Friday, December 10, 2010

Old West, via US50

Hi Jamie,

I've got a couple of your books (Road Trip USA and Road Trip Route 66) that I've read with interest. Spent 3 weeks of 2010 and again in 2009 travelling around Arizona and New Mexico, and plan to do a Washington to San Francisco trip between end of July and September next year. We aim to take 5 or 6 weeks to do the trip, and already have a list of places we want to see. We're going to do as much of the trip across on Highway 50 as possible, rather than the other alternatives. Plan to come off this road to see such places as Deadwood, Mount Rushmore, Wounded Knee, Crater of Diamonds in Arkansas, Dead Horse Point in Utah. Really interested in the old west, so while on Highway 50 will stop off at the likes of Dodge City and Wichita.

I wondered if there were any other places that maybe you could suggest that we try and fit in on our way across, especially any with an 'old west' feel about them?

Thanks very much,




Hello Chris --

Many thanks for writing in to Road Trip US, and for checking out my books. There are many great places with a "Wild West" feel for you to visit on your trip -- and you are fortunate to have so much time to see these places, which can take some time to reach, and to appreciate. Dead Horse Point, for instance, is a long long way from anywhere, but when you get there make sure you spend enough time to get away from your car, and you'll be overwhelmed by the scale of the surroundings. (So long as you don't suffer from any fear of heights!)

Though I would suggest you take as many detours as you can manage, the US-50 "Loneliest Road" route is a fantastic way to organize your trip -- especially across Nevada, and Utah, and Colorado, this road passes across perhaps the most extensive stretch of undeveloped landscape left in the USA. In Nevada the route basically parallels the route of old Pony Express, which to me is the quintessential enterprise of the American frontier, and if get away from the highway you can still follow the route and see almost no sign of the modern world (apart from occasional USNavy fighter jets, which scared the stuffing out of me one trip...).

Another real highlight along US50 is Bent's Old Fort, in eastern Colorado -- this is a reconstruction, but an accurate and evocative recreation of a lonely frontier trading post, and the setting is superb. They sometime host "Living History" re-enactments of the way things were back in the 19th Century , as do the many other preserved forts around the Rockies and Great Plains.

Also great along US50 is the town of Independence, where many of the old "Emigrant Trails" started off -- and nearby you have Kansas City and the small town of Liberty Missouri -- where Jesse James did his first bank robbery (and where not much has happened since!)

There are many other places with an "Old West " feel you might want to add to your plans, especially if you can take some detours off US-50: along my US-2 Great Northern route, one place I like a lot is the "Buffalo Trails Museum" town in Epping, North Dakota (RTUSA p 486), which is not far from the more developed Fort Union Nat'l Historical Park, on the Montana / ND border -- they have a big 'living history" Rendezvous every June. There are also a lot of Lewis & Clark-related locations all over the Pacific Northwest (I cover many of them on RTUSA pp 172-173).

Along my US-20 "Oregon Trail" route, there are many intriguing historical stops, as you might guess from the name. I really like Fort Robinson, in the "Sand Hills" area of Nebraska, not far from Deadwood & Mt Rushmore & Wounded Knee -- I cover this on page 577 of Road Trip USA) . In nearby Chadron, the Museum of the Fur Trade is fascinating, if you like this era (as I do!)

There are also quite a few "Wild West" towns, such as Tombstone Arizona, and ghost towns (like Bodie in eastern California, and Oatman AZ on Route 66, which are worth a visit.

Back along US-50, I'm not so sure about the tourism potential of Dodge City -- which has a bustling beef-products industry, but little of the romance of cowboys and the old times -- though nearby Fort Larned is definitely worth a look, even if you are not at all obsessed with the military aspects of the Wild West.

Further afield, the Southwest in general has many great "old west" sights, and though you may have seen all these sights on your last trip, I had to say it's a wonderful place to explore. Back before the railroads started slicing up the country in the 1870s, Santa Fe New Mexico was the center of this part of the world, and it still retains a ton of character -- and along with nearby Taos it's all very pretty, and very civilized as well (great restaurants!) The Native American remnants are of course another important aspect of the American story, and there are many great sights to see -- in the pueblo & Navajo communities around Santa Fe area, but (alas..) most of the real compelling icons are now in museums like the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody Wyoming, near Yellowstone, and the Amon Carter museum in Fort Worth (and by the way, thinking of a "old west" tour, the Fort Worth Stockyards is an unforgettable taste of Texas, and Texas is a crucial part of the Old West story).

OK, that may well be more (or less...) than you wanted -- but I hope you can tell from my breathless enthusiasm that I think you will have a fantastic trip next summer.

(And I also wanted to thank you for the lead on the Crater of Diamonds -- I had never heard of it before!)

Please keep in touch, and "Happy Trails!"

with best wishes,

Jamie Jensen
Road Trip USA


Hi Jamie,

Thanks ever so much for your detailed mail.

I'm going to incorporate a lot of it into our travel plans.

I'll let you know how it goes - I'm really looking forward to it.

A lot of people knock Tombstone, but having spent time there this year and last year I like the place. Close your eyes and you can imagine the way it was....especially if you get there early before the crowds. Great to stand on Fremont Street where the gun fight happened!!

Thanks again,




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