The 19th century saw America’s “Manifest Destiny” into their expansion of the country all the way to the Pacific coast. With expansion, came numerous towns with saloons and banks, and with both places, it became an attraction for numerous gangs of robbers to wreak havoc over the whole area. It was a place where people went to seek riches in gold, silver, and cattle, giving Americans who had never been there great stories of cowboys taking on the expansive landscape – all of which would later be portrayed in movies.
There are several places to go and see remnants and surviving areas of the Wild West in Arizona, but here the three most notable and must-see places.
- Monument Valley
This extraordinary, beautiful landscape lies across Arizona and Utah with multiple sandstone buttes sticking out from the ground. It is part of the Colorado Plateau and within the lands of the Navajo, with the valley floor roughly between 5,000 and 6,000 feet above sea level. Accessible by U.S. Route 163, tourists can enter Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park and can either drive through the 17-mile long dirt road, or go on a guided tour into areas where it only can be seen by foot.
The range was popularized in the 1930s when Hollywood director John Ford started filming his Western movies in the area. Stagecoach and The Searchers are among the 9 movies he filmed in the area; many others up to today have also filmed in the Valley. (As a side note to movies in Arizona, consider Old Tucson Studios as a place to visit, where it is still being used to this day.)
- Tombstone, Arizona
It is a functioning town with a population of about 1,300, but an average of 400,000 visitors make their way to see the historic Old West town that has survived from being abandoned. Founded in 1879, “The Town Too Tough To Die,” as it’s nicknamed, was the site of the legendary Gunfight at the O.K. Corral that made the West even more famous – of infamous, to some. The gunfight is reenacted to tourists three times a day.
Other notable places include the Crystal Palace saloon, the Bird Cage Theatre, the Boot Hill Graveyard (where the 3 deceased in the legendary gunfight are buried), and Schieffin’s Mine, which dug out silver and helped the prosperity of the town.
- Goldfield, Arizona
Unlike Tombstone, Goldfield didn’t make it and became a ghost town in the 1920s. Today, it is now a replica of the Old West where thousands of visitors a year make their way to see exactly what it was like in the past. It includes touring the former gold mine underground, a shooting gallery, history museum, replica buildings of the town’s saloons and brothels, and – in a 21st century vision to the area – a zip line from one end to the other for an eagles’ eye view. Plus, it is located 4.5 miles from the famous Apache Trail, which has guided tours as well on the surrounding scenery.
Arizona didn’t become a state officially until 1912, but it has plenty of history in the decades before with the Old Wild West. Over a full century after the era of the Wild West ended, people are still very fascinated by this period and go to look at surviving history in where towns once stood. Arizona goes beyond the Grand Canyon. It is, as a state, a living replica of a time that is embedded in American history.