Extreme Western History Adventures

“Oh my God, Morgan Earp has been killed!”

The cry reverberated through the streets of Tombstone, Arizona. John Clum, town mayor and editor of the Tombstone Epitaph, took the stage at the Crystal Palace Saloon to confirm the rapidly spreading rumor. The faction between the Cowboys and the Earps had once again turned deadly. A posse was being organized to hunt the killers.

But the date wasn’t March 18, 1882, when Morgan Earp was back-shot at Campbell and Hatch’s Billiard Parlor. The date was October 11, 2009, when True West’s Great American Adventures launched a historic horseback ride of a lifetime. Not since the days of Wyatt Earp has an organized posse followed this bloody trail of retribution—Wyatt Earp’s Vendetta Ride.

For five-days this modern posse visited the sites where Wyatt outgunned those responsible for the death of Morgan.  From the Chiricahua, Dragoon and Whetstone Mountains through the high country around Tombstone, plenty of history and a lot of ground were covered in a short time.

At several sites True West Executive Editor Bob Boze Bell awaited to describe the events as they unfolded over 125 years ago. Imagine walking the streets of Tombstone with one of the most knowledgeable historians on the subject. Particular importance surrounds the disputed location where Curly Bill Brocius was shot-gunned to death by Wyatt. Based on Wyatt’s memoirs, what is now believed by many to be the exact location was recently discovered. A few historians have since visited the site.  Yet only one organized horseback group has ridden the area—Wyatt Earp’s Vendetta Riders!
The Vendetta Riders also had the privilege, with permission of course, to ride through and visit Mescal Studios, the desolate movie set where parts of the 1993 film Tombstone was filmed.

As one of the Vendetta Riders, retired Cincinnati Police Lieutenant Harry Thomas, remarked, “It wasn’t at all what I expected… it was BETTER! A great horse, experienced wranglers, fantastic food, loads of historical information provided by … Bell, the opportunity to participate in an historical expedition that actually made a significant discovery about Earpian lore, the hard riding over open country to Cochise’s mountain lair, standing over Johnny Ringo’s grave, riding down the middle of Allen Street in Tombstone, impromptu cowboy entertainment around the campfire… it may sound cliché, but for me, this was a trip of a lifetime.”

For many of us vacationers, a “trip of a lifetime” is precisely what we search for.  Something out of the ordinary, an adventure few people will have the opportunity to experience.  Whether it’s charging Indians at the Little Bighorn, herding cattle or buffalo, or hiking over uncharted terrain, for some of us, that’s just our game.

Consider the next few pages a “taste of the extreme,” an impressive array of what awaits the trailblazer. Now, go have fun!

—Steve Shaw, with additional reporting by Ashley Briggs


Zipping Down an Aerial Runway

Durango, CO

Children could cling to a pulley-swung handle while inclining down the village green in H.G. Wells’s 1897 classic The Invisible Man. You too can soar through the air on a zipline tour of the aspen forest canopy of Durango, nestled in the San Juan Mountains. After you build up your appetite, you’ll enjoy a four-course gourmet lunch overlooking the flowing Animas River. This eco-tour is only accessible by riding the 1882 Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, originally used to transport gold ore from the mountains.

Soaring Tree Top Adventures:
1 day; May 14-October 17, 2010; $429.
970-769-2357 • SoaringColorado.com

 

Hike & Raft into Big Bend History

Big Bend National Park, TX

When viewing the majestic canyons carved by the Rio Grande flowing through this Chihuahuan Desert, you’ll understand why ranchers like Sam Nail forged a living here in the 1910s. Your hiking adventure will take you to his old ranch site below Burro Mesa, to Chisos Basin with its “Window” view (some call it the best view in Texas) and end up at the ghost town of Terlingua, where miners discovered mercury in 1888. After Terlingua, you’ll feast on dinner at the Starlight Theater. Finish the trip off with a full day of rafting through the winding Rio Grande, as the limestone walls of Santa Elena Gorge stretch 1,500 feet above you.

Hiking Big Bend National Park:
February 28-March 5, 2011; $1,995.
800-417-2453 • TimberTours.com

 

Backcountry Archaeology Walkabout
Cortez, CO, to Utah

Hike for a week with four expert guides through archaeological sites in southeastern Utah, including the Natural Bridges National Monument, Cedar Mesa Plateau and Grand Gulch region. For instance, you’ll hike down a switchback trail to the floor of White Canyon to view the Anasazi cliff dwelling, Horsecollar Ruin. At the various sites, you’ll be able to compare rock art styles dating from Archaic to the Pueblo III period, as well as examine the impact the “Chaco Phenomenon” had on the Pueblos who lived there until their exodus in the late 13th century.

Crow Canyon Archaeological Center:
September 26-October 2, 2010; $2,120.
800-422-8975 • CrowCanyon.org

 

 

Planes, Trains & Automobiles Through the Canyonlands
Utah, Arizona & Colorado

Automobile: You’ll drive past Colorado’s Rocky Mountains, arches of Utah’s Bryce Canyon, sandstone hoodoos of Utah’s Zion National Park, Anasazi cliff dwellings in Arizona’s Mesa Verde and sandstone hogbacks at Colorado’s Garden of the Gods. Plane: You have the option of a heli tour of Grand Canyon, including seeing the majestic Havasu Falls. Train: Colorado offers you trips on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and the Pikes Peak Cog Railway.

Canyonlands of the Great Southwest:
September 17-26, 2010; $1,699.
800-742-7717 • FunToursNE.com

 

Down and Dirty Caving
Glenwood Springs, CO

Ready, Set, Crawl! This extreme caving experience at the Glenwood Caverns & Fairy Caves isn’t for the weak of heart as you crawl on your belly through rarely seen majestic formations of the Glenwood Caverns, including stalagmites, stalactites and soda straws, in a living cavern system. Spend an afternoon squeezing your way through areas only 18 square inches wide. In 1895, attorney Charles W. Darrow opened the caves to visitors; it became the first cave to have electricity in 1897—10 years after gunfighter Doc Holliday was laid to rest in nearby Linwood Cemetery.

Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park:
3 hours; Saturdays by appointment; $60.
800-530-1635 • GlenwoodCaverns.com


Arizona Cowboy College

Scottsdale, AZ

Originally inhabited by the Hohokam tribe from 800-1400 A.D., Scottsdale is now stomping grounds for the Arizona Cowboy College. Learn the ropes and get your degree in the cowboy lifestyle through in-depth courses in cattle, horsemanship, roping and shoeing, before you head out to an assigned working ranch to set up “cow camp” and rustle up some dogies with your new knowledge, skills and a little elbow grease.

Arizona Cowboy College: 5 days;
September 2010-June 2011; $2,250.
480-471-3151 • CowboyCollege.com

Mountains, Minerals & Music

Lolo, MT

The 19th-century copper boomtown of Butte with its red-light district and the 1890 Dumas Brothel (which operated until 1982!) has a small town feel these days. How the city’s Wild West heritage marries industrial revolution will be the theme of the cowboy songs and poetry you’ll hear when you ride your horse into Butte’s National Folk Festival. Born and raised in Butte, SuzAnne Miller will guide you along the scenic trails of western Montana. She’ll help you search for minerals, and she’ll lead you to Mount Haggin where you can experience an American Indian drumming ceremony in a tipi. You’ll also soak in the Fairmont Hot Springs as well as hang out with the bighorn sheep at Lost Creek Canyon during a geological tour led by Dr. S. David Webb.

Dunrovin Ranch:
July 5-11, 2010; $2,250.
877-373-7745 • DunrovinRanchMontana.com

 
Applegate Trail Wagon Trek

Winnemucca, NV

Dress up in pioneer garb and retrace a portion of the Applegate Trail from Winnemucca, Nevada, to Cedarville, California, on an authentic covered wagon train. After losing family members on the rugged Oregon Trail terrain, the Applegate family blazed this trail in 1845 as a safer alternative route to the Oregon Trail. Exchange stories and songs with your fellow travelers as you camp out in the changing terrains of the Black Rock Desert to the juniper-coated mountains in High Rock Canyon.

Oregon State Wagon Train: July 11-23, 2010;
$46 per day for adults, $21 per day for kids 12 and under.
541-558-3827 • OregonStateWagonTrain.com

 
Paddle the Colorado River

Flagstaff, AZ

No motor? No problem! Float down the Grand Canyon’s Colorado River as pioneer John Wesley Powell successfully did in 1869. Embark on Sandra, a fully restored Cataract boat built by Norm Nevills, who started the Grand Canyon’s first commercial rafting company in 1936. This oar-powered tour, called “All the Grand,” runs throughout the entire canyon, stopping at roaring waterfalls and scenic side canyons.

Canyon Oars All the Grand:
14 days; June, July & August 2010; $3,250.
800-525-0924 • Canyoneers.com

 

Butch Cassidy’s Hole-in-the-Wall Ride

Kaycee, WY

This five-day ride starts near Kaycee, Wyoming, and traverses territory where Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch rode, ending up at one of the foremost strongholds along the Outlaw Trail. Surrounded by massive, red sandstone-walled cliffs, the Hole-in-the-Wall hideout could not even be penetrated by famous “super” posse leader U.S. Marshal Joe LeFors. The ride includes horses, tack, food and lodging.
True West’s Great American Adventures:
June 13-18, 2010; $1850
505-286-4585 • Great-American-Adventures.com

Rivers, Rails, Trails ‘N’ Mesa Verde

Durango, CO

Take a ranger-guided hiking tour of Mesa Verde National Park’s ancient Pueblo dwellings, including Cliff Palace featuring more than 150 rooms and ceremonial kivas dating from 550 to 1300 A.D. Two cowboys looking for stray cattle in 1888 found this archaeological haven. Then raft the Lower Animas River through rapids like “sawmill” and “smelter.” Take an open-air Jeep tour through the Animas Forks ghost town that started as a prosperous mining town in 1876 but was abandoned by the 1920s. Lastly, board the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad steam locomotive for a scenic tour of the San Juan Mountains before returning to Durango.
Rivers, Rails, Trails ’n’ Mesa Verde:
2 days; May-Labor Day 2010; $244 for adults, $193 for kids 11 and under.
800-567-6745 • Mild2WildRafting.com

 
Bond with Bison

Townsend, MT

Spend some time with the relatives of wooly giants that once supported American Indians as well as frontiersmen during the 19th century. In private groups at the Wild Echo Bison Preserve, you can participate in bison behavioral studies with expert wildlife biologists, eat organic home-cooked meals at campfire cookouts, cruise down the Missouri River following the route that Lewis and Clark took in 1805 and get a new perspective on life in a sweatlodge ceremony.

Bison Quest Adventure Vacations:
4 days; Year-round; $2,400.
406-202-1584 • BisonQuest.com

 

Hidden Passages Adventure

San Antonio, TX

Travel 1.25 miles underground through Natural Bridge Caverns (celebrating 50 years in 2010) using the same route the discoverers took in the 1960s on this afternoon adventure. Rappel down 230 feet below surface level to the Fault Room, home to a 14-foot soda straw formation before beginning the caving and crawling experience. After the tour, you could also head to nearby Round Rock, where, after the Texas Rangers and local lawmen foiled his bank robbery plan, Sam Bass met his birthday demise in 1878. The train robber’s grave site is marked at the Round Rock Cemetery.

Natural Bridge Caverns: 3 hours;
Year-round; $99.95.
210-651-6101 • NaturalBridgeCaverns.com

 

Spirit of Kamloops

Kamloops, BC, Canada

Steampunk fans, we’ve got a trip for you! This living history rail tour departs from a restored 1927 train station in Kamloops, British Columbia, aboard a 2141 steam-powered heritage train. You’ll relive Bill Miner and his gang’s planned robbery of gold heading via the train to San Francisco in 1906. The gang members later discovered the loot they grabbed was actually liver pills and $15, instead of riches. They escaped on horseback, but not with their dignity. To add insult to injury, the Mounties arrested them three days later.

Spirit of Kamloops: 1.5 hours, July 3-August 31, 2010;
$20 for adults, $12 for kids 11 and under.
800-662-1994 • TourismKamloops.com

 
Forty-Niner Covered Wagon Train Adventure

Elverta, CA

Relive the history of northern California’s gold territory aboard a covered wagon only 13 miles north of Sacramento, home to the California Gold Rush of 1849 and the First Transcontinental Railroad. Camp under the stars after a long day in the saddle and relax around an open campfire. Bring your guitar for cowboy sing-a-longs.

JB Ranch:
5 days; May, June & August 2010; $500.
916-991-9500 • JBRanch.com

 

Jeremiah Johnson’s Jackson Hole Wilderness Ride
Jackson, WY

Travel by horseback, starting off near Jackson, Wyoming, and riding through the splendor of the scenic Grand Teton Mountains where mountain men like Jeremiah “Liver-Eating” Johnson, cowboys and rustlers now haunt the aspen- and pine-filled pastures. Horses, tack, food and campsite are provided for this wilderness ride.

True West’s Great American Adventures:
August 15-20, 2010; $1,850.
505-286-4585 • Great-American-Adventures.com

 

National Parks Escape
South Dakota, Montana & Wyoming

Visit a few of America’s most pristine national parks on this family-oriented vacation. Plunge into adventure with guided whitewater rafting down the Flathead River in Montana. Head to the Buffalo Bill Historical Center for entrance to five different museums in Cody, Wyoming. Channel your inner explorer on a candlelight tour of the Wind National Park in South Dakota in a cave discovered by the Bingham brothers in 1881. During the trip eat hearty cowboy cooking served up with a Western music variety show.

Black Hills, Yellowstone, Grand Tetons & the Black Hills Family Vacation:
15 days; May-Sept. 2010; $4,875 for 2 adults & 2 kids (12 & under).
888-237-9378 • WildWestVacationsAndTravel.com

 

Get Ropin’ Ready
Mosca, CO

Duke Phillips teaches you that “low stress” is a roping technique, not a spa treatment. Your classroom is the open range on this roping and horsemanship adventure clinic. Raised on a ranch in Mexico, Phillips is the general manager at Zapata Ranch, with decades of grassroots ranching and big loop roping experience. He works closely with you and your mount (or you can use one of the ranch horses) to strengthen your timing, balance and patience, with a focus on teaching time-tested Vaquero techniques. The adventure clinic offered in June is for novice riders, while the clinic offered in August is open to guests of all experience levels.

Zapata Ranch:
June 13-19, 2010, and August 29-September 4, 2010; $1,800.
888-592-7282 • ZRanch.org

Horseback Wine Tour
Zillah, WA

Experience the fruits of Yakima Valley’s labor with horseback tours of the surrounding wineries. Yakima County is rich in history, most notably for the Yakama Indian Wars of 1855, resulting from conflicts between settlers and native tribes. Nearby, the Yakama Indian Reservation is the 15th largest reservation in the United States where many Yakamas were moved in 1858 after the U.S. Calvary established Fort Simcoe. During your horseback wine tour, you’ll stay in luxury Indian tipis updated with modern amenities and providing guests with a balance of history and comfort.

Cherrywood Bed, Breakfast & Barn:
Afternoon; Year-round (weather permitting); $160.
509-829-3500 • CherrywoodBBAndB.com

 

Hike John Ford Country
Kayenta, AZ

Everyone tells us the ultimate Navajo guide for hiking Monument Valley is Tom Phillips. He won’t rush you from site to site. You’ll be immersed in the beauty of the natural arches, Anasazi dwellings and the purple sage popularized by Zane Grey’s novel Riders of the Purple Sage. This is the ultimate adventure for fans of John Ford, as Monument Valley served as the backdrop for 1939’s Stagecoach, 1950’s Wagon Master and 1956’s The Searchers. While on your tour, you also have the option of visiting Susie Yazzi’s hogan for a demonstration in the art of Navajo rug weaving, before heading to Yei-Bi-Chei rocks.

Kéyah Hózhóní Monument Valley Tours:
2.5 hours; Year-round; $65.
928-309-7440 • MonumentValley.com

 

National Treasure Trek
Hill City, SD

Once known for gold in 1875 the Black Hills and the Badlands of South Dakota offer up six national treasures and other historic attractions on this educational family journey. You’ll see these national treasures: Crazy Horse, the largest sculpture paying homage to Lakota Chief Crazy Horse; Devils Tower, known as Bears Lodge by Plains Indians who deem it a sacred site; Badlands park, containing fossils from horses more that 27 millions years old; Wind Cave, home to one of the world’s longest cave systems; Custer park, with its free-roaming herd of buffalo; and the monumental carvings of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and T. Roosevelt at Mount Rushmore. Other fun attractions include a ride on the 1880 train and a tour of Deadwood, which includes the re-enacted Trial of Jack McCall (McCall killed Wild Bill Hickok in 1876).

Great American Road Trip:
4 days; May-August 2010; $755 for 2 adults & 2 kids (12 and under).
866-601-5103 • BlackHillsVacations.com

 

Sheep Eater Tour
Dubois, WY

In 1890 Butch Cassidy laid down roots by purchasing a ranch in the Dubois area, but he wasn’t the first. Inhabited by the Mountain Shoshone Indians and then by the Scandinavian tie hacks that cut logs for the nation’s railroad, this day hiking (or driving) tour offered by the Dubois Museum focuses on the remnants of history that shaped the region—from Sheep Eater Indian sheep traps and petroglyphs to tie hack ruins in the forests.

Dubois Museum:
Afternoon; May-October 2010; $5.
307-455-2284 • DuboisMuseum.org

 

Custer’s Ride to Glory
Hardin, MT

Ride Custer’s last trail, as if you were one of his famed 7th Cavalry troopers, heading to the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876. Starting near Hardin, Montana, the trip will stretch from Crow’s Nest to Medicine Tail Coulee, allowing you to trace the cavalry’s movements and participate in Real Bird’s annual battle re-enactment. Horses, tack, chuckwagon food and blanks are provided for this adventure.

True West’s Great American Adventures:
June 22-27, 2010; starting at $1,675.
505-286-4585 • Great-American-Adventures.com

 

Rivers and Ruins
Bluff, UT

Raft 26 miles from Bluff, Utah, to Mexican Hat on the San Juan River, making a stop at the Butler Wash pictographs—images etched in sandstone from the Anasazi who dwelled there 1,500 years ago. Continue through Pennsylvania limestone canyons dating 300 million years old, and search for fossils as the Mexican Hat slab formation signals the end of the journey.

Wild Rivers Expeditions:
1 day (8 hours); March-October 2010; $165 for adults, $123 for kids 12 and under.
800-422-7654 • RiversAndRuins.com

 

Rustle Up a Buffalo Herd
Antelope Island State Park, UT

Become a volunteer wrangler for a weekend and help move 600 bison from the southern portion of Salt Lake City’s Antelope Island to corrals in the north. Four bulls and four female bison were ferried to the island in 1893 by William Glassman and John Dooly, providing the basis for today’s herd. Antelope Island is also home to the Cowboy Legends Memorial Day Celebration featuring cowboy poetry musical performances.

Utah Parks:
October 31-November 2, 2010; $784.
801-773-2941 • StateParks.Utah.gov

 

Four-Wheeling to Cochise
Tombstone, AZ

Hop into this four-wheel afternoon adventure into the Dragoon Mountains. Chiricahua Apache Chief Cochise moved to this hideout after the Bascom Affair of 1861 at Apache Pass, in which the Army lured the chief out there in an act of betrayal that led to warfare. He lived there until his death in 1874, and legend says he was buried near the stronghold named after him. At Council Rock, you’ll get the inside scoop on Apache and Mogollon tribal history as you view pictographs and primitive metates (a version of mortar and pestle used for processing grains) they left behind.

Into the West Jeep Tours:
Afternoon; Year-round; $65.
520-559-2151 • IntoTheWestJeepTours.com

 

175th Anniversary Alamo Tour
San Antonio, TX

In San Antonio, Texas, this custom tour celebrates the 175th anniversary of the fall of the Alamo. You’ll get a taste of south Texas history while visiting Austin and San Antonio and its Riverwalk. Then the legend of Davy Crockett and his fellow patriotic defenders will follow you on narrated tours of the Alamo mission and John Wayne’s movie set in Brackettville, offering you real and reel glimpses of the Alamo’s 13 days of glory. Lodging, tour bus, most meals and historians are provided for this 175th Anniversary Alamo Tour.

True West’s Great American Adventures:
March 6-10, 2011; $1,836.
505-286-4585 • Great-American-Adventures.com

 

Fall Cattle Drive
Bucklin, KS

It’s no mistake this cattle drive takes place at working Moore Ranch in Kansas; nearby is Dodge City, dubbed the “Queen of Cowtowns” by cowboys moving stock along the 1874 Great Western Trail to markets in the East. Get acquainted with your mount, then head off moving 90 longhorn cattle to their new seasonal pasture. After a long day in the saddle, unpack your bedroll and star gaze under an open sky.

Moore Ranch:
October 6-8, 2010; $675.
620-826-3649 • MooreLonghornRanch.com

 

Lincoln County War Tour
Ruidoso, NM

Located among the ponderosa pines in the upper canyon of Ruidoso, Whispering Pine Cabins offers guests a historic walking tour of Old Lincoln led by noted Old Lincoln historian Drew Gomber who has appeared as a correspondent for the History Channel’s Wild West Tech and has authored Heroes and Villains of the Lincoln County War. Get the expert’s take on 1878’s Lincoln County War and how outlaws such as Billy the Kid made the streets of Lincoln so deadly. Sheriff Pat Garrett had his work cut out for him.

Whispering Pine Cabins:
2 hours; June 2010; minimum five people, $20 per person.
866-766-3445 • WhisperingPineCabins.com

 

Dinner with General Custer on Lewis & Clark Riverboat
Port of Bismarck, ND

Travel by riverboat down the Missouri River, known as an essential link to St. Louis trappers heading to the Northwest in the 1830s, while supporting the Fort Lincoln Foundation that strives to preserve the history and development of On-a-Slant Village and Fort Lincoln. This fundraiser dinner catered by Seven Seas Hotel includes an appearance and storytelling from a “reincarnated” Custer who lived across the mighty river at Fort Lincoln from 1873 until his death at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876.

Lewis and Clark Riverboat:
2.5 hours; June 18, 2010; $50 plate (fundraiser).
701-255-4233 • LewisAndClarkRiverboat.com

 

Wyatt Earp’s Vendetta Ride
Near Tombstone, AZ

For five days, shadow Wyatt and his posse’s bloody trail of retribution against the Cowboy faction. Starting near Tombstone, Arizona, you will visit the death sites of Florentino Cruz, Curly Bill Brocius and others, the gravesite of Johnny Ringo and conclude with Tombstone’s oldest festival, Helldorado Days. The ride includes horses, tack and chuckwagon food.

True West’s Great American Adventures:
October 10-15, 2010; $1,850.
505-286-4585 • Great-American-Adventures.com

What do you think?

Steve Shaw

Steve and Marcie Shaw developed Great American Adventures in 1998, offering steamboat cruises, train rides and history-based horseback rides. A former B-52 navigation instructor and a retiree from the automotive industry, Steve is a member of Western Writers of America and the Single Action Shooting Society, and the author of Beyond the Rio Grande. He has appeared on History Channel’s Wild West Tech and on A&E’s Biography. Visit Great-American-Adventures.com or call 505-286-4585 to find out more about his adventures.