In the decade following the end of World War II, tourism in the Rockies doubled as Americans took to the road to explore and enjoy the American West. In 1959 LIFE photographer Eliot Elisofon made his own trek through the Rocky Mountain, on a five-day journey that covered 1,800 miles. He trained his camera on natural landscapes and also on the area’s burgeoning manmade attractions, like the massive outdoor skating rink in Sun Valley, Idaho, above. The netting was placed over the rink to cut down on the glare of the mountain sun.
Welcome to the 50s, and also the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs. The staff of lifeguards proved ready to channel their inner Esther Williams.
Colorado was full of all kinds of fun and games. At a rodeo in Ridgway, Colo., the action got a little wild, and a ride on an old-time looked a little hairy too. The train, which carried tourists along the canyon walls above the Animas River, also known as the River of Lost Souls, made the 90-mile round trip between Durango and Silverton daily, and had been featured in the filming of Around the World in 80 Days.
Looking back at car culture from those years can feel like its own kind of natural wonder—a parking lot becomes as attractive as the attraction. But then, the attractions on the trip were pretty darn good too. Below: Bryce Canyon in Utah, and then onto Yosemite, with its bears and Old Faithful.
In this last photo, below, a family from Louisville headed out into the Idaho hills with a crew that included a cook, a wrangler, and pack mules for a multi-day trek. Their deep dive underlines the appeal of the Western United States. It’s about the breathtaking scenery, but it’s also about a journey back to a time when this country was wild.