Sitting in the shadows of the rising Phoenix, a small town full of cowboy history and culture awaits just a short jaunt away. I could have used the description short “drive”, but out here a horse is considered a major part of the public transportation system, and many locals tend to “drive” the cows. This town is well known for dude ranches and open spaces, but more know it as the stop on the way to the gambling destinations of Nevada. Why not take a gamble on Wickenburg, Arizona? It is your best bet along the way.
Wickenburg was founded in 1863 when Henry Wickenburg, a Austrian prospector, found gold around the area of the Vulture Mountains of central Arizona. Soon after the mining and ranch foundations of the town were laid, and a western town was born. The town celebrates it’s history in many ways, much which can be seen still today. From ghost towns to festivals, there are numerous opportunities to immerse yourself in Wickenburg’s western heritage.
One of the biggest western festivals of it’s kind, the annual Gold Rush Days draws thousands of visitor’s from all over to celebrate the mining history of the area. The weekend in February offers mining competitions, melodramas, and one of the largest parades in the state on Saturday. If you are in town at any time of year, be sure to visit the Chamber of Commerce located in the historic railroad depot on Frontier Street. This is a great place to start and get the skinny on the history of the town and the places and things you will want to do. Be sure to check out the old Santa Fe steam engine right outside the station. Many shops and artisans are located around the downtown area from here. Some of the highlights include Ben’s Saddlery Shop, Buckshot Babe’s, and some of the best Turquoise jewelry in the state at Danny’s. Take a walking tour of downtown and you will find a few “guides” around town to help you learn a little about it’s history. These guides are actually statues located around town and with the push of a button will tell you a tale of the town’s past.
For a town of it’s size, the selection of restaurants is pleasantly plentiful. The best thing you will find about Wickenburg’s eating establishments is character. Mom and Pops are very well represented, with Anita’s, Rancho Bar 7, and the Cowboy Cafe to name just a few. After a good meal check out a movie over at the historic Saguaro Theater, built in 1948 it’s signage and original ticket booth are still intact. And as far as movie popcorn goes, this place knows how to pop those kernels. Wickenburg is the obvious place for that Dinner and a Movie date that you need to take.
The two best things about Wickenburg to do we have yet to mention. Desert Caballeros Western Museum and the Vulture Mine townsite. For a town of less than 10,000 people, the museum here is the toast of the town. With a western art collection that includes greats like Remington, Russell, Moran, and Weighorst, this is the little museum that could…and does. Besides the ever changing exhibits to keep you coming back, the permanent historical part of the museum includes a 1915 Arizona street scene complete with a saloon, watch shop, livery stable, post office, church, and general store. There is also a Victorian house recreation to show how things were back in the old west. This is a must see in Wickenburg, appreciate, learn, and enlighten.
Vulture Mine was the original location of Henry Wickenberg’s gold find. Just in sight of Vulture Peak, the town of Vulture City was founded here to support the mining. At one point the population was as high as 5,000 who would call this desert town home. Many of the original buildings are here, and a self guided tour is offered to those that are up to it. The original hanging tree is still there, in a town where 18 were hung from this old Ironwood. Some say there are ghosts that still haunt this area. Isn’t this a little obvious? I mean this is a Ghost Town.
There are many things we have not covered, but there is so much to be discovered. Wickenburg is just a short distance from Phoenix and a long distance away in your mind. Be sure to take a trip soon and get in touch with that western spirit that this great Arizona town has to offer.