By Jill “MamaBug” Frier
Just a short drive north and west of Phoenix, you’ll find the oldest Arizona town north of Tucson, and the Dude Ranch capital of the state. Wickenburg is a thriving small town full of Old West, Arizona Territory traditions. Whether you are planning a horseback riding vacation, on your way to Las Vegas, headed for Havasu, or just looking for a quick day trip out of town, Wickenburg is a quaint, local slice of western charm that you simply must stop to visit. Here are some of our favorite spots to see when we visit the birthplace of the Bola Tie (the official neck wear of the State of Arizona).
Hassayampa River Preserve
The Hassayampa River Preserve stretches for five miles along the Hassayampa River, along highway 60 as you head into Wickenburg from Phoenix. Originally established by the Nature Conservancy to protect more than 290 species of birds on 70,000 acres of riparian forestland, the preserve is now managed by the Maricopa County Park System. The preserve provides self-guided trails along the lush river bottoms and floodplain, and through cottonwood-willow forests and dense mesquite bosques, where you can view a wide variety of wildlife species, including the endangered Southwestern Will Flycatcher, the rare Arizona Red-Shouldered Hawk, and the largest concentration of migrating turkey vultures in the state. If you love bird and wildlife watching, the Hassayampa River Preserve offers some of the best views in Arizona.
Desert Caballeros Western Museum
Known as “Arizona’s Most Western Museum,” the Desert Caballeros Western Museum is a state of the art museum open to visitors year round. The museum displays a collection of more than 400 works of art about the American West by artists such as Frederick Remington, Charles Russell, and Joe Beeler. It also showcases historical exhibits depicting turn-of-the-century Wickenburg, and has special features for kids, like the “Out on the Ranch” exhibit. An affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute, the Desert Caballeros Western Museum is definitely worth visiting.
Frontier Street and Historic Walking Tour
The town of Wickenburg is full of Western history. To celebrate this, their Chamber of Commerce developed a self-guided tour of historic buildings, plus about two dozen bronze sculptures and works of art placed throughout the downtown, to showcase the town’s roots. One of the most famous highlights is the Jail Tree, one of Arizona’s Centennial Witness Trees, which acted as a “jail” for shackling prisoners and drunks for over 20 years before the jailhouse building was put up in 1890. The tour also includes six large bronze sculptures and 16 linking pieces, all uniquely colored to appear realistic. Each of the large sculptures includes a button with a narrative from Arizona State Historian Marshall Trimble describing the history of Wickenburg.
Vulture City and Vulture Mine Tours
The Vulture mine just outside of Wickenburg opened in 1863 when Henry Wickenburg, a prospector during the California Gold Rush, discovered a quartz outcropping containing gold. Shortly after the mine was established, the small mining town of Vulture City was developed. At one point, the town had a population of several thousand citizens with amenities including a brothel, mess hall, and post office. Today, visitors can take a guided tour through the beautifully restored buildings of Vulture City and get a first-hand glimpse of life in an Old West mining town.
Winter is a great time of year to visit Wickenburg whether for a day trip or a weekend stay, with many fun places to see and experience. Take some time to check out local favorites and be sure to check out LadybugsBlog.com for more ideas of great places to getaway and visit in Arizona!