Contemporary Cowboy Fun
Downtown Wickenburg

Heritage & Culture

Contemporary Cowboy Fun

From dude ranches to themed bars, cowboy culture is alive and well in Arizona. Discover the state's Western heritage, and get in on the action, at these cowboy hangouts.

Outlaws and lawmen held sway over the Arizona Territory long before the most famous gunfight in Wild West history went down at the O.K. Corral (or, technically, six doors down from the corral). We no longer eat hardtack—a cracker only a dentist could love—but, a century after achieving statehood, Arizonans still celebrate life on the range.

Find current cowboy culture at dude ranches, historic saloons, movie sets, Old West haberdasheries and themed attractions throughout the state. Mosey on down to these dozen spots to add a little (or a heap) of Western heritage to your visit.

Contemporary Cowboy Fun
Dioramas show the Wickenburg that was.

Cowboy ballads and Western art

The melodious side of ranching life takes center stage during several annual Arizona events.

February boasts the Cochise Cowboy Poetry & Music Gathering in Sierra Vista, while August brings Western songsters and versifiers to Prescott for the Arizona Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Down south, the legacy of the singing cowboys of the silver screen is recalled during October's Rex Allen Days in Willcox. Created by Arizona's Official State Balladeer Dolan Ellis, the Arizona Folklore Preserve in Ramsey Canyon, which lies just south of Sierra Vista, offers live performances by various artists on weekends year-round.

For a visual celebration of the West, pay a visit to any of the numerous museums around the state exhibiting fine cowboy art.

Along with its impressive permanent collection of Western art, the Phippen Museum in Prescott hosts several visiting shows and sales, including its annual "Hold Your Horses! Invitational Exhibition and Sale." Wickenburg's Desert Caballeros Western Museum is renowned for "Cowgirl Up," the country's most important annual showcase of women artists working in the Western genre.

You could also choose to raise a glass and toast art history at Sedona's Cowboy Club, where the celebrated Cowboy Artists of America was founded.

Contemporary Cowboy Fun
White Stallion Ranch (Credit: Ulises Escobar)

Contemporary cowboy digs and Western vacations

Arizona's guest ranches come in all sizes and styles, but horseplay and hospitality are common denominators.

Some are still working cattle ranches: Flying E Ranch in Wickenburg and White Stallion Ranch in Tucson let their guests watch—and sometimes partake in—traditional cowboy activities like team cattle penning and seasonal cattle drives. Others have added modern amenities, including a spa at Tanque Verde Ranch in Tucson and a golf course at Wickenburg's Rancho de los Caballeros.

Stagecoach Trails Guest Ranch in Yucca, south of Kingman, borders 360,000 acres of accessible federal land suitable for horseback riding. Guests can enjoy cowboy singers and storytellers in the evening at this unique ranch known for its barrier-free Western experiences for people with physical disabilities.

While horses are the main attraction at Circle Z Ranch in Patagonia and Rancho de la Osa in Sasabe (south of Tucson), birds also vie for guests' attention at these avian havens. Former notable guests at Rancho de la Osa include John Wayne and author Zane Grey.

The Arizona Dude Ranch Association offers a list of additional premier places for cowpoke wannabes to bunk.

Play like a cowboy

Arizona offers Western experiences suitable for wannabe cowboys and cowgirls of all ages. At the Buffalo Chip Saloon, also in Cave Creek, watch live bull riding and, if you're brave enough, try it yourself on Wednesday and Friday nights (minimum age 18).

In southern Arizona, more Wild West fun happens further south at Old Tombstone Western Theme Park, not far from where the legendary gunfight at the O.K. Corral took place. Here, see professionally acted shows featuring stunts and shootouts by The Tombstone Cowboys, a championship gunfight team.

Cowboy threads and where to find them

Visiting dudes can find Western duds in nearly every part of the state, and even city slickers can't help but feel a little more rugged wearing a solid pair of boots and an authentic cowboy hat.

Start with the boots. In Tucson, Stewart Boot Manufacturing Co. (30 W. 28th St., Tucson) has been handcrafting off-the-shelf and custom boots since the 1940s. The meticulously handcrafted kicks from Nogales-based Paul Bond Boot Company, open since 1928, are meant to be worn with pant legs tucked into the tops to show off the one-of-a-kind designs.

For the rest of your outfit, The Willcox Commerical (180 Railroad Ave, Willcox) store, "the safest place to trade since 1880," is still a great source of denim and leather goods. And family-owned Saba's in Chandler (in Phoenix's East Valley) not only purveys high-quality Western wear but also instructs customers on how to keep it in top shape.

Cap off your Western footwear with a hat from Watson's Hat Shop in Cave Creek, north of Phoenix. Each hat is fashioned by hand on vintage equipment in a 64-step process. If this sounds like a months-long endeavor, you'll be pleasantly surprised to learn one hat can be completed in just 48 hours.

Author Edie Jarolim also contributed to this blog.

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About the Author

Teresa Bitler

Teresa Bitler is an award-winning travel writer whose work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, American Way, Wine Enthusiast, and AAA publications. She is the author of two guidebooks and a contributor to Fodors Arizona & The Grand Canyon.

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