylord Texan's not just for Crocodile Rockers. The hotel's centerpiece - a domed interior complete with artificial trails beside an artificial river not unlike San Antonio's Riverwalk but, well, under a dome - is a mock oasis that offers real comfort to scree-weary Lone Star State travelers. Visitors can mosey down to Relache Spa for a Texas Hot Stone Massage ($190 for 80 minutes) or to Ama Lur for contemporary Southwestern cuisine (orange-achiote seared ahi tuna, $30).
The faux-stone fort that looms over the Gaylord's imitation prairie looks like the Alamo, but Texas Station isn't where Davy Crockett or Ozzy Osbourne made their last stands. This sports lounge with a 52-foot flat-screen features food inspired by all things cowboy and decor inspired by all things Cowboys, since the Gaylord is the team's official hotel. Redskins fans might enjoy the frito pie ($8) but shouldn't flash Donovan McNabb jerseys at the large gentlemen chowing down on the wings-and-ribs combo at the bar. Those dudes are big and have considered opinions about the NFL.
Still, those brave enough to venture outside the Gaylord's dome will find that Grapevine offers diversions. In Texas, suburbs look less like Bethesda and more like Deadwood - and that's a good thing. Though connected to sprawling Dallas-Fort Worth by an intricate web of superhighways, Grapevine still feels like the frontier town that sprang up around where Gen. Sam Houston signed an Indian treaty in 1843. It just has better retail now. Main Street offers Western tchotchke shops, art galleries, a tobacconist, wine bars, gastropubs with live bands and a variety of dining options, especially if you like steak, steak or steak. I opted to eat two blocks off the main drag at Esparza's Restaurante Mexicano, where the margaritas flow cheaply, the quesadillas are vegetarian and the house salsa has kick.
Meanwhile, back at the Gaylord, the party was just getting started in between flashes of heat lightning over Lake Grapevine. Though I could see the Glass Cactus, the resort's '80s cover band-friendly lakeside nightspot, from my room, I hopped onto the shuttle that regularly runs between the two buildings to keep inebriated brides' DUI arrests to a minimum. After a three-minute ride, I flashed my room card at the door - lowly outsiders pay a $10 cover at the Cactus, but Gaylord guests get in free - and stepped into a Southwestern-themed dance club where 20- and 30-somethings got their freak on, urged on by the Black Eyed Peas' boomy kick drum. Quickly tiring of this techno sweat lodge, I retreated to my car and again left the resort, driving five minutes up the road to the curiously named Love & War in Texas, a Dallas steakhouse chain that puts on local bands with a bit more Texan flavor than, say, Ke$ha. Though I was too late for the music, I was happy to chill out for a while in a strobe-light-free bar with saloon doors and a frontierish feel.
Mornings at Grapevine are a great time to commune with nature before the mercury strays into the 80s and 90s - or, for those who prefer to remain indoors, an excellent opportunity for mallwalking at Grapevine Mills Mall. After wolfing down an old-fashioned glazed and a Bavarian cream at Kountry Donuts on Grapevine's Main Street - the Riverwalk Cafe, the Gaylord's most appealing breakfast spot, was closed for renovation - I burned off those empty calories turning circles in Grapevine Mills' 1.6 million-square-foot interior. At 8:30 a.m., no one was around and no stores were open, ensuring that neither people-watching nor side trips to Books-a-Million and Forever 21 would distract me from my walking meditation.
There would be plenty of time to shop later at Grapevine's enormous Bass Pro Shop, where a Ruger .357-caliber and .44-caliber matched gun set were on sale for the low price of $1,259.97 (display case included). While the Rugers were out of my price range, those with means could shoot pistols of any caliber at Bass Pro's indoor shooting range for a mere $12 an hour or, with a reservation, rifles for $14 an hour.
But remember, especially if you are a diminutive East Coast journalist who doesn't normally frequent gun ranges: You will need to bring your own gun to shoot at Bass Pro. Don't sass the cashier if you forgot to bring your piece - that's just the way indoor gun ranges work, at least in Texas. And that cashier, a former Marine, is bigger than you.