Small Towns, Cowboy Charm
3. Alpine, Texas
Big Bend Hideout
Wild West Texas is tamed and refined in Alpine, home of Sul Ross State University and its award-winning rodeo team, and a stone’s throw from a few of the state’s oldest ranches.
Industry Insider: Joel Nelson, cowboy and poet, has called Alpine home since 1975.
“I can’t foresee ever leaving here,” Nelson says. “There are still big ranches operating here, and they do so pretty much as they did in 1970. But, it is now also an art community.
A large percentage of the people moved here strictly because of the beauty, scenery and elevation. Change is inevitable, and it will happen to every community that has the atmosphere Alpine does. This country has always felt right for me.”
Then and Now: Once a small ranching community, Alpine and nearby towns Marfa and Marathon have bloomed into art communities, with galleries and a variety of restaurants.
See: Alpine’s Maverick Inn and The Holland; Marfa’s Hotel Paisano and El Cosmico; Marfa Lights; Marathon’s historic Gage Hotel; Big Bend Saddlery; Spradley Hats; the original Reata Restaurant; Shirley’s Burnt Biscuit.
Attend: Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering (February); Trappings of Texas (April); Viva Big Bend Music Festival (July); Big Bend Ranch Rodeo (August).
For more information: alpinetexas.com.
4. Cody, Wyoming
Where the Wild West Still Exists
Located in the Big Horn Basin of Wyoming, Cody is the eastern entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Old West history meets contemporary Western culture along the streets of this bustling tourist town.
Industry Insider: Ike Sankey, rodeo stock contractor, who has had a ranch there since 1981.
“There are still ranches in the area,” Sankey says. “There is still a lot of land in the area that will likely not make anything other than horse and cow country, which is good for the ranchers and wildlife. It’s still a cow town, and downtown is still pretty Western.”
Then and Now: Founded in 1896, Cody is named for Colonel William F. Cody, also known as “Buffalo Bill.” Colonel Cody opened the famous Irma Hotel, named for his youngest daughter, in 1902, and worked with the Burlington Railroad to build a branch into the town.
See: Buffalo Bill Historical Center; the Irma Hotel and the cherry- wood back bar given to Buffalo Bill by Queen Victoria in 1900; Old Trail Town; Tecumseh’s Old West Miniature Village, Museum and Trading Post; Dan Miller’s Cowboy Music Review; Cody Cattle Company Chuckwagon Dinner & Live Music Show; Cody Dug Up Gun Museum; Cody Mural Museum; Buffalo Bill Dam Visitor Center; Seidel’s Saddlery; Custom Cowboy Shop.
Attend: Buffalo Bill’s Birthday Ball (February); Cody Wild West Days (first weekend in May); Cody Night Rodeo (every night from June 1 to August 31); Buffalo Bill Days (July); Cody Stampede (July); Buffalo Bill Art Show & Sale (September).
For more information: codywyomingnet.com.
5. Pendleton, Oregon
Still Letting ’Er Buck
With its ranching heritage, legendary saddle makers, and one of the wildest rodeos in the world, Pendleton keeps a firm grip on its cowboy tradition.
Industry Insider: Randy Severe, a noted saddle maker and former president of the Pendleton Round-Up.
“We’ve hung our hat on tradition here,” he says. “We still buck out of our old wooden chutes. There’s a big grass infield, so it takes six pickup men to work Pendleton. You’ve got to cowboy up to compete here. People who live here are Western at heart, and they live and breathe rodeo.”
Then and Now: Settlers on the Oregon Trail stopped near Pendleton to rest their teams before crossing the Blue Mountains. By the time the town was established in 1868, a strong ranching industry was developing. The Pendleton Round-Up began in 1910 and has shaped the community’s wild and wooly character. The legendary saddle shop Hamley & Co., which developed the Association bucking saddle, is still in operation.
See: Hamley & Co. Western store; Pendleton Underground Tours; Pendleton Woolen Mills; Severe Brothers Saddlery.
Attend: Cattle Baron’s Weekend (May); Pendleton Round-Up (September).
For more information: pendletonchamber.com.
6. Wickenburg, Arizona
Western Winter Oasis
Longtime Western Horseman editor Dick Spencer spent a lot of time in Wickenburg and was a fixture on the annual Desert Caballeros Ride. The art, ranches, Western hospitality and ample riding opportunities that drove him to visit the area still make Wickenburg a prime Western destination in the winter.
Industry Insider: Artist Robert “Shoofly” Shufelt, who lived and worked on a ranch there from 1975 to 1982.
“That’s where I started my Western art career,” Shufelt says.
“At the time, there were ranches all around, and it was pretty tough cattle country. It’s where I learned to [ride the] rim. If you brought in two pairs a day, you had a good day.”
Then and Now: A gold strike in 1862 drove prospectors to the area, including Austrian Henry Wickenburg, who discovered the prosperous Vulture Mine. Along with the miners, ranchers and farmers cultivated the land along the Hassayampa River, driving out the native tribes. The 1920s led to development of dude ranches for families seeking Western vacations. It wasn’t long before Wickenburg was dubbed the “Dude Ranch Capital of the World.” Guest ranches still drive tourism in the area, as well as “snowbirds” who flock to the town in the winter with their horses for its mild climate and ample roping and recreational-riding opportunities.
See: Desert Caballeros Western Museum; Hassayampa River Preserve; Vulture Mine; Joshua Forest; Frontier Street; Jail Tree.
Attend: Gold Rush Days (February); Cowgirl Up! Invitational Exhibition and Sale (March); Cowboy Christmas Poets Gathering (early December); Arizona Cowpuncher’s Reunion Association spring rodeo (April), and the Reunion Rodeo in June in nearby Williams, Arizona.
For more information: outwickenburgway.com.