Every cowboy (or wannabe) has dreams that he?d like to live out before he kicks the bucket. So we canvassed dyed-in-the-wool Westerners for their favorite travel destinations and activities to get the conversation started. Gather a group of hands at the dinner table to bandy about ideas and come up with your own must-sees and must-dos?before it’s too late!
Red Steagall, musician, poet, rancher?I just love the West. It’s a state of mind as much as a physical destination. We love the out-of-doors, we respect each other, we love the scenery, and we’re proud of who we are.?— Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Texas Panhandle
— National Ranching Heritage Center on the campus of Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas
— The Texas Southwestern Cattle Raiser?s Museum and National Cowgirl Museum, Fort Worth, Texas
— The National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Oklahoma City.
Baxter Black, Western humorist
?My son and I went down to Acadiana, the heart of Cajun country in southern Louisiana, after Hurricane Katrina and again after Rita to help clean up. I love the food, the people, the music, and the dancing. They?ve got a good bunch of cowboys down there. Cajun cowboys. Of course you’ll want to go to the horse races at Evangeline Downs and to Fred?s Lounge in Mamou for live Cajun music and dancing on Saturday mornings. And try to go in May, because that’s when the crawfish are good.?
— Have a place to go (when you don’t have to go anywhere).
— Attend an at-home performance by a really good musician, like Tommy Crook of Tulsa, Okla.
— Dance like there’s no tomorrow in a Texas dance hall.
Rocco Wachman, Cowboy U host, Arizona Cowboy College instructor
?The West is still filled with a pioneer spirit. I can hear the hoof beats of the horses they rode, drove, and relied on in every sunrise and sunset I am blessed to witness here. No other place consumes my senses like the desert Southwest.?
— The Marfa Lights, West Texas
— The Sombrero Horse Drive, Craig, Colo.
— Tevis Cup Endurance Ride, Lake Tahoe, Calif. Ride the 100-mile course in 24 hours or less to get a buckle.
— Ride a mule on the breathtaking 9.5-mile Bright angel Trail down into the Grand Canyon.
Richard Petty, NASCAR legend
?I’m a fan of the West, because it’s peaceful. Everyone takes the time to enjoy themselves, instead of moving in such a fast-paced way to get to where they need to be.?
— Ride a mule into the Grand Canyon.
— Visit Zion National Park.
Ben Nighthorse Campbell, former U.S. Congressman, member of the Council of Chiefs of the Northern Cheyenne Indian Tribe, jewelry artist
?I love the West, because people let you be who you want to be, and because there are still places unspoiled by power lines, fences, and highways. That feeling of being free is paramount.?
— Visit Jackson, Wyo., where the Old West and the New West meet.
— Explore the Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings in southwestern Colorado, and you’ll recognize how small we are in American history.
— Attend the WRANGLER NATIONAL FINALS RODEO in Las Vegas, Nev
Karl Stressman, CEO of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association
Living the cowboy lifestyle is what I love most about the West.?
— The ProRodeo Hall of Fame and Museum of the American Cowboy, Colorado Springs, Colo.
— Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, Las Vegas, Nev.
Wylie Gustafson, musician
?There is literally room to roam. I get some of my best songwriting done while drifting across the big empty spaces, where the muses like to gather. The wildness makes me feel alive.?
— Hike or horseback from the north shore of Two Medicine Campground to Oldman Lake in Glacier National Park to fish for native Cutthroat trout. Then drive Highway 89 that connects Glacier and Yellowstone parks.
— The annual Augusta Rodeo in Augusta, Mont., which is also the closest entry into the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
— The Miles City Bucking Horse Sale, Miles City, Mont.
Brian Downes, Director, John Wayne Birthplace
?Driving the long and lonely miles along Interstate 80, especially at night and especially in Nebraska and Wyoming, I can’t help thinking of the bones of the Oregon Trail pioneers that fertilize those black and empty plains. Does anyone else remember them at all? They gave us a country but seem to be largely forgotten in modern society.?
— The cabin home of Jesse James at James Farm, Kearney, Mo. What’s notable about the historic West is that the legends who populated the region came from the already-established East.
— Will Rogers Memorial Museums, Claremore/Ologah, Okla.
— Fort Sill National Historic Landmark Museum, Fort Sill, Okla. The limestone officers? quarters and barracks are original and date to the 1870s. Apache warrior Geronimo is buried in the Fort Sill Cemetery, as is the celebrated Comanche chief Quanah Parker.
— Buffalo Bill Ranch State Park, North Platte, Neb.
— John Wayne Birthplace, Winterset, Iowa
Denis Arey, Justin brands
??Western? is a state of mind. It conjures notions of independence, strength, and character. Ride for the brand, lend a hand, and live by the Cowboy Code, and you’ll know that you?ve done your best at the end of the day.?
— Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Elko, Nev.
— Jordan Valley Big Loop Rodeo, Caldwell, Idaho
— Cowboy symposiums, Ruidoso, Lubbock, and Fort Worth
— Favorite big rodeos: Cheyenne Frontier Days, WRANGLER NATIONAL FINALS RODEO, Calgary Stampede, Pendleton, Working Ranch Rodeo Finals
Kenda Lenseigne, mounted shooter
?Prepare dinner over a blazing campfire, eat it under the stars, then sleep in the fresh mountain air.?
— Alta Lake, Wash. and horse packing in the Pasayten Wilderness during elk season
R.W. Hampton, musician, poet
?The West has been, and always will be, a place of limitless freedom and opportunity. It’s so big that it cannot be contained in one geographical region, because its essence and spirit live in our hearts and minds. In the West, there is room to dream as big as you dare?to dream as wide and as high as the sky.?
— Visit the Alamo Chapel after midnight in San Antonio, Texas.
— Drive from Cimarron, N.M., up through the Enchanted Circle and then over to Colorado and up to the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Southern Colorado?s Alamosa area.
— Tour Will Rogers? home in Santa Monica, Calif.
— Attend the Pendleton Round Up or Cheyenne Frontier Days.
— Grab family, friends, or a sweetheart, and go on a horseback ride by the light of the moon.
— Gather wild horses horseback.
— Ride or hike the Valle Caldera Wilderness in Northern N.M.
— Order a pair of handmade cowboy boots.
— Work for a ranch that pulls out a wagon in the spring or fall.
— Drive across Texas without using an Interstate.
— Ride or hike up along the Great Divide.
— Visit the Maverick Rodeo in Cimarron, N.M., for the Fourth of July. It’s more than 87 years-old and one of the longest-running amateur rodeos in America.
Jet McCoy, Amazing Race contestant
?You?ve got to see the West to believe it. Words can’t do justice to the treasures or the vastness of the Grand Canyon or the lights of Albuquerque when you come into town from the hills to the West.?
— Finish a job bigger than a day.
— Rope something bigger than your horse.
— Stand for something bigger than yourself.
?I love the eternal sense of optimism evoked by the American West. It was settled by hardy folks who continually desired to push their limits to discover a freedom or fortune that always lay like a sparkling gem, just beyond the next bend. Today that spirit still permeates the highways, byways, and trails for all travelers who wish to set out on their own adventures.?
— Rent a convertible, drive the California coast on Highway 1, and take side roads to explore wine country, like around Santa Rosa.
— Ride a motorcycle along Colorado?s million dollar highway. Stop for the hot springs in OURAY, known as the Switzerland of America. Have a fresh taco at my cousin?s joint, Teocalli Temale, in Crested Butte.
— My home town, Homer Alaska, is the farthest West you can drive in the continental United States. Ride horses to the head of Kachemak Bay, or drive to the end of the famous Homer Spit, and take a boat ride to The Saltry for dinner in Halibut Cove.