An Old West tour of Scottsdale, Ariz.

Scottsdale calls itself “The West’s most Western town.” If you want to get a taste of its Old West history (and cowboy cuisine) here are some places worth visiting in the Arizona town, about a 20-minute drive from downtown Phoenix.

Museum of the West

The newest attraction is Western Spirit: Scottsdale’s Museum of the West, which opened on Jan. 15.

The 44,000-square foot, $11.4 million museum was designed by Studio Ma of Phoenix. Its weathered steel exterior and spacious wood and concrete galleries evoke the colors and wide-open spaces of the desert.

The museum’s seven exhibits are devoted to Western art and artifacts, historic and contemporary. The largest gallery on the main floor houses a collection of about 100 paintings and sculptures chronicling Lewis and Clark’s journey west by living artist Charles Fritz. The pictures are hung chronologically alongside key bits of text from the explorers’ journals, so you can follow the expedition’s progress to the Pacific.

Displayed in a nearby room are hundreds of saddles, spurs, chaps, guns and other 19th-century Western items collected by Scottsdale gallerist Abe Hays. The objects, hung alongside monitors screening classic Western films, show the wear they suffered at the hands of actual cowboys, lawmen, outlaws and others.

Upstairs, a highlight for Northwest visitors is three early photographs by Edward Curtis, whose (relentless mission) to photograph members of every native tribe west of the Mississippi was grippingly told in Seattle author Timothy Egan’s “Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher.”

Nearby, look for paintings of Native American hunters and mountain men by arguably the most renowned painters of the American West, Charles M. Russell and Frederic Remington.

Not every piece of art in Western Spirit is backward-looking. One gallery showcases the work of living artists, and some lovely contemporary sculptures reside in an interior courtyard, where visitors can pause, rest and reflect.

The museum is open Tuesdays-Sundays, 3830 N. Marshall Way, Scottsdale; $8-$13 (480-686-9539 or

Desert Botanical Garden

The Desert Botanical Garden puts travelers in touch with the West through its native plants and landscape.

This 140-acre research-and-exhibition garden is dedicated to the understanding and appreciation of desert habitats, in particular the red-rocked, cactus-studded Sonoran Desert, which covers large parts of Arizona, California and Mexico.

Walk any one of four loop trails organized thematically — or walk them all, covering less than 1.5 miles in total. It’s a wonderland of towering saguaros and infinitely varied smaller cactuses and succulents, punctuated with shady areas and benches where you can escape the sun. (Be warned: The Sonoran Desert is one of the hottest in North America. Avoid midday and take plenty of water.) At every turn, friendly docents offer interesting bits of information.

The Desert Botanical Garden offers a full array of programming, including a Music in the Garden concert series that continues through April 17. Two dining options are on site: Gertrude’s Restaurant, near the entry, and the more casual Patio Café.

Open daily, 1201 N. Galvin Parkway. (Technically in Phoenix but just a 5-minute drive from Scottsdale’s Museum of the West.) $10-$22 (480-481-8188 or

Old Town Scottsdale

Scottsdale was founded in the late 1890s, and a number of its original buildings survive. A schoolhouse built in 1909 now serves as the Scottsdale Historical Museum — a good place to begin a walking tour of the district. (Google “Old Town Scottsdale Walking Tour” to find a good map.) Like most every neighborhood in Scottsdale, the area is flat and pleasant to stroll.

Along the way, you’ll encounter a half dozen blocks of low-rise buildings housing art galleries, souvenir shops and restaurants — some sporting frontier-style facades that were actually added in the 1940s by enterprising businesspeople looking to establish the town’s pioneer credentials.

Favorites on the tourist circuit include The Rusty Spur, which bills itself as Scottsdale’s oldest cowboy saloon (, and Saba’s Western Wear, a longtime local business that carries a full complement of boots, hats and other Western wear (

Another point of interest in Old Town is Our Lady of Perpetual Help, a mission on First Street and Brown Avenue built by Mexican Catholics in the early 1930s. A yearslong effort is under way to restore this beautiful, white adobe structure. The mission is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day, November to April (

Lynn Jacobson:

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