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Visiting 'cowboy country' from the UK


Aug 2nd, 2013, 12:10 PM
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Visiting 'cowboy country' from the UK

Hi all, I'm new to this forum, live in the UK and have only been to America once to visit my son in Chicago.
I would like to do this again together with my husband but because we are Country and Western fans we would like to combine the Chicago visit with a self-drive tour of "cowboy country". My question is: which would be the best airport to fly to from UK to rent a car and start driving direction Chicago (not all the way!), taking in, if possible, Grand Canyon, Monument Valley and Yellowstone, and from which airport to then fly to Chicago. I would be very grateful for some advice as I've spent days on the internet and can't really find what I'm looking for. Thanks!
tulip3 is offline  
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Aug 2nd, 2013, 12:12 PM
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First question - do you mean to see actual cowboys ("home on the range") or are you referring to country music?
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Aug 2nd, 2013, 12:24 PM
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tulip3- if you DO see any cowboys then let me know as I have been visiting the States for tha past 20 years and only ever saw cowboys at rodeos!
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Aug 2nd, 2013, 12:52 PM
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"I've spent days on the internet and can't really find what I'm looking for."

That's because what you're describing is so nebulous that it has no definition. You need to define for yourself what "cowboy country" is. Each of these states can be included in that concept: N Dakota, S Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona. That's a large area and doesn't even include various rural portions of other states that could also qualify (Nevada, Utah, Missouri).

Country & Western is a broad musical genre encompassing blues, bluegrass, folk, certain rock and pop concepts (rockabilly), and Merle Haggard type "Okie from Muskogee" twang. The center of that universe is still probably Nashville, Tennessee and the shrine is the Grand Ole Opry. But it's more diffuse now. Country music is often just clean-guitar rock (i.e., not using distortion or fuzzing up the sound) with a Southern accent - Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, Rascal Flatts, Brooks & Dunn, Garth Brooks, Keith Urban, Darius Rucker, etc. - or soft pop with some country-esque accents like Dixie Chicks or Lady Antebellum.

The Country & Western genre of overall family entertainment has its capital in Branson, Missouri - Las Vegas for the down-home types.
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Aug 2nd, 2013, 01:24 PM
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Real "cowboys" working cattle will be difficult to see. Most ranches employ only a few "cowboys" and since the ranches are often thousands, tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of acres in size the chances of seeing cowboys working cattle from the road as your drive by will be very slim.

Also, the only cowboys you might see in the cities (in the states mentioned in earlier responses on this thread) are more likely to be "wannabe cowboys" dressed in their cowboy shirts, blues jeans and boots while thy dance to Country & Western music at the local honky tonk nightspot.

I lived in Fort Worth, Texas which is also know as "Cowtown" for 22 years and like Lateagain the only time I see cowboys is at the Rodeo (held every January) and occasionally on Saturday nights when a few of them show up in town

So what is it you are really seeking.
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Aug 2nd, 2013, 01:39 PM
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Nobody really calls it Country & Western music anymore. It's just country. The western part died out awhile ago.

There are plenty of ranches in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado. Since those are the states you'd mainly be driving through to visit the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley and Yellowstone, focus your research there.

Look for dude ranches, rodeos, etc. A dude ranch would give you a somewhat watered down version of life on a ranch, but it's probably the closest you'll get to being on a ranch. I highly doubt a non-dude ranch would allow tourists to just wander around. You'll need to get off the interstates and drive through smaller towns if you want to experience what you are thinking of as cowboy country.

If you are comfortable renting a car one-way, probably the most logical route is to start in either Phoenix or Las Vegas, visit the Grand Canyon, then Monument Valley and drive to Yellowstone, then fly out of one of the smaller airports near Yellowstone. However that could be fairly expensive. If you need to do a loop and return your car where you rented it, then either Salt Lake City or Denver would probably make the most sense for your airport.

So basically, look up some dude ranches in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado. Search for rodeo events in those areas during the timeframe of your trip. Then start trying to connect a route between the ranches/rodeos and the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley and Yellowstone. That will get you started in the right direction, and as you refine your search you'll discover other things and get more of an idea as to what you're looking for and where you want to go.
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Aug 2nd, 2013, 02:10 PM
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Fly BA from London {LHR} to Phoenix [PHX]. Start in AZ and work you way up and over.
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Aug 2nd, 2013, 02:16 PM
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DebitNM's suggestion is good, or you could fly to Las Vegas (LAS), see the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, then head to Monument Valley and up to Yellowstone.

What time of year would you like to make this trip?

Lee Ann
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Aug 2nd, 2013, 05:06 PM
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Thanks for all your replies!

Sorry I wasn't clear enough about what I had in mind. By 'cowboy country' I meant the sort of landscapes you see in the old Western movies (not the Italian ones), not necessarily the cowboys themselves, although staying at dude ranches and looking for rodeos sounds like a great idea.
Yes, it's country music we love to hear, but it's the scenery we would love to see.

We were thinking of going in October but have probably left it a bit late for the planning, so it may have to be next spring instead. We are trying to find a time when it is not too hot in the places we want to visit first, and not too cold for Chicago.

All of the airport suggestions make sense, I didn't even know there were smaller airports near Yellowstone.

Anyway, from the various comments I now have a better idea of what to look for, so thanks again for everybody's suggestions, I'll take everything into account for my further searches. If everybody in America is as helpful as all of you I'm now looking forward to going even more!
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Aug 2nd, 2013, 05:41 PM
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I am also going to specifically mention Jackson, Wyoming, and Bozeman, Montana, as friendly small cities with Western ambiance and good tourist amenities, plus proximity to "Big Sky Country," which is another description for the kind of scenery you're probably looking for. Both have airports, and one is north of Yellowstone; the other is south of Yellowstone.

Although Nashville is the epicenter of country music, you will hear plenty of it in Wyoming and Montana.

Here is the National Park Service website with info on Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon.

Most locations in Yellowstone don't really open up until mid-May...I would recommend going late May or very early June before most families start vacationing, or early September after they are back in school; Yellowstone will be much less crazy when school is in operation. Keep in mind that the trip you are contemplating might include everything from desert hot temperatures (Las Vegas, Phoenix) to somewhat chilly (Yellowstone in the early season).

Have fun planning!
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Aug 2nd, 2013, 06:08 PM
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Agree that country music is Nashville and Branson.

Seeing working cowboys is just not going to happen - there are so few - and on a small number of huge ranches you won;t get near. You can go to a rodeo to see professionals demo their skills at a high price. Or do to a dude ranch out west and do some riding under the control of wranglers and have a cook out, hayride etc.

But the "cowboy" life you want to see died out more than 100 years ago - assuming you mean small ranches with a few cowboys that drive herds to the rail heads (not so many in the 1870s and 1880s) for sale and transport to the slaughterhouses. Now they all go by truck from ranches large enough to make raising beef an economic proposition.
nytraveler is online now  
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Aug 2nd, 2013, 06:26 PM
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I would go either late May/early June or mid to late September. Chicago temps will be fine either time of year. The bigger issue is the opening/closing date of things in Yellowstone, and the heat in Utah/Arizona.

This is the official page for opening/closing dates in Yellowstone: http://www.nps.gov/yell/planyourvisit/ocd_locale.htm

If you go in spring, leave Yellowstone until the end of your trip. Conversely, if you go in fall, start with Yellowstone and then move on from there.

There were lots of old westerns filmed in Utah.

As for music, you'll find country all over the radio. And I'm quite sure you can find some decent local bands in smaller towns playing in a bar or at a festival. If you wait until later in June, you could go to a big outdoors country music festival in Grand Junction, Colorado.

There may be other festivals (smaller in nature) at different times, I just remember running into the crowds from that one when I was in Grand Junction about 5 years ago. Any county, regional or state fair would have some country acts as well. You probably don't want to base your itinerary around those, but you can at least look up what's in the area when you are going to be there.
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Aug 2nd, 2013, 06:27 PM
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Spring can be a real mess in the southwest and west. Snow, wind, and that's on a good day.
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Aug 2nd, 2013, 06:56 PM
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For the scenes in the movies follow ElendiPickle's advice- On the way between the Grand Canyon and Utah, you want to spend a night in Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park which is in Arizona, just south of Utah. Spent the night in the lodge run by the Indians last November. Worth the money (every room has a view) even though our sunset was in a major sandstorm. Then drive north to Utah and outside of Moab is a valley where they filmed a lot of westerns and you also can take in two national parks - Arches and Canyonlands. The Information Center in Moab gave us a brochure with a driving tour and what film was made where.
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Aug 3rd, 2013, 07:58 AM
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As you might see, trying to include both the northern Rockies - Yellowstone, Grand Teton, etc. - and the "red rock" southwest - Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, etc. - in the same trip can be complicated if you're also trying to avoid hot or wintry conditions at the same time.

Because of the high altitude of the southern national parks, conditions in the parks themselves can often be quite different than those in lower-elevation areas outside the parks. It can be hot as Hades in southern Utah and freezing at Bryce Canyon, 8,000 - 9,000 feet in altitude.

So if it was me I'd keep the October plan in place, but limit the geographic scope to more southern areas.

My recommendation for UK visitors wanting to do western road trips is to use Las Vegas as your point of entry. Because it's a 24-hour city, there's no better place in the US to deal with jetlag (8 hours time change from the UK.) No car is needed, and if you're wide awake at 2 AM (10 AM in Britain) you'll be far from alone walking on the Strip, or in the casinos, whatever.

Get a car (so you're not driving on the wrong side of the road whilst still zombie-like) and maybe do an overnight at Death Valley. Then I'd do a road trip hitting several of the national parks in Arizona/Utah/New Mexico - Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Monument Valley (not a national park but still great) and Canyon de Chelly. At higher elevations (e.g. northern Arizona near the Grand Canyon) you'll be in partial deciduous forest - aspens etc. - which will be gorgeous in autumn colo(u)r, and while the days won't be hot, the cold temperatures of winter and early spring will still be in the future. Conditions ought to be perfect, in fact.

From there you could either return to Vegas and drop the car and fly to Chicago, or you could continue up through Colorado and leave it in Denver, or, hell, follow old Route 66 (as much of it as you can find) all the way to Chicago. From Santa Fe it's around a 3 (easy) day drive to Chicago, via the Texas Panhandle and across Oklahoma, cowboy country (such as it is) most of the way.

Rent a car with satellite radio, find your country music stations (there are many) and your soundtrack is set.
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Aug 3rd, 2013, 10:25 AM
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As tulip3 can tell it's a challenge to recommend "cowboy country" sightseeing. There is for sure some marvelous scenery in the Western U.S. such as Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Black Hills, etc. Many of us have traveled parts of the West on vacations.

What does strike me is that someone from the UK will underestimate the miles and miles of flat prairie land if driving a car. Gardyloo speaks of an easy drive Santa Fe to Chicago by way of Texas Panhandle but I'd have to say monotonous is a better description. And there is of course very little remaining of Rt 66, not enough to spit at.

Geography so different from UK. Miles and miles of prairie. You might find a few interesting stops here and there checking on Fodors. Real cowboy country might actually be found in places with ranches like South Dakota or Wyoming or Texas. Our children enjoyed rodeos here and there. A dude ranch? Well maybe but that ain't much cowboy stuff. Yes, October seems a tad late for Western travel in higher elevations.

Bill in Boston
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Aug 3rd, 2013, 10:34 AM
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Late May would be a good time to go, starting in Phoenix and going north. I select Phoenix because of the better flight from Britain, although if you can get a flight added on to Tucson for very little, then I would fly to there. But then I would go down to southern AZ first - Tucson/Tombstone/Bisbee/Chiricahua Natinal Monument, then travel back up through Phoenix to Sedona and the Grand Canyon. Then Through Utah to Yellowstone.

Even though the temperatures in Arizona might seem high, the air is dry at that time of the year and isn't too uncomfortable as long as you stay out of the direct sun in mid-afternoon.
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Aug 3rd, 2013, 10:47 AM
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Beyond early Oct is getting late for the mountains and the northern national parks - you are likely to run into snow (I've had 6" of snow in Denver in early Sept - although it melted next day) and closure of some roads as well as bad driving weather. It seems that late May or early June is better for the north - although it will be starting to get very hot in the SW by then. So when to go depends on exactly where you are going.

And I think you're underestimating the distances between places.

As for the old west you've seen in movies those are carefully selected areas that may not be readily identifiable or reachable for the average tourist. If you want wonderful scenery and national parks - that's easy to organize - but not "old west" - the parks didn;t exist as such then - and were mostly used by lone trappers and such - not cowboys (cattle need fairly flat land that's not TOO cold - not mountains or the gorgeous scenery you find in national parks).
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Aug 3rd, 2013, 11:26 AM
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Driving through the U.S.: You've got a whole lotta distance to cover - and a lot of it west of the Mississippi River is the most monotonous driving you can imagine.

And, as mentioned several times, you have much different altitudes and climates with which to contend.

So, I'm going to just throw this out as a suggestion: Chicago is a major hub for Amtrak. From Chicago Union Station, you can take Amtrak to various points in the west and southwest. And I would recommend sleeper accommodations for a lengthier journey. Then choose an interim point on the route, pick up a rental vehicle and explore that area. When you are through in that area, continue on.

For example, the Southwest Chief. http://www.amtrak.com/southwest-chief-train Travel from Chicago to Albuquerque. You can stop for a few days there and take a side trip up into Santa Fe. Maybe you'd like to see Native Americans along with that "cowboy" country. The Gathering of Nations PowWow will be held April 24-26, 2014 in Albuquerque.

Then board the same Southwest Chief route and continue on to Flagstaff, Arizona. From that point, you can visit many other sites, such as the Grand Canyon, Sedona, the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest. Although the Amtrak site I gave you specifically mentions Willams Junction for the Grand Canyon, I think Flagstaff might be a better fit, because it's centralized location with these other sights.

You might wish to go as far as California, depending on how long you wish this trip to last, perhaps not.
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Aug 3rd, 2013, 01:13 PM
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exiledprincess has given you some good suggestions, if you are interested in taking the train. You could also drive from Albuquerque to Flagstaff; it's about four to five hours. If you decide to do that, Monument Valley is a fairly easy drive from Flagstaff.

Lee Ann
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