Exploring the Wild West with Carol Highsmith

Travel Tales

From sea to shining sea, Carol Highsmith has seen and documented the far reaches of the nation. We're hitting the road again, exploring the wild American West with our favorite expert photographer.

I’m a Midwesterner (originally from Minnesota) now entrenched in the Washington, D.C. area — at least I am for the few weeks of the year when my husband, Ted, and I aren't on the road. But I keep gravitating back to the West — to the remaining pieces of historic Route 66 in Arizona, to the canyons of Colorado not yet fully discovered by tourists, and to the dusty cattle farms of Wyoming.

The West is the part of the nation that still feels wild and new. And perhaps, at times, a bit lawless. It's where cowboys and cattle roam freely and wide blue skies stretch over dusty plains and mountain ranges. No matter where I go in this part of the country, my camera lens always seems to focus in on those rougher and rowdier corners. So I've rustled up some photos in a roundup of my own to share my experiences with the nation's Old West.

Photo of two cowboys in a shoot out
Credit: Carol Highsmith

Another cowboy bites the dust – at least until tomorrow’s performance at the Enchanted Springs Ranch, a working ranch in Boerne, Texas. Gunslingers and saloons line this Old West Town, which gives visitors a true taste of Texas grit.  

Photo of Shootout in Arizona
Credit: Carol Highsmith

Historical re-enactors help visitors visualize the raucous heyday of Old Tombstone, Arizona. This dusty town was so violent it was known as "The Town Too Tough to Die".

Photo of reenactment of OK Corral shootout
Credit: Carol Highsmith

The infamous Gunfight at the OK Corral put this wild town on the map, despite the action lasting less than a minute. Today, reenactments are part of the regularly scheduled programming of this southern Arizona town.  

Photo of cowboy walking away from an explosion
Credit: Carol Highsmith

Fiery explosions don't stop cowboys. Built in 1939 for the movie "Arizona," Old Tucson has been used as a film set ever since, and you'll find it in the background of many western shows and movies.  

Photo of female cowgirl riding a horse
Credit: Carol Highsmith

Things are a lot quieter farther north in Wyoming. At the A Bar A guest ranch, dust flies during a jingle, or roundup of horses. While no one really knows where the term came from, many agree it refers to the jingling attachments to cowhands' spurs, the sound of which, at full gallop, helps encourage wild horses to get a move on.

Photo of abandoned wooden building in Old West town
Credit: Carol Highsmith

Talk about quiet.  There hasn’t been a lot going on in Bodie for 120 years, except for occasional tourist visits. This ghost town in the Sierra Nevada mountain range once housed a population of nearly 10,000 people, but today it lies abandoned as part of a State Historic Park.

Photo of man on horseback holding a Texas state flag
Credit: Carol Highsmith

Cowboys get cultured at this outdoor musical spectacle. The "Texas" musical show is staged in the Pioneer Amphitheater, carved from the rocks of Palo Duro Canyon southeast of Amarillo. The highlight of the show is the majestic ride along the canyon rim by Paul Lundergeen, aboard his white stallion, Ghost. Following his initial gallop, more than 60 performers take the stage to tell the story of Wild West days in the Lone Star State in song and dance.

Photo of a cowboy wrangling a steer
Credit: Carol Highsmith

There’s no pretending at the Cheyenne Frontier Days, a western celebration and rodeo held annually in the Wyoming capital since 1897. Real life cowboys descend on the celebration to show off their skills and try for some serious prize money.

Next year will mark 40 years on the road for Carol, who has visually documented all 50 states for the Library of Congress, where her photographic collection is the third-most-visited collection. To learn more about Carol, and follow along with her adventures across the U.S., visit her website www.CarolHighsmithAmerica.com or follow her on Instagram, @carol.m.highsmith_america.

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