Day 1: Bunk down at the centrally located Red Lion Inn Hotel & Casino, where you can pick up your programs and passes for the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering. Then head to the Western Folklife Center, the regional nonprofit that produces the annual event. The Center also provides exhibitions, performances, workshops, and other programming. And you haven’t been to Elko without eating at the Star Hotel, a 19th-century restaurant run by a Basque family and known for its garlic steaks and fries. Grab a late supper at the Gold Country Inn and Casino and listen to Idaho cowboy crooner Ernie Sites spin Western tales at the bar.
Day 2: Start your day at the friendly Coffee Mug. You’ll see why locals pack this place for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Next, go shopping at the Western mercantile vendors set up in special halls at the casinos around town. And whether you’re looking for the real deal or just collecting, J.M. Capriola Company is the area’s ultimate tack and saddle shop specializing in gear for the working cowboy. For the best in Western clothing, visit the Elko General Merchandise (a.k.a. “Anacabe’s”). At the Gathering, the National Endowment of the Arts honors several Western artists each year. And there’s always a nighttime concert, like Hot Club of Cowtown, which plays in the dancehall.
Day 3: Warm up with a great cup o’ Joe at the Black Dog or Sierra Java before rounding out your cowboy education with a visit to the Northeastern Nevada Museum. The Frazier Collection of the literature and art of Will James is downright impressive. And the annual Great Basin Gear Show features top-notch Western craftsmen. Poet Waddie Mitchell lives just outside of town and likes to say that: “Without tradition, you don’t know who you are.” There’s something very special about cowboys telling stories to other cowboys, so make sure to attend the shows. Their colorful yarns reaffirm why cowboys are America’s folk heroes.
The next National Cowboy Poetry Gathering will be coming up January 26–31, 2015. Visit www.westernfolklife.org to learn more.