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Looking for cowboys in Prescott, Ariz.

Cowboys are my weakness. That's not just the title of my favorite Pam Houston book, but the truth about my undying fascination with those icons of the Wild West. These days, when most of the horses are under the hood instead of a barn roof, it's a challenge to find an authentic outpost where rootin,' tootin' cowboys still have a foothold. That's why there's Prescott. Though the mile-high city about 90 miles northwest of Phoenix is becoming a desirable retirement haven, it's more notable for its long-running rodeo, historic downtown and saloons that are the next-best thing to time travel.

The bed

The Hassayampa Inn (122 E. Gurley St.; [928] 778-9434. Rooms from $99 to $159) retains its historic charm (and modest room proportions) while borrowing style cues from its Arizona location, Roaring '20s origins and the town's Midwestern settlers. The result is an interior with the Southwest's signature stenciled, beamed ceilings and fancy tiled walls and floors, Art Deco light fixtures and a proper red brick exterior that recalls Chicago mansions. Besides charm, the 67-room hotel is known for its central downtown location, original copper ceilings and elegant Peacock Room.

The meal

A perfect rooftop lunch spot, the warmly rustic downtown Raven Cafe (142 N. Cortez; [928] 717-0009) combines hipster food, music and art with a vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free menu that also embraces carnivores. I headed straight for the juicy, sweet root beer barbecue pork sandwich ($11) and eyed the 24 beers on tap. Iron Springs Cafe (1501 Iron Springs Road; [928] 443-8848), housed in an 1890s former railroad depot, blends Cajun and Southwest cuisine in a menu that has you debating between a cup of gumbo ($5.75) or the enchilada of the day (about $11.50).

The find

Go ahead: Follow in the footsteps of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday and swagger through the swinging half doors of the Palace Saloon, an 1877 frontier bar that's a centerpiece of downtown's historic Whiskey Row. Though the mannequins perched by the former brothel rooms are kitschy, the historic photos and artifacts in the display cases make the Old West feel real at the lively restaurant and saloon.

The lesson learned

Prescott is surrounded by nearly 400 miles of trails in the Prescott National Forest and thus is a hiker's heaven. I'd pack ample outdoor gear for a return trip, and be sure to visit Watson Lake Park to rent a kayak for an on-the-water view of the Granite Dells.

The tab

Round-trip airfare from LAX to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport was $270; the round-trip airport shuttle to Prescott cost $58; and $40 easily bought lunch and dinner. About $400 covered two weekend nights in a room with a king-size bed at the Hassayampa Inn.

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