Desert Caballos Western Museum, Wickenburg

Contemporary Cowboy Fun

By: Edie Jarolim

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December 21, 2011

100 years after Arizona's statehood, enjoy the state's Western roots in fresh, entertaining ways.

About the author

Edie Jarolim

Edie Jarolim

Edie Jarolim is the author of three travel guides, including "Arizona for Dummies," and one dog guide, "Am I Boring My Dog?" Her book, "Getting Naked for Money: An Accidental Travel Writer Reveals All," is a memoir about her career as a guidebook editor for Frommer’s, Rough Guides, and Fodor’s and as a Tucson-based freelance travel writer. Her articles about Arizona have appeared in numerous national publications, including "National Geographic Traveler," "Sunset," and "The Wall Street Journal."

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.

Rugged outdoor clothing, humorous poetry and trail rides through towering stands of cacti are among our popular modern spins on Old West traditions.

Cowboy poetry and ballads

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, and Western songsters and versifiers converge on Prescott for the Arizona Cowboy Poetry Gathering in August.

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.

Western art

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.

The Tucson Museum of Art's excellent American West collection is supplemented by visiting exhibitions such as "The West Observed: The Art of Howard Post" in 2018.

You could also choose to raise a glass and toast art history at Sedona's Cowboy Club (formerly the Oak Creek Tavern), site of the founding of the celebrated Cowboy Artists of America.

Contemporary cowboy digs

Two cowboys pen a calf at White Stallion Ranch in Tucson, ArizonaWhite Stallion Ranch by Christine C. Photographie

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, provides 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 Guest Ranch in Sasabe (south of Tucson), birds also vie for guests’ attention at these avian havens.

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

Cowpoke shopping

Visiting dudes can find Western duds in nearly every part of the state.

Top stops include the huge Double D Western World in Wickenburg, carrying everything from horse-themed jewelry to shoes for your horse.

The “safest place to trade since 1880,” the Willcox Commercial store, is still a great source of denim and leather goods, but you’ll have to buy your flour elsewhere.

Family-owned since 1927, and with several locations throughout Greater Phoenix, Saba’s not only purveys high-quality Western wear but also instructs customers on how to keep it in top shape.

Paul Bond Boot Company, in Nogales, Arizona, since 1928, and Stewart Custom Boots, opened in Tucson in 1940, stand out for their handsome custom-made footwear.

Top photo: The permanent collection at the Desert Caballeros Western Museum, courtesy of David H. Smith.

Portions of this story were updated in April 2018.

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