Image: Jeff Swinger

Enjoying a true Wild West experience in 2019 is a little more refined than the days of outlaws, gunslingers, and saloon madams. But imagining life on the Utah frontier is easier than you might think, thanks to these nearby adventures.

“When you see the dust rise up—manes and tails flying—and you hear the thunder of the herd coming toward you … you actually feel it in your chest, and it takes your breath away,” says photographer Jeff Swinger (swingmanphoto.com), who leads tours to Dugway Proving Ground, where a herd of 200 to 500 wild mustangs have lived since the late 1800s. What’s more, Dugway was an original stop on the Pony Express. Of note: Giddy up for a 70-mile drive to Dugway.

If cowboys are your weakness, then head to the nearby 84th annual Oakley Rodeo (oakleycity.com) this July 3–6, where you’ll see the “best of the best,” according to Jeff Flitton of Bar T Rodeo. A top-tier event on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association circuit, this showdown of saddle bronc riders, steer wrestlers, and barrel racers is considered a “destination rodeo” for the nearly 500 contestants expected to enter.

The wide-open, unpolluted dark skies of Ogden Valley provide perfect conditions to study Saturn’s rings or Jupiter’s Galilean moons. At the Huntsville Astronomic and Lunar Observatory (HALO), located at the new Compass Rose Lodge (compassroselodge.com), even the most amateur astronomer can get a glimpse far into the heavens. Plan for at least an hour’s drive to Huntsville.

As 2019 marks the 150th anniversary of the completion of America’s first transcontinental railroad, which took place at Utah’s Promontory Point, it seems fitting that High West Distillery’s new Whiskey Train is criss-crossing the USA. Inspired by “ski trains” that ran from Salt Lake City to Park City in the 1960s and ’70s, this portable saloon is fashioned from a caboose that converts to a bar and encourages whiskey enthusiasts to share a drink and a story of their own. Catch the train (highwest.com/whiskeyrun) in New York, Chicago, Portland, and elsewhere in the lower 48—or just swing by the local saloon (703 Park Ave) for a swig sans rails.

For a taste of ranch life, see the world’s most highly trained sheepdogs and their handlers put speed and precision to the test Labor Day weekend at the Soldier Hollow Classic (soldierhollowclassic.com). Rated one of the most prestigious trials internationally, the Classic also includes a festival celebrating dogs, agriculture, and the sheep-handling culture of the Heber Valley and beyond.

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