The West was made for road trips. The desolate roads, mountains, cacti and wildlife are practically begging you to hop in your car and explore. There’s plenty of history to draw you in, too. If you’re a fan of gunslingers, cowboys and covered wagons, buckle up for the ultimate Old West road trip.
You’ll start in southern Arizona, travel up through New Mexico and mosey on up through the gorgeous western plains.
You’ll start where a slew of Old West outlaws met their end. Tombstone, Ariz. is the setting of one of the most notorious shootouts in history: the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. The shootout was the result of a longstanding feud between a group of cowboys and the Tombstone law enforcement, made up of Wyatt, Morgan and Virgil Earp and Doc Holliday. Today, the ghost town-turned-tourist-destination holds daily reenactments of the O.K. Corral gunfight.
There’s a reason George Strait was so eager to get to Amarillo by morning. The city is rodeo-central and one of the best places to experience Western culture. Check out the American Quarter Horse Museum, which pays tribute to one of the most beloved symbols of the American west.
While you’re in the area, drive down to Canyon, Texas to visit the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum. The museum is the proclaimed “Smithsonian with a Texas accent.” See a replica pioneer town and learn about life on the Panhandle-Plains in the 1800s.
Cache, Okla. was the home of Quanah Parker, the last chief of the Quahada Comanche American Indian tribe. Parker was the son of Cynthia Ann Parker, a white woman who had been kidnapped by a Comanche war band as a young girl. She lived among the tribe until adulthood when she was found by the Texas Rangers and taken back to Texas against her will. Quanah lived a life that couldn’t be matched in the pages of even the greatest Western novel. A warrior and a statesman, he befriended President Theodore Roosevelt and Texas rancher Charles Goodnight. He became one of the wealthiest American Indians of his day and founded the Native American Church Movement.
Today, the estate of Quanah Parker still stands. Known as the “Star House,” due to the giant stars painted on the roof, the house is a piece of Oklahoma and Western history. Although the New York Times reported in 2015 that the Star House is badly in need of repair, the estate is still open for tours. The Star House is the perfect off-the-beaten-path destination to pay tribute to a legend.
Dodge City, Kan.
Dodge City, was once the epicenter of the Wild West. Rough, rowdy and dangerous, the pioneer town became famous for the western icons who passed through, such as the saloon-keeper turned lawman Wyatt Earp. Don’t worry about being challenged to an old-fashioned gunfight at high noon, though.
Dodge City is much more quaint these days. However, there’s still plenty of chances to step back in time. Visit the Boot Hill museum, located on the site of the historic Boot Hill cemetery, for a look at the 60,000 artifacts of Dodge City from the 1870s through the 1920s.
It may feel like you’ve stepped onto a western movie set when you reach Durango. The classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was filmed here. And if you want to ride in style like Butch and the Kid, hop on the Durango train, a steam train that takes you on winding roads through the San Juan National Forest.
North Platte, Neb.
Buffalo Bill Cody became synonymous with the Old West when he launched his Wild West show in 1883. The massively popular touring extravaganza brought a slice of the American west all over the world, enlisting sharpshooters such as Annie Oakley. Even beloved frontier figure Calamity Jane appeared in the show to tell stories of her days riding with Wild Bill Hickok.
Buffalo Bill’s Wild West was founded in Buffalo Bill’s hometown of North Platte, Neb. Here you can pay tribute to the Wild West ringleader himself at Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park where visitors can tour Cody’s 1882 home.
The final stop is one of the most notable western towns in history. Deadwood made its name on gambling, brothels and general lawlessness. Today, Deadwood has cleaned up its act, but thankfully doesn’t shy away from its past. You can still play cards in the gaming halls not far from where Jack McCall shot Wild Bill Hickok in the back over a heated game of poker.
When you’re done drinking whiskey at the local saloon, go pay your respect to Wild Bill and his old comrade Calamity Jane, who are buried in the nearby Mount Moriah CemeteryJ