With its promise of stunning landscapes and potential gold rushes, it’s easy to see why people still find the Wild West alluring after all these years.
Beyond the scenic wide-open spaces and wild horses, the Wild West of countless classic Hollywood films still exists, and it’s possible to experience it through the eyes of a cowboy.
So saddle up, as we guide you around the dusty valleys, buffalo herds and historical monuments worth visiting should you ever embark on a journey through the American frontier.
Become a cowboy
The chances are that at some point in your childhood you fantasised about being a cowboy and riding through a town in the Old West, spurs jingling at your heels, before slamming open some saloon bar doors and engaging in an epic duel. Well, there are several ranches that can make these dreams come true (minus the gunslinging).
Since the 19th century, ranchers have moved cattle from winter range to mountain pastures, and this work is still undertaken to this day – the difference is that it’s no longer the preserve of professionals. There are several ranches that will take you on this type of adventure, including the seven-day south west Montana high country cattle drive. You’ll embark on horseback over fairly rough terrain, while cooking and sleeping outdoors.
If you like the sound of this but would rather get some kip indoors, then there are “dude ranches” that will put you up for several nights and offer all kinds of great-outdoors activities such as fishing, hiking and wagon rides. There are also working farms you can stay at that’ll let you chip in with the daily tasks for an authentic cowboy experience.
“There’s gold in them thar hills”
Great fortunes were made and lost in the Wild West, and you can hit the gold rush trail yourself in Arizona’s rugged Weaver Mountains. Starting out your quest from Phoenix, you travel to the historic town of Wickenburg, then head to the hills, passing old mining claims along Antelope Creek. Expert miners will teach you how to pan for gold, and the best thing about it is that you get to keep what you find.
Discover the land of Native Americans
The iconic red desert landscape of Monument Valley on the border between Utah and Arizona is the star of many a Western film. It also sits within the Navajo Nation Reservation and is a great place to learn more about Native American culture. Certain parts are restricted, so it’s best to hook yourself up with a local for a guided tour. You’ll learn about the Navajo way of life and their native plants, check out ruins and rock carvings, as well as see sites well off the beaten tourist track.