Experience Authentic Cowboy Country At This Unique Western Town With Spectacular Views

Since the humble beginnings of the cowboy in the 17th-century American Southwest, things have never been the same. This iconic character and lifestyle have captivated the minds and hearts of many, creating a distinct culture inseparable from the broader American identity. From classic fictional giants like Hoss in the 1959 television series "Bonanza" to real-life heroes like Pat Garrett, who ended the reign of the infamous outlaw Billy the Kid, cowboys have left an unforgettable mark on American history and imagination. However, in our modern age, cowboy culture is gradually fading as America continues to evolve. Despite this, one underrated small town worth visiting remains a beacon of this bygone era: Elko, Nevada. Experience authentic cowboy country, where spectacular views and a rich heritage transport you back to when cowboys were kings.

Elko is a small town in the northeastern corner of Nevada, between Reno and Salt Lake City. It began in 1869 during the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad. Elko eventually became popular for gold mining and livestock raising. Given the landscape, the work was challenging, and therefore, hundreds of Basque cattlemen were called upon, giving rise to the buckaroo (cowboy) traditions in Nevada. It's as if the landscape and the cowboys were meant to be together. With rolling desert hills, steep mountain ranges, starry night skies to get lost in, expansive wide-open spaces, and diverse wildlife, Elko offers a true taste of authentic cowboy country, preserving its historical roots and that all-fired feeling of the American West.

Scenic adventures in Elko, Nevada

Elko's landscape, situated within the Humbolt River Valley, has no shortage of character. The 16,000-square-mile river shares its lush impact with the arid land as it runs through the town, creating a ribbon of green-filled life. This is just the beginning of the scenic adventures that await in Elko. Most notably, a half hour southeast are the Ruby Mountains, a rugged 92,650-acre terrain, also known as the "Swiss Alps of Nevada." There, you can find the Lamoille Canyon, ponds, marshes, grassy uplands, and maybe even a ruby-red garnet, for which the mountains were named, but the real treasure is in the panoramic views of the surrounding valleys and peaks. Perhaps you could even try cowboy camping!

Next, check out the Angel Lake Scenic Byway, 62 miles from Elko. The drive offers numerous viewpoints and picnic spots to enjoy the serene beauty of the region. But good things come to those who wait: Tucked into a glacial cirque in the East Humboldt Mountain Range, you will find the pristine Angel Lake at 8,500 feet surrounded by snow-capped Humboldt Mountain peaks. Throughout these landscapes, you might encounter mule deer, mountain goats, pronghorn antelope, and on rare occasions, even a mountain lion. Birdwatchers can expect to see a variety of species, from hawks and eagles to songbirds and waterfowl, and might even spot a Himalayan snowcock, typically found at elevations above the tree line. For fishing lovers, the waters are home to catfish, bluegill, largemouth bass, and the threatened Lahontan cutthroat trout.

Authentic cowboy experiences

Now that you have seen the quintessential American country in and around Elko, how about a little ride for some authentic cowboy experiences? One of the best times to be in Elko is during the week-long National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in January. Since 1985, people from all over the U.S. come to engage in films, workshops, yodeling, dance, bronc-riding, and cowboy poetry! Tickets are typically available later in the summer.

Another great opportunity to immerse yourself in the cowboy culture of Elko is to visit the Northeastern Nevada Museum. Here, you can explore a collection of 2-million-year-old mastodon bones found in the region, life-sized wildlife dioramas, and artifacts of early railroads, mines, and ranches. Additionally, you can find art galleries showcasing works by legendary artists of the American West, such as Will James and Edward Borein, some of which are displayed in historically accurate spaces like an original Pony Express Cabin, circa 1860.

Let's be honest: Cowboy culture is also about great American food. In Elko, you can indulge in the region's authentic family-style Basque cuisine. Enjoy lamb chops, oxtail soup, homemade chorizo, and sweetbreads, all complemented by the local staple drink, Picon punch — a delicious cocktail made with grenadine, club soda, brandy, Amer Picon, bitters, and herbs, garnished with an orange peel and served in a mug. If you like Elko, you should also check out Marathon by Big Bend National Park, a unique tiny town full of funky cowboy vibes.

[Image by Famartin via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled | CC BY-SA 4.0]