The “New Old West” town of Rawhide is like an old English limerick checklist for a wedding, but with a lot of dust and gun smoke thrown in and minus the “sixpence in the shoe”: there’s something old (the stunning 1887 dark-wood dome leading into the steakhouse saloon, boasting brilliantly gilded stained glass panels depicting ornate shapes and shiny violet tulips); something new (the steakhouse menu and theme park hours); something borrowed (like maybe money for a cab, after drinking too much in said saloon) and something blue (the dark, old-timey jeans on the Rawhide cowboys). It really is the perfect marriage of family-fun in the sun (consider a hat and sunscreen) and Wild West drama and tchotchke shopping.
Here are the top five reasons to hitch your Hyundai to the dirt-lot posts at Rawhide:
5. The setting: Rawhide’s off the I-10 in Chandler, on Gila River Indian Community land, but far enough from the freeway that the sound of traffic is not an impediment to the illusion you’re in a small Western town in the 1880s, with saloons, shops (including a blacksmith) and restaurants set in rows on creaky wood boardwalks. The new rock-climbing wall and mechanical bulls are the only striking anachronisms. Well, that and the "Pirates of the Caribbean" soundtrack they played in one of their super-fun staged shootout shows.
4. The shopping: Of course the General Store stocks a variety of tourist-appeal-packed goods like prickly pear products (popcorn, candy, jelly), hot sauces, fake badges with various common modern names and their more common spellings (there’s rarely an “Esther,” and there’s never a “Niki” with one k), and shot glasses shaped like cactuses – but the Rawhide stores also carry really cool things that you wouldn’t expect, like Guitar Mania custom-painted mini-guitar sculptures modeled after Fender guitars and artisanal flasks bearing jackalopes and cuss words. There’s also a fudge shop (Sweet Sally’s Candy Store). Sometimes with free samples. And always with almost every candy you remember from your childhood, no matter your age.
3. The food: Believe it or not. Theme parks are not known for their food, at least not in a good way (deep-fried s**t on a stick, anyone?). But Rawhide is surprising in its culinary revival. The steakhouse – a cavernous cafeteria that could accommodate a huge wedding, or several elephants – is known for its rattlesnake dishes, and was featured on the Food Network show "Craziest Restaurants in America." The menu got a reboot this season, adding “signature entrees” Bacon-Wrapped Meatloaf (they had me at “bacon-wrapped”) and Sage-Crusted Fried Chicken, along with two new food challenges – the “Arizona Reaper” challenge, in which some poor sap pays $10 to eat eight wings slathered in hot sauce measuring more than four million Scoville units (the wings must be eaten by a single person), and the “Ultimate Cowboy Challenge,” which consists of a 48-ounce steak with two sides for $65 (must be finished in 45 minutes). Winners get T-shirts, certificates, and most certainly heartburn and indigestion.
2. The rides and attractions: The kids can climb a rock wall, mount a burro, ride a train around a fake mine, and take on the kiddie mechanical bull (the mechanical calf?), while adults can pick up some pizza in the new Pizza Tavern, shoot some stuff in the shooting gallery, and brave the bigger mechanical bull. And everyone can pose in period attire at the photo station.
1. The actors and entertainment: All the folks who work at Rawhide dress to Wild West attire in some way, and they walk about the “town” and try to engage with all the guests, whether it’s jokingly offering to shoot someone’s bothersome little brother or asking where they’re from (often with the follow-up question, “Is that in Texas?” or the retort “I’m sorry”). The shows in the Six Gun Theater are especially entertaining, complete with high-flying stunts from barnyard rooftops and action-packed fistfight scenes.
For more information on Rawhide, including new hours, visit rawhide.com
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