Touring the American Southwest in a cowboy’s boots
For a unique and perhaps more progressive slice of cowboy culture, the Jefferson County Fair Grounds (20 minutes west of Denver) welcomes the Rocky Mountain Regional Gay Rodeo, taking place 13-15 July this year. The events are what you would find in rodeos elsewhere in the region, but the rodeo bucks the tradition of cowboy sports being associated with chauvinism.
Officially nicknamed the Land of Enchantment, one of New Mexico’s captivating assets is its tradition of Native American art. In the Old West, Navajo and Zuni artists learned the craft of silversmithing from Mexican traders and eventually came to make intricate silver jewellery, embellished with precious stones. Exquisite 19th-century Navajo and Zuni silver and turquoise pieces can still be found today at the Millicent Rogers Museum in Taos, in northern New Mexico.
Head southwest to discover another New Mexican point of pride and privilege, its striking natural landscape. Lakes, cliffs, and canyons adorn the Gila National Forest where the Geronimo Trail Guest Ranch hides. Take a respite in the ranch’s two quiet cabins, where the Apache and the cowboys and outlaws themes are fitting, considering that the surrounding area was both the birthplace of Apache leader Geronimo and refuge for western outlaws like Billy the Kid, Butch Cassidy, and the Sundance Kid. Plenty of outdoor activities can be enjoyed in these forests, including hiking and horseback riding, and elk, grey wolves, bald eagles, black bears and mountain lions have all been spotted here.
New Mexico’s capital of Santa Fe, located between Taos and Geronimo Ranch, is worth a visit for its nuevo-cowboy cuisine. Fresh, local, sustainably raised meats are inventively prepared at the critically acclaimed Aqua Santa (451 West Alameda Street; 505-982-6297), while traditional steakhouses Rio Chama and the Bull Ring serve up Western classics such as burgers, chilli, ribs and, of course, steaks, all popular with locals.
By all accounts, the crown jewel of Arizona is the Grand Canyon. Standing on the rim of this immense rock formation, the endless mosaic of reds, yellows and oranges is humbling and awe-inspiring. The canyon was inhabited by native peoples as far back as 10,000 BC, European explorers braved the inhospitable terrain first in the 1500s and then again in the 1800s, and the canyon became accessible to its first influx of visitors in 1901 when the Grand Canyon Railway was built to service mining claims. Although the Grand Canyon Railway was out of commission from 1968 until the late 1980s, the train is back up and running. The historic railway runs south to north, from the Williams Depot in Williams, Arizona to the Grand Canyon Depot, 65 miles north.
Two hours drive south, embark on a genuine cowboy adventure in the heart of the Coconino National Forest. A scenic drive, including a bumpy stretch of dusty gravel road takes you to M Diamond Ranch, a 100-year-old family-owned cattle ranch where real cowboys work and live. These wranglers double as tour guides, leading horseback rides through the surrounding arid lands, with views of the red rock mountains of nearby Sedona. Along the way, visitors learn how M Diamond raises its grass-fed cows to produce high quality, sustainable meat. No 20th-century antibiotics or growth hormones on the premises here -- only healthy, happy cows with plenty of space to roam and graze. Guides Gordon Chastain and Bill Jones regale trail riders with tales of former Arizona residents Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the aforementioned Geronimo – as well as sharing stories from their own remarkable lives (ask Chastain the one about the Italian mob boss).
After an afternoon of riding through prickly pear cacti in the strong Southwestern sun, your reward is a relaxing cowboy cookout during a lovely sunset. Acoustic guitarist Alvie Self provides the calming soundtrack, strumming tunes by the likes of Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash while you savour succulent steaks, the fruits of the resident ranchers’ labour. The evening is topped off with a round of cowboy poetry.