From New West to Old West in Central Arizona

The best of the West in Central Arizona:

    Although Phoenix and Scottsdale are today part of a sprawling metropolis similar in many ways to Los Angeles, it wasn't that long ago that these were rowdy frontier towns. Scottsdale still likes to think of itself as a wild west town, though the mustangs these days are more likely to have ragtops than saddles. However, Scottsdale does do a good job of recreating an artificial western character. In old town Scottsdale, there are blocks of art galleries full of traditional western art and countless western wear stores. 

    However, for a genuine Hollywood-style experience, you can't beat Rawhide. Although this false-fronted western "town" started out as a restaurant, it now has all kinds of traditional western entertainments to keep kids and parents busy.

    More adult western recreations can be found north of Scottsdale in the town of Cave Creek where there are several saloons and false-fronted buildings that conjure up the character of old cow towns. Here in Cave Creek the old west and the new west rub shoulders more closely than anywhere in the state. Bordering Cave Creek on the east is the planned luxury retirement community of Carefree, which is home to The Boulders, one of the country's premier golf resorts.

    West of Cave Creek, just off I-17, you'll find the Pioneer Arizona Living History Museum where you can get an idea of what life in 19th century Arizona was really like. 

    More than two dozen historic buildings have been assembled on the grounds of this museum and costumed interpreters reenact the daily activities of life in the late 1800s.

    North of here about 40 miles you can pay a visit to a Paolo Soleri's visionary community of Arcosanti. Soleri, who studied under Frank Lloyd Wright, has a vision for a new type of city and over the years has been slowly realizing his dream in the desert outside the town of Cordes Junction. Soleri's cast wind bells, which come in a wide variety of sizes, can be purchased here at Arcosanti.

    Continuing north, it is about 25 miles to your first genuinely historic western site, Camp Verde, a military outpost established on the banks of the Verde River in 1871. Today, the Victorian era officers' quarters can still be seen, neatly lined up beside a parade ground. Also here in town you'll find the Kicking Mule Outfitters, which specializes in creating replicas of 19th-century saddles, holsters, and other leather accoutrements.

      From Camp Verde, head west up the Verde Valley and up over Mingus Mountain, where the old mining town of Jerome clings to the mountainside high above the valley floor. On the other side of this mountain range and across a wide valley, you'll come to the town of Prescott, the former territorial capital of Arizona and the most western town in the state. Not only is there the huge old courthouse in the middle of a shady park, but along one side of the courthouse plaza stands Whiskey Row which once boasted 25 saloons and still has several saloons today. The Palace, completely restored a few years ago, is by far the most impressive of these saloons. Although today it is more restaurant than saloon, the Palace has a more genuine feel than just about any other saloon in the state. In fact, the owner often dresses up in full Wild West gear (complete with six guns), which adds an extra bit of character to the Palace.

      Prescott is also home to a trio of interesting museums. The Sharlot Hall Museum is another assemblage of historic buildings, including the territorial governor's mansion (actually a log house). Displays here focus on pioneer days in Arizona. In contrast, the Smoki Museum, in a historic stone building, is filled with Native American artifacts. On the northern outskirts of town, you'll find the Phippen Museum, one of the nation's foremost museums of western (cowboy) art.

      From Prescott, your route climbs up and over yet another mountain range to the town of Wickenburg, which at one time was the dude ranch capital of the U.S. Today there are still several dude ranches (now called guest ranches) in the area, and plenty of open range where city slickers can ride into colorful Arizona sunsets. Here in Wickenburg you'll also find the Desert Caballeros Museum, which not only has displays of western art but also has a reproduction of a street in a wild west town. Outside of town, you can delve into the region's mining history at the Vulture Mine (a combination old mine and ghost town) and Robson's Arizona Mining World, which houses an amazing collection of antique mining equipment. From Wickenburg it is about an hour's drive back to Phoenix.

      The Route:
      Spend your first day in the Phoenix area exploring Scottsdale and Cave Creek. The next day head north on I-17, stopping at the Pioneer Arizona Living History Museum, to Camp Verde. From here, take Highway 260 to Cottonwood and Highway 89A to Jerome. Spend the night in Jerome. The next day, continue on Highway 89A to Prescott and spend the night. From Prescott, continue south on Highway 89 to Wickenburg. Spend the night in Wickenburg or continue on back to Phoenix on Highway 60.