The Wild West might not be so wild anymore, but you can still feel that rugged, untamed spirit across the desert. One of the kitschiest ways to experience the culture of the Wild West is to camp out at a dude ranch, where you'll eat homecooked cowboy-style meals and take trail rides through the untouched beauty of the region. Along the way you can have some old-school fun, from splashing down at natural water slides to visiting a retro Route 66 icon, and really feel like you're having an adventure worthy of the Wild West!
Start off your trip through the West by stepping back in time at Old Tucson Studios. Re-enactments, performances, living history demonstrations, and props from old Western movies and TV shows make this an informative stop. Pan for gold, practice your aim, take a stagecoach ride through town, saddle up for a horseback excursion, throw back a cold beer at a saloon, and have a fun time living out your Hollywood Western-inspired fantasies!
Another great place to experience the Old West is Goldfield Ghost Town. This little settlement was actually quite the boom town back in the 1890s, but just when the town was starting to look like it might turn into a boom city, the vein that was supplying the town's mine with gold faulted, and Goldfield was quickly abandoned. It sat, nearly empty and falling apart, until the 1980s, when it was rediscovered and refurbished to give tourists a taste of an authentic ghost town. You can tour the mines, ride on the narrow gauge railroad, see a gunfight re-enactment, and browse the museum to learn the mysterious tale of the region's Lost Dutchman Gold Mine!
Powell Springs Campground is the perfect spot to put it in park and rest up for the night. The site is free (yes, free!) and open year-round, but it operates on a first come, first serve basis, so make sure you get there early enough to snag a spot. The amenities for the campground, which was built by the CCC during the Great Depression, are pretty basic, but the location in a stand of Ponderosa pines within Prescott National Forest is perfectly serene.
Cool off after a long stretch on the road at Slide Rock State Park. This lovely slice of Sedona has all of the red rock beauty and rejuvenating energy you could want from a park in the famously transformative region. The park has hiking trails, a historic homestead, and, of course, the stream for which the park is named. It's got a kind of natural waterslide that you can splash down, plus puddles for wading, and deeper pools where you can jump off the cliffs and into the refreshingly cool water. Don't forget to wear water shoes and shorts if you plan on going down the slide, and make sure to check the park's pricing ahead of time, as it varies seasonally and by vehicle passenger load!
One of the most incredible roadside stops in Arizona has to be Meteor Crater. In the middle of the desert lies this massive impact site from an asteroid that crash landed at 26,000 miles per hour in the desert some 50,000 years ago. Even when you're standing at the rim of the crater, it's hard to comprehend that it's nearly a mile wide and 550 feet deep! The visitor center also has some really great exhibits about meteors, asteroids, and space in general. Make sure to take the guided tour and watch the informational videos, as you'll get tons of extra information about the formation of the crater, and how it's being studied.
Arizona isn't just Wild West country... it's also got loads of Route 66 history, to boot. Hackberry General Store is an important icon and photo op along the iconic route. The vintage cars, old gas pumps, retro signage, kitschy displays, and cute memorabilia make this a great place to stop, stretch your legs, grab a snack, and snap a few pictures. You might find yourself totally immersed in all of the surprisingly interesting stuff this spot has to offer, so plan to explore a bit.
After driving around the Arizona desert, it'll be nice to settle down for a few days to really relax and enjoy yourself. Stagecoach Trails Guest Ranch is an all-inclusive dude ranch with RV parking, cozy rooms, delicious meals, and two daily horseback rides through the Mojave. You can also rent ATVs or bikes if you're more comfortable on wheels than a saddle, or take a wagon ride for a more relaxing excursion. The onsite pool and hot tub, the game room, and occasional evening campfires really make you feel right at home. After fully immersing yourself in ranch life, it might be hard to return to reality!
As you explore the Western landscapes, you'll get to see many different sides of the region. Whether you're taking a stroll down the main street of a ghost town, chatting up visitors from across the globe at a Route 66 icon, horseback riding around a dude ranch, or soaking up the incredible energy at a Sedona park, you'll leave with a whole new idea of just how wild the West can be. Thankfully, you won't have to rough it like a cowboy in an RV from Thor Industries. Whether you want a simple pop-up or something extra luxe, you can explore the rugged West in style!