Patagonia (Credit: Lori Adamski-Peek)

Indulge Your Wild West Fantasy in Arizona

By: Teresa Bitler

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May 31, 2019

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.

About the author

Teresa Bitler

Teresa Bitler

Teresa Bitler is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in Sunset and Valley Guide magazines. She is the author of Great Escapes Arizona as well as four Arizona-related iPhone travel apps and is currently working on her second guidebook, Backroads & Byways of Indian Country. She can be reached at www.teresabitler.com.

The mystique of the Wild West envelopes Arizona like a leather duster.

Outlaws and lawmen held sway over the Arizona Territory long before it became a state, and 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). And moviegoers who grew up on John Ford westerns would not be surprised by the fact that, until 1950, Arizona had more cattle than people.

Cowboy culture lives on in Arizona. You can find it at dude ranches, historic saloons, movie sets, Old West haberdasheries and themed attractions. Mosey on down to these dozen spots to add a little (or a heap) of Western heritage to your visit.

Dress like a cowboy


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 1970s. And the meticulously handcrafted kicks from Nogales-based Paul Bond Boots are meant to be worn with pant legs tucked into the tops to show off the one-of-a-kind designs.

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.

Play like a cowboy


Arizona offers Western experiences suitable for cowpokes 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. (Kids can ride sheep.)

In southern Arizona, you can pan for gold, shoot a real .45 Colt revolver with wax bullets or hop on a stagecoach at Old Tucson, the film set of famous movies and television shows like "The Outlaw Jose Wales," "Gunsmoke," and "The Three Amigos."

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.

Live like a cowboy


Can't get enough of the cowboy life? Then book a few nights at an Arizona dude ranch for an immersive experience. In northwest Arizona, Stagecoach Trails Guest Ranch borders 360,000 acres of accessible federal land suitable for horseback riding. In the evenings, enjoy cowboy singers and storytellers.

At the intimate, 28-guest Kay El Bar Guest Ranch near Wickenburg (a little more than an hour or 66 miles west of Phoenix), you'll feel like a wrangler as you groom your own horse, saddle up for morning and afternoon rides, and have a go at cattle penning.

In Sasabe near the southern border, ride the trails at Rancho de la Osa, where John Wayne and Zane Grey once stayed. Those who crave action can try their hand at sports shooting; gentler cowboys can set off on a birdwatching hike.

Drink like a cowboy


Toast a day's hard work or simply wet your whistle with a drink or two at these historic Arizona saloons.

Two men in Western attire stand at the bar in Prescott SaloonPrescott Saloon patrons / Credit: Mark West

In Payson, drop by the Oxbow Inn and Saloon. Originally a hotel constructed from pine logs in the 1930s, today it's the locals' go-to for cold beverages and live music.

Or grab a stool at Paul & Jerry's (206 Main Street) in Jerome. Built in 1899, the saloon with a tin ceiling and papered walls was once the largest gambling establishment in the Southwest. It remains the oldest family-run saloon in Arizona.

History buffs should belly up to the 1880s-era bar at The Palace Restaurant & Saloon in Prescott. Over the years, the saloon has served Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and Rough Rider volunteers of the Spanish-American War.

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