Hollywood, what happened to all the westerns? Why did you stop making them? We miss the scenic vistas. We miss the wide-angle shots of a lone figure traversing vast lands. We miss the sense of mirrored intimacy with the countryside that actors brought to us, the mere sight of the harsh landscape making us root for the characters.
Despite your long hiatus from the genre, we haven't forgotten the feelings the Old West aroused in us. In the glut of superhero movies exploding at the box office throughout the year, but almost always being geographically restricted to urban areas, the memory of the West is an almost forgotten remnant of a more romantic time.
Image Source: pixabay.com
So it falls to you, dear traveler, to seek the West out for yourself. To see that it's still thriving, that the lands are still bleak, and majestic and untouched. That the memories of the ghost towns are kept alive. Here are the various ways you carve your own wild west adventure.
1. Pick A Historical Figure
Billy the Kid. Davy Crockett. Annie Oakley. Buffalo Bill. Butch Cassidy. The Sundance Kid. Geronimo. Wild Bill Hickock. These names were immortalised in the history of the west long before the silent age of Hollywood turned them into cash cow brands. They formed the west, gave the lands an identity, became cultural icons whose names were carried far beyond American borders. And they all had incredibly interesting lives. Pick one of them, just one, and create an itinerary that follows their journeys, and you'll have become as intimate with the West as anyone needs to be.
2. Visit the Ghost Towns
Image Source: Darron Birgenheier/Flickr
Back in the 19th and early 20th century, when American citizens and immigrants were relentlessly driving west into the virginia countryside, towns boomed up everywhere like cheap currency. Immense excitement surrounded new settlements, and they were one of the first examples of the American Dream in action. But also like cheap currency, many of them were unsustainable, and were abandoned by residence. But then something happened to bring them back to life. Tourism. Spurred on by decades of Hollywood romanticising, audiences became droves of tourists, bringing an improbable economy back to these ghost towns. Today, they exist in a start variety - some in crumbling ruins, others in the best of American kitsch, and even a large handful under state protection. The best ones are the gold or silver mining towns Bodie, Virginia City, St. Elmo, Calico, Rhyolite and Ruby.
3. Hike/Drive/Ride A Wild West Trail
Much of the the Old West's history went down not in its supernova-ing boom towns, but in the many trails that linked them. A handful of these trails are legends in their own right. The Lewis and Clark trail (or as the Indians called it, the Big Medicine Trail) is famous for kicking off the romance of the west to begin with, for it brought the untouched West to national attention. The Oregon Trail, leaping from river to river, brought waves of emigrants from the east. The California Trail is famous for the amatuer emigrants who nearly died to reach what's now known as the Golden State. Heck, if you want to reach even further back in time, the Gila Trail is said to be over an astounding 15000 years old! You could course from point to point in a car or leg it over the countryside, but if you're doing it on anything other than horseback, you're just not doing it right.
4. Visit The Native American Reservations
Image Source: Wikimedia Commons
The Native Americans lived in harmony with the lands long before Europeans ever set foot in the USA. Their consequences of their role in the formation of the west was tragic in many ways, almost always uneasy, but never less than significant. Nowhere was their plight more significantly remembered than in the Great Plains west of the Mississippi and east of the Rocky Mountains. Today, more than three hundred reservations help keep alive the memory of America's original rulers. No story of the Old West would be complete without acknowledging their parts in it, so make sure to visit some.
5. Sail Down the Mississippi
The world's fourth longest river is the natural dividing line that separates the East of USA from the west. Obviously no one expects you to sail the two and a half thousand miles of the river all at one go! The important thing to decide is which bit you want to sail? Will you follow the flows of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer? You ought to - the upper Mississippi stretched is hands down the most scenic length of the river. Or will you paddleboat close to New Orleans? Did you know you can skip boats altogether and just drive down along the length of the river on the Great American River Road. You do now!
Along the way of these roads, remember to engage with the communities you find. Exploring the Old West involves more than taking pictures. It involves intimacy.
*featured image: pixabay.com
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