For the 10th edition of C&I’s Best of the West issue, we offer a retrospective of some of the greatest featured places and experiences.
It is our mission at C&I to share with readers our views of the American West of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. That becomes particularly important for each May/June issue, in which we gather editors’ and readers’ recommendations and favorites for the annual Best of the West section. We always aim for a careful balance between the tried-and-true and the exciting-and-new. So, before this young decade leads us to new experiences and places, it’s helpful to look back on where we’ve been and what left lasting impressions.
2011: Utah-Arizona Border — The View Hotel, Monument Valley
INSIDE: We sought recommendations from readers and editors alike when putting together the inaugural Best of the West edition. Folks featured in the June issue of C&I that year included singer-songwriter Ryan Bingham, Native American Olympic athlete Billy Mills, and late western writer Elmer Kelton, among others. We extolled the virtues of Carhartt jackets, Western-styled blue jeans, salsa, and working dude ranches. There was even a list of 11 must-see rodeos.
John Ford called it the “most complete, beautiful, and peaceful place on earth,” and when the great western director needed a killer backdrop for Stagecoach and The Searchers, he plunked John Wayne down in that favorite place of his: Monument Valley. Which is how the remote spot on the Utah-Arizona border became one of the most recognized vistas in the world — while remaining one of the least visited.
There’s a reason for that: The valley proper is huge (30,000 acres) and remote (300 miles from Phoenix). And there was nowhere to stay in Monument Valley itself. That changed in December 2008, when the first accommodations within Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park opened.
The brainchild of Navajo Armanda Ortega-Gordon, The View Hotel couldn’t have been built by just anybody wanting to capitalize on development potential. It took someone who was sensitive to Native culture and the sacred nature of the place — and also to the need for economic opportunities for the local people. It was a family and tribal venture: Navajo-funded and Native American-built, the finished product would also be Navajo-owned and -staffed. Ortega-Gordon’s vision called for the $14 million hotel to harmonize in form and color with the landscape, which it does, rising an unassuming three stories from a plateau in the same red sandstone color as its surroundings.
When it came to naming The View Hotel, there couldn’t have been many contenders that summed it up quite so succinctly. Facing those iconic stratified sandstone formations of Monument Valley — Valley of the Rocks, Tse’Bii’Ndzisgaii in the Diné language — it’s all about one thing: the view. In the same utilitarian way that the name of the place gets the job done, the accommodations take care of business. Everything is clean, rooms are comfortable, service is capable, food is good, décor is Native, fireplace is massive. And all rooms have that incomparable view. That is what you are here for after all, as the floor-to-ceiling windows would indicate. And that balcony? Well, that’s your new best friend for the duration of your stay. Day and night — by sunlight, starlight, moonlight — you and your best balcony friend are going to be spending quality time together. The only time you might miss the main attraction is when the fog rolls in. — Dana Joseph
Excerpted from the June 2011 edition of C&I.
2012: Washington State
INSIDE: We had a lot of fun with lists in this edition, ranking staples such as craft beers, pearl-snap shirts, cowboy songs, and western movie soundtracks. Other spotlights in our second Best of the West issue included Hopi jeweler Charles Loloma, budding country trio Pistol Annies, National Park visionary John Muir, and the culinary tradition of Tex-Mex.
Washington is like the corner office. Big. Stunning views. A certain undeniable cachet. Starbucks aside (birthed in Seattle in 1971), the state named after George is the consummate outdoor playground. With its natural beauty and a resident population known for their outdoor pursuits, it’s no wonder recreational equipment giant REI was founded here. Timberlands and beaches, rain forests and deserts, mountains and lowlands — no other state boasts such a diverse topography and climate. (Where else can you find glaciers and volcanoes?)
Indeed, it’s the extremes of the place that make it so appealing. Home to monoliths like Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, and Microsoft (and, of course, its founder, WA-native Bill Gates), Washington is a study in coexisting contrasts. Business climate? In Forbes Top 10. Green-consciousness? In Forbes Top 5. More than half of the Evergreen State is covered with forest. It’s also rich in water: the Pacific Ocean, Puget Sound, and lots of rivers, including the famous Columbia. That water? It’s some of the country’s cleanest. And there’s also wine — nearly 700 wineries in some 12 official viticultural areas.
Such abundance drew dozens of Native tribes to live here long before the European encounter. There were salmon, oysters, and clams in the waters; berries and nuts in the forests; and plentiful cedar for canoes and longhouse shelters. Descendants of those historical Pacific Northwest tribes live today on the more than 20 Indian reservations dotting the state.
From apple orchards, salmon canneries, and breweries to gold mines, lumber mills, and railroads, Washington has contributed in no small part to the building of the West. Now, some 200 years after Lewis and Clark traversed it in 1805, the state boasts one of the world’s greatest cities and some of the country’s most pristine wilderness. The whole place considered, we agree with what former Gov. Chris Gregoire said about folks lucky enough to live there: “We’re blessed by birth.”
Excerpted and adapted from the June 2012 edition of C&I.
2013: Pendleton, Oregon — Pendleton Woolen Mills
ON THE COVER: The striking cover featured an ultra-cool Armie Hammer, masked for his role in that year’s big-budget adaptation of The Lone Ranger.
INSIDE: We picked up a new theme for the third installment of the Best of the West — Western essentials. Think things we’d never want to do without in life. The canoe, the cast-iron skillet, work gloves, jerky, ranch dogs, the tepee, and rope: Those items and more were treated to thoughtfully penned odes.
In the mid-1600s, European fur traders found that English-made woolen blankets were valuable commodities that could be bartered for pelts with Native Americans, who quickly realized the machine-loomed fabric provided a convenient alternative to traditional hide robes and natural fiber weavings. But despite the success of overseas manufacturers like Hudson’s Bay Company, it took a while for an American-based wool industry to provide an alternative to the initial utilitarian designs.
Enter Oregon-based Pendleton Woolen Mills. Founded in 1909, the company would become one of the most successful American brands to trade in Indian blankets, due in large part to the original company designer, who spent time with local tribes to learn their preferences for color and pattern, and then incorporated the traditional motifs into mass-producible interpretations.
Over the next century, the family-owned business expanded to clothing and home accessories, yet they never forgot their roots. Blankets remain at the heart of Pendleton, which continues to work with Native American artists on new designs. — Kathryn Buniak
Excerpted from the May/June 2013 edition of C&I. Visitors can take a free mill tour and shop for sought-after Pendleton clothing and blankets in the Pendleton, Oregon, home location, which stands on the same foundation as the original mill did 111 years ago.
2014: Missouri Ozarks — Big Cedar Lodge
ON THE COVER: Actor Liam Neeson was the May/June 2014 cover star, thanks to his role in the western comedy spoof A Million Ways to Die in the West.
INSIDE: We were dreaming about river getaways in 2014, when our theme for Best of the West was “Waterways of the West.” That meant exploring the travel and culture options around grand rivers such as the Colorado, the Snake, the Mississippi, the Salmon, the Yellowstone, and more.
Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris has created an oasis in the Ozarks a stone’s throw from where he grew up selling homemade bait in the back of his father’s liquor store. And he’ll be the first to admit that turning the property into a four-star resort has been a labor of love for both him and his wife, Jeanie — whom Morris credits with finding the off-the-beaten-track location in the first place.
The story begins in the 1920s, when a business entrepreneur and a railroad executive decided to buy 300 forested acres in the Ozark Mountains south of Branson, Missouri. There they built a couple of lavish vacation homes overlooking the Long Creek tributary of the White River. Over the years, the property changed hands several times before it was purchased in 1947 by a hotel operator, who added a swimming pool, stable, and lodge, and marketed the place as Devil’s Pool Ranch Resort.
A decade later, the White River was dammed to form Table Rock Lake. But despite the added attraction of the new body of water, the property would again founder. Until one day in 1987 when Jeanie was perusing the For Sale section of the Springfield News-Leader and a small listing for a 62-unit motel caught her eye.
It was the beginning of a grand adventure that would culminate in the development of an 800-acre luxury vacation resort that includes three lodges, dozens of cabins, five pools, a golf course, a dinner yacht, and a sandy beach with an Airstream ice cream parlor — all set on one of the best bass fishing lakes in the country. Bring the family and settle in for a week of swimming, fishing, and stand-up paddleboard yoga, or head to nearby Branson for plenty of entertainment options. Either way, the gorgeously appointed accommodations — designed with input from Jeanie and daughter Julie Manna — will make you want to do what June Carter Cash did when she got to Big Cedar Lodge: Move right in and stay a good long while. — Kathy Wise
Excerpted from the May/June 2014 edition of C&I.
2015: Buffalo Gap, Texas — Perini Ranch Steakhouse
ON THE COVER: Two years before a stroke took Bill Paxton from us at age 61, we featured the beloved actor and his film Texas Rising.
INSIDE: The fifth edition of Best of the West made mouths water with a survey of the trailblazers of Western cuisine. Among the culinary notables profiled were celeb chef Dean Fearing, barbecue master Aaron Franklin, brewery maven Kim Jordan, and Navajo chef Freddie Bitsoie.
Since 1983, Perini Ranch Steakhouse in Buffalo Gap, Texas, has been serving some of the best chuck wagon food in America. In 2014, after three decades of grilling up some of the best steaks in the country, it received a James Beard America’s Classics award.
But owner Tom Perini hasn’t let the accolade go to his Stetson-clad head. “We’re a nice joint, but we’re a joint,” he says unapologetically. “It’s rustic and on the ranch. Our whole deal with food is that I want it to be simple. We do things the old-time way because simple food can carry itself.”
In a world of “elevating the dish” and “this is my take on a classic” one-upping, Tom Perini is focused on keeping as true to the original recipe and technique as possible. His restaurant essentially serves as a classic Western food time capsule.
“I want my food to look good, and I want you to recognize it,” Perini says. “Lots of new chefs are making food and you don’t know whether to pick it up with your hands, or use a fork, or what it is. I’ve always said, ‘If you find a leaf on our plate, you’d better send it back to the kitchen because that’s not supposed to be there.’ ” — Alice Laussade
Excerpted from the May/June 2015 edition of C&I. Want to start trying Perini’s techniques in your own kitchen? Read 2019’s Perini Ranch Steakhouse: Stories and Recipes for Real Texas Food. Find sample recipes by searching “Perini” at cowboysindians.com.
2016: California Sierra Nevada — The John Muir Trail
ON THE COVER: As the series run of AMC’s Hell on Wheels drew to a close, we featured the bearded, brooding star Anson Mount on the front of the May/June issue.
INSIDE: This edition of Best of the West focused on “19 Epic Adventures of a Lifetime.” Readers were encouraged to raft the middle fork of the Salmon River, sail up and away at Albuquerque’s International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, ride the Black Hills of Dakota on a Harley, hit New Mexico’s Green Chile Cheeseburger Trail, and more.
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home,” John Muir wrote more than a century ago in Our National Parks. Is there any doubt which mountains inspired these words from the legendary conservationist and Sierra Club founder?
The 211-mile John Muir Trail — aka the most dependably spectacular mountain route in the West — rambles along California’s Sierra Nevada from Yosemite National Park to the summit of Mount Whitney. Rising over snow-dusted, 13,000-foot passes. Skirting beneath rows of gorgeous, craggy peaks. Crossing breezy meadows and forested river valleys through some of the country’s most famous national parks and preserved wilderness areas. No trail better lives up to its name.
If doing the whole JMT in one three- to four-week ramble doesn’t exactly jibe with your reality, consider an abridged version. Favorite sections of the trail (overlapping the 2,660-mile Pacific Crest Trail much of the way) include the northern portion from Yosemite’s Tuolomne Meadows through the Ansel Adams Wilderness to Devils Postpile National Monument and Mammoth Lakes. A longer, more demanding trek at the southern end from Bishop Pass to Mount Whitney features the magnificent Rae Lakes area, beautiful Palisade Peak, and a summit shot at the highest point in the lower 48. — José Ralat
Excerpted from the May/June 2016 edition of C&I.
2017: Deadwood, South Dakota
ON THE COVER: We visited with Canadian actor Adam Beach about his career so far and about his advocacy for more Native and First Nations representation on the big screen.
INSIDE: We traveled to the tried-and-true iconic Western towns for our seventh Best of the West edition. The feature offered quick primers on visiting Fort Worth, Texas; Dodge City, Kansas; Durango, Colorado; Tombstone, Arizona; and several more historic destinations.
What’s in a name beyond a former hit HBO series title and a hint of irony? In the case of Deadwood, South Dakota — a town that has cheated death repeatedly over the last 141 years — only the most instantly recognizable-sounding dot on the Old West grid north of Tombstone. From the name alone, you know Deadwood has been there, done that and seen some things that would make Timothy Olyphant blush.
Coined after a gulch full of dead trees where the first wave of 1870s Black Hills miners would encamp during one of the country’s last great gold rushes — laying to waste a Lakota land treaty in the process — Deadwood would swiftly gain a reputation as one of the roughest, rowdiest, and most remunerative mineral boomtowns in frontier territory. And fodder for some of the biggest names in Western lore.
Wild Bill Hickok. Calamity Jane. Charlie Utter. They were all here. Not always for a long time — or a particularly good time. A few weeks after his arrival on the Utter wagon train in 1876, Hickok would be unceremoniously gunned down with a shot to the back of the head at the poker table by gambling sore loser Jack McCall while holding (as the story goes) two pairs, aces and eights — known as the “dead man’s hand” forever more.
Deadwood, of course, would live on. Through mining closures, prohibition, floods, several devastating fires, and civic debates about introducing legalized limited-stakes gaming (in 1989) to a small community now very well-fed with casino tax revenues. Today, the entire town is a National Historic Landmark drawing loads of summer guests to its brick-paved streets, quaint Victorian B&Bs, slot-machined hotels, $1-a-ride trolleys, hauntingly beautiful Black Hills back roads, and period-esque gunfight reenactments that you can time your watch to.
“Deadwood is one big piece of history wherever you look,” says Amanda Kille, Deadwood Chamber of Commerce marketing director, who offers some advice for beating the summer crowds. “We’re a year-round destination — people don’t always know that. But it’s really gorgeous here in the fall and winter, too.” — Jordan Rane
Excerpted from the May/June 2017 edition of C&I.
ON THE COVER: The striking portrait that covers our May/June 2018 edition is that of Brady Jandreau, a real-life Lakota cowboy and first-time actor whose struggles in rodeo inspired the critically acclaimed indie drama The Rider.
INSIDE: The 2018 Best of the West was made up of both mild and wild experiences. Among the mild were train rides, luxury lodges, spas, and golf courses. The wilder options included dog sledding in Alaska, snowmobiling in Lake Tahoe, sandrailing in Oregon, and paragliding in California.
Colorado Springs, Colorado — The Broadmoor
When The Broadmoor opened in 1918, it was one of the premier resorts of its day, offering Turkish baths, steam rooms, massages, and oil rubs — for 50 cents to $1.50. Today the property is every bit as luxurious, and as modern as it is historic.
An entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and philanthropist, Broadmoor
founder Spencer Penrose and wife Julie had traveled around the world with
the idea of going back to Colorado Springs — then considered the uncivilized West — and creating an oasis of culture. Inspired by the exclusive spas in Italy, the couple spared no expense when they took over what was once a dairy farm
in Colorado Springs, at the base of Cheyenne Mountain, to begin the project.
The grounds were designed by the same landscape firm that created Central Park. The Italian Renaissance buildings — 11 in all, situated around Cheyenne — were designed by the same architects behind Grand Central Station. The technically difficult golf course was legendary; today, there are three, and one has been the site of the U.S. Senior Open.
The Broadmoor now has 10 restaurants, activities ranging from horseback riding to ballroom dancing, and three additional wilderness properties on its 5,000 acres — one is for fly-fishing, another is a ranch, and there’s even a romantic lodge on top of Cheyenne Mountain called Cloud Camp, a hideaway Penrose would repair to with his drinking buddies during Prohibition.
It all adds up to flawless Rocky Mountain relaxation. — Ellise Pierce
Excerpted from the May/June 2018 edition of C&I.
McCurtain County, Oklahoma — Beavers Bend/Broken Bow
Oklahoma is full of scenic surprises. Spend some time in the Beavers Bend/Broken Bow area in McCurtain County and you’ll see what we mean. The southeast corner of the state known as Choctaw Country was the Choctaws’ final destination on the Trail of Tears. Today it’s a vacation destination for outdoor enthusiasts exploring the Kiamichi Mountains (a subrange of the Ouachitas), the Mountain Fork River (which contains the “bend” of Beavers Bend, a meander that makes an almost 180-degree turn), Broken Bow Lake, and a couple of state parks chock-full of natural wonders and miles of shoreline.
But it’s not all mountain streams, lakes, rivers, forests, hiking, mountain biking, fishing, hunting, kayaking, canoeing, paddleboarding, swimming, and horseback riding. There’s also plain old porch sitting at waterfront cabins. And winery- and brewery-hopping at places like Fish Tales Winery and Vineyard, Vojai’s Winery, Girls Gone Wine, Beavers Bend Brewery, and Mountain Fork Brewery. And, of course, there’s the replenishing of calories after a day expending them outdoors: In the town of Broken Bow, high marks go to Papa Poblano’s Mexican Cafe (homemade tortillas!), Hochatown Saloon (cowboy burger and fries), Smith’s Good Eats (homemade desserts), the Reel ’Em In Cafe (catfish and barbecue), and, 12 miles away in Idabel, The Red B Restaurant (chicken-fried steak sandwich). — Dana Joseph
Excerpted from the May/June 2018 edition of C&I.
2019: Bozeman, Montana
ON THE COVER: Excited for the long-awaited Deadwood movie to hit HBO last year, we celebrated the western game-changer by putting its two stars, Timothy Olyphant and Ian McShane, on the cover in character.
INSIDE: The ninth edition of Best of the West paid tribute to people we dubbed “fascinating figures” — innovators, influencers, and interesting individuals of the modern West. Among those featured were champion bull rider Keyshawn Whitehorse, horsewoman Reata Brannaman, Olympic archer Brady Ellison, Native author Tommy Orange, and chef Edouardo Jordan.
If there was one catalyst to the Bozeman boom, it was the release of Robert Redford’s 1992 coming-of-age drama A River Runs Through It. “When that opened, it had a big impact on tourism,” BZN International Film Festival communication coordinator Cynthia Logan remembers.
The film was shot in Livingston, Bozeman, and Big Timber, and its memorable fly-fishing scenes were filmed in Gallatin Canyon on the Gallatin River south of the city. Even the few critics who didn’t like it gave four stars to the breathtaking scenery, captured by Oscar-winning cinematographer Philippe Rousselot.
Suddenly fly-fishermen were filling up the Murray Hotel, where Buffalo Bill and Calamity Jane once stayed, and business picked up at the angler accessory haven Montana Troutfitters.
The natural wonders that surround the town remain irresistible. Bozeman is 90 miles from Yellowstone National Park, 50 miles from the famous Chico Hot Springs, and just 10 miles north of Hyalite Canyon (famous for its pristine waterfalls and robust wildlife). — David Hofstede
Excerpted and adapted from the May/June 2019 edition of C&I.
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A production error in the May/June 2020 print edition of this feature resulted in several small photography credits being obscured. See the images and correct credits in the slideshow below.
Photography: Courtesy The View Hotel/Rebecca S. Ortega, Washington State/Andy Porter, Big Cedar Lodge, NPS Photo, South Dakota Tourism
From our May/June 2020 issue.