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Cowboys and miners, plus a few mountain men, were the first to eke out a living in Arizona after the Spanish. The Old West history remains current in Arizona, where cowboys still ride the range and old-timey saloons still serve the road-weary traveller.

If you are willing to brave a little dust and tumbleweeds, you can practice your lasso technique in the shadow of a towering saguaro, poke around old mining towns and drive dusty roads with a cinematic red-rock backdrop.

Wrangling at a Wickenburg, Arizona dude ranch
At a dude ranch (aka “guest ranch”), you are more likely to play golf, get massaged or sip cocktails than rope yourself a steer. But many, like the Flying E Ranch, do focus on horseback riding, cookouts, line dancing and other cowboy/girl fun. When planning, be aware that many ranches in the desert lowlands close in summer. To book your dude ranch adventure, visit the Arizona Dude Ranch Association.

Practicing your fast draw at the OK Corral, Tombstone
The famous shootout at the OK Corral took place in 1881, during which the brothers Earp and Doc Holliday gunned down three members of the Clanton cowboy gang. The fight lasted about half a minute, but its place in Western lore was enshrined forevermore. Fights are re-enacted at 2 pm (with an additional show at 3:30 pm on busy days). Also check out the Boothill Graveyard for some twistedly poetic headstones.

Saloon-hopping on Whiskey Row in Prescott, Arizona
Before a devastating fire in 1900, 40 drinking establishments supplied suds and entertainment to rough-hewn cowboys, miners and wastrels on Whiskey Row. The Prescott scene has calmed down since the 1800s, but there is always a party to be joined within its scrappy saloons. The chamber of commerce prints its own “Prescott Pub Crawl” handout, and there is live music at clubs downtown every night of the week.

Driving through John Ford country, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park
Monument Valley is the iconic landscape of the American West. Become the star of your own Western on a 17-mile loop (on Highway 163) past cinematic red rocks, sheer-walled mesas and grand buttes in Navajo Country. It is a dusty, bumpy ride but well worth it.

Exploring abandoned Vulture Mine
Saguaros, cattle guards and a handful of cyclists mark the lonely drive from Wickenburg to the 147-year-old Vulture Mine. Town founder Henry Wickenburg discovered gold nuggets here in 1863. The mine itself spat out gold until 1942, but today it is no more than an embalmed ghost town. A self-guided tour loops past the main shaft, the blacksmith shop and the Hanging Tree, where 18 miners were strung up for stealing chunks of ore filled with gold.

 

© 2011 Lonely Planet. All rights reserved. The article ‘Arizona's top five Old West experiences’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.

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