Wickenburg was the wagon-wheel hub of dude ranches from the 1930s until a few decades after World War II with Rancho de los Caballeros as one of the top draws of a more relaxed era.
Time gallops on and the ranch, with its Sun C cattle brand, added a golf course in 1979, telephones in 1987 and televisions in 1991.
But its still showing city folk the simple pleasures of ranch life in the Arizona desert with campfires under starry skies. Fewer city slickers and cowgirls are showing up. Even the word “dude” has been hijacked by slackers and stoners.
So remaining Western lodging spreads are called guest ranches in today’s hospitality vernacular.
Meanwhile, Wickenburg has a new national identity as a place of healing from drug, alcohol, sex and other addictions. The Meadows has hosted well known patients, including Tiger Woods, Harvey Weinstein and Whitney Houston, according to published reports.
That world of counseling and recovery is largely below the radar. Meanwhile, there’s a low-key Western vibe in Wickenburg. Locals drive pickups and pull horse trailrs. They still wear cowboy hats, boots and big belt buckles, and the rodeo grounds is just off the main highway.
Wickenburg is perfectly situated on the Hassayampa River a little over an hour from Phoenix. It’s just right for a quick road trip. Most folks speed through town on their way to Las Vegas. Take a gamble on exploring Wickenburg's mining and ranching roots. The nearby Vulture Mine offers a weekly tour except in summer.
The $15 tours are at 10 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays, except during the summer. Drive 12 miles south of U.S. 60 on the paved Vulture Mine Road.
Henry Wickenburg discovered gold at what became the Vulture Mine in 1862 and Vulture City grew into a town of close to 5,000 people before it all but disappeared. The mine's buildings of adobe, stone and wood are crumbling in the elements. Jerome and Bisbee are touted as Arizona’s ghost towns but Vulture City is the real deal. There is still a small mining operation on the site.
Museum features cowboy artist
Back in town, the Desert Caballeros Western Museum is full of historical exhibits and notable Western art ranging from Thomas Moran to Frederic Remington and Joe Beeler to Ed Mell.
The historic district near the museum includes the restored 1895 Sante Fe Railroad depot and Ben's Saddlery, which dates back to 1949. The shop is worth a visit just for the aroma of leather for custom saddles. Ben's also sells boots, belts and cowboy hats.
The single-screen Saguaro Theater is still operating on Wickenburg Way. Imagine Saturday matinees in the 1950s watching a double feature of Hopalong Cassidy and Roy Rogers in the Saguaro. Dwight "Red" Harkins, who started the Harkins Theatres chain in Phoenix, opened the Saguaro in 1948.
Rancho 7 Restaurant & Lounge and the Horseshoe Cafe on the main drag are popular places to eat. Anita's Cocina serves spicy Mexican food and margaritas at 57 Valentine Street.