Wickenburg brings back Old West feeling

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- Driving west from Phoenix on state Route 60, about 40 miles out, visitors will start to see brown and white billboards with messages like, "Discover Historic Wickenburg, Where the West is Still Wild!" and, "Explore the Old West out Wickenburg way."

This desert town capitalizes on its Old West ways with a common western-themed thread that runs throughout the entire town. For folks who want to experience this culture, take Highway 303 north to state Route 60 and go west. If visitors want to start their day with breakfast, local residents will often urge them to try the Cowboy Café, a restaurant whose business sign alerts diners that, "Horses have the right-a-way," and also lets everyone know where the real cowboys eat." Located at 686 N. Tegner Street, they're open 6 to 11 a.m. daily.

If lunch or dinner is on the agenda, Anita's Cocina family restaurant, 57 N. Valentine Street, is also a local favorite. They feature authentic Mexican food and cool beverages in a festive pink, red, green and yellow decorated atmosphere. Visit them from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

Not too far from these "watering holes" is the town's Chamber of Commerce and the Desert Caballeros Western Museum. The museum advertises to be, "A brand of museum like no other, where history comes alive and paintings practically talk." It's a two-story museum full of numerous exhibits including a hall of history, Native American
artifacts, mineral room and a western art gallery. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. General admission is $7.50; $6 for seniors; $1 for youth ages 6 to 16; and children under 6 get in free. The staff is currently working to offer military discounts, so Luke members should ask about special rates.

The Chamber of Commerce, currently housed in the 111-year-old Santa Fe Depot, provides an abundance of information including pamphlets, maps and guides about Wickenburg and surrounding area attractions. Bob Joyner, a volunteer, is also quick to suggest visitors take a town walking tour. The chamber staff provides self-guided brochures pairing historic town buildings with a map of their locations.

Joyner also suggests visiting the historic Vulture Gold Mine. This attraction is 12 miles out of town in a remote part of the Sonoran Desert. Travelers can enjoy seeing miles of desert landscape, dotted with hundreds of majestic saguaro cacti. Surrounding mountains contribute to this area's natural beauty.

Once at the mine, travelers can take a threequarter mile walking tour that features all of its historic highlights. Manager Roman Hagan explains that Vulture Gold Mine was once the largest gold mine in Arizona history.

"This mine started the town of Wickenburg, and kept it going," she said. "A lot of people don't understand that." Hagan is a town history buff, who seems to enjoy answering questions.

The mine is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Admission is $7 for adults; $4 for children, ages 5 to 12; and free for children under 5. Luke members should ask about military discounts.

If western shopping interests anyone, they may not want to miss Ben's Saddlery and shoe repair, 174 N. Tegner St. This is a small shop loaded with lots of leather goods, cowboy gear, jewelry, horse tack and books. It's also possible to watch craftsmen who create custom-made saddles in the store. Bruce Meir, store owner, says they specialize in orders for repairing leather shoes and goods. They are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

For those who still want more western goods, or want to buy western clothes, local residents say Double D Western World, 955 W. Wickenburg Way, is the place to go. This large, well-stocked, contemporary western store also has furniture, native art and framed prints; gift items, feed and tack. They're open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

At the end of the day, on the way out of town, look for Kactus and Rose Mathis, vendors, who, under a roadside canopy, sell cowboy-style, palm leaf hats. They fit their patrons on the spot by dunking their cream-colored, sturdy, wide-brimmed hats in water, and then shaping and style them to meet individual specifications.