We finally tore ourselves away from Ajo and headed towards our next planned stop at Tombstone. We wanted to see Tombstone mainly to check out its suitability as a possible place to light someday but we were also a little curious about what all was there. We were expecting the worst: one of those cutesy Disney-esque “old west” makeovers. However, the fact that no one who we spoke to of visiting Tombstone sneered or snickered meant that maybe it would be better than we expected.
But first, you may have read a comment on a recent blog from a fellow named Al Foster, telling us about the place he and his wife Sharon had just bought in Green Valley. Well, Green Valley is más ó menos right on the way to Tombstone so we figured we’d swing over there and see how other cruisers (and Pacific Northwesterners) are handling the transition to life in the desert. We first met Al in La Paz when he was buying his new-to-him boat and staying at Casa Buena while getting some work done on the boat. We were staying there because Cody and Scott had come down to visit and Siempre Sabado is barely big enough for the two of us, forget about putting guests up. It was almost exactly 3 years ago now that I think about it.
Al and Sharon bought a nice 2 bedroom, 2 bath house with the absolute minimum of yard (ergo, minimal yard maintenance) in a 55+ community that’s walking distance to just about anything they need. It’s a really nice little place. We all walked over to a nearby deli and had lunch and then walked over to the condo they had been staying in while looking for something more permanent. Had a nice visit but, as it was beginning to get late and we like to be well-settled long before dark, we bid them adiós and headed north and east.
While still in Ajo, I had scoped out a few possible places to stay between Tucson and Tombstone and decided that our best bet was the Pima County Fairgrounds RV Park. One of the best things about it was that we could get there without actually having to drive through Tucson and without so much as touching an interstate freeway. The rates were pretty good, especially for around here this time of year. $20 would get us full hook-ups or we could dry-camp for $12. As we knew we’d be staying at an RV Park in Tombstone, we didn’t really need any hook-ups so we decided to save the $8. Dry-camping was really loosey-goosey. The campground host led us out into the middle of what is probably a huge, semi-paved parking lot during the fair. He pointed to an area with some trees and told us those sites all had electricity and water but no dump and we could take one of them for the same price as dry camping. But, he told us, if we really don’t need any hook-ups we could park just about anywhere we wanted. The water/electric was tempting but it turns out that there’s a dog show going on and the places with lots of rigs were also full of barking dogs. We chose a spot as far away from the din as we could get and that was conveniently near the bathrooms. The amazing sunset was a bonus.
During the night the dogs thankfully shut up. But, about 3 AM or so, we were woken to the sounds of more than one coyote killing a rabbit. Not sure how many coyotes there were as the barking all gets mixed up once there’re more than one. Heard the rabbit emit its distinctive scream several times before all was silent. Sounded like it all took place within 25′ of our parking spot.
After breakfast we headed off to Tombstone. The terrain changed as we left Tucson behind. By the time we were headed east on Hwy 82, the ground was covered with lots of yellow prairie grasses with only the occasional cactus here and there. The cactuses had changed as well. We were seeing more ocotillo and agave-type plants now. No more saguaros. It was really very pretty and much less unwelcoming looking than the Sonoran desert that we’re used to.
Tombstone turned out to be much more fun than we’d expected. The whole town, or at least the part we were interested in, was walking distance from the RV park where we stayed. The RV park was surprisingly affordable considering what they could have charged. We were expecting Jackson, Wyoming prices but instead got close to Ajo, Arizona prices. With our Good Sam discount it was $30.15/night including the 12.5% tax.
The main part of town is two streets, about 5 blocks long. The back street is where the mines are located. Silver mining is what originally put Tombstone on the map. Although they’re not actively mining anymore, the hard-rock mines are still there and we took a tour of one of them, the Good Enough Mine. The mine goes down 700′ altogether and the bottom 200′ is flooded whne the pumps aren’t running. But we were only going down about 100′ so it didn’t matter. I tend towards claustrophobia but never felt even a twinge of it here.
Our guide was entertaining and we learned a lot about Tombstone’s history and about hard rock silver mining. Before we donned our hard hats and headed down into the mine, we waited for the tour to start at the outdoor bar adjacent to the entrance. And, as long as our beer was poured into a plastic cup (no bottles) we were invited to bring our drinks along on the tour if we wanted. That’s my kind of mine.
After the mine, we toured a couple of museums and took a ride on a 100+ year old stage coach. There are some other stagecoaches in town that are replicas of the old one and look more like what you saw on old westerns but this one was the real thing. Couldn’t imagine riding this for 27 days to get from Tombstone to San Francisco.
One of the replicas:
The main street of town is blocked off to car traffic. But, since there need to be room for the stages to get by, they have the intersections manned by cowboys to make sure no cars try to go down the street. These guys are dressed pretty authentically, some are very authentic-looking. You can see a couple of them 2 photos up. Everyone from the shopkeepers and stage drivers to these guys look like they just stepped off either the set of a gritty western or out of your imagination of what cowboys were supposed to look like. But there were others. people who didn’t seem to have a role other than just to add color. Some of these were folks who live in Tombstone who just like to get in costume once in awhile. But there were others as well. We noticed a number of usually young guys, dressed up like cowboys and packing iron. We’d see them on the boardwalks along the street going into or coming out of various shops. But then we also saw some of them with their non-costumed wives or girlfriends lined up to take the mining tour. Huh? Turns out, as near as we can figure, that these are tourists, maybe from Tucson or Phoenix, who like to dress up and wear their six-guns and pretend to be cowboys for the day. Tombstone apparently has no ordinances against walking around with a shooting iron on you hip although some of the stores have signs saying “Absolutely no guns allowed”. You want to be a cowboy, too? Tombstone’s the place to come if you need a gun and holster or some duds.
You can buy authentic period garments in several stores here. Also several places to buy six-guns and lots of places to buy holsters and hats. You can even rent a costume for the day if you just want to get in the spirit but aren’t ready to commit.
I think the thing about Tombstone that keeps it from being a joke is that there really is lots of history here and it’s treated like a piece of history. The stores don’t look like reproductions, they look like well-kept old buildings which, I think they mostly are. There are regular people living in most of the 100-year-old houses near the main street. And I never once got the impression that the costumed locals were in any way sneering or laughing at the tourists they way they seem to in many places. Tombstone seems to understand how to treat tourists. Everyone was very friendly and, although everything cost money, the price structure for the various tours was set up so you can afford to do more than one without breaking the bank. With the exception of the tour of the Birdcage Theater and one other place that I can’t remember, admission was generally either $5 or $7. The birdcage and the other place wanted $10 so we skipped them. We also skipped the most famous attraction of all, the shootout at the OK Corral. We got to see Doc Holliday and Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan Earp lined up on the street a little before the shootout. They looked very much like the characters in the movie “Tombstone”. Why did we skip it? It was kind of a principal thing. The shootout used to happen on the street where anyone could watch. Deciding to cash in, the acting company or whoever runs it instead moved it behind closed doors. First they walled in the original OK Corral, which was partially walled anyway. Then they moved the entire shootout inside the corral which is not where it even happened. It happened near the OK Corral but not in it. It was out on Fremont Street between 3rd and 4th as well as in an empty lot adjacent. It was probably a good show but I just couldn’t bring myself to pay to see it. Not logical, I know, but there it is.
We were there on Saturday and it was absolutely beautiful. Sunny and warm enough for shorts and sandals. By Sunday it was much colder and we were bundled up in long pants, socks, shoes, flannel shirts and jackets or vests. The streets were emptier, too. We took a guided trolley tour and about froze our butts off, but it was a good and informative ride. Stopped by Boot Hill.
Boot Hill was a little bit if a disappointment. It really is a cemetery and these are real graves with real old west characters in them. But the fact that they took so little care with the authenticity of the grave markers made it seem more like a Disney-esque recreation rather than the real thing. Some of the words on some of the graves were actually done with a Magic Marker. Glad there was no admission charge.
Although it can get pretty chilly here (they actually get the occasional dusting of snow), we liked it and could see living in Tombstone. Didn’t see much in the way of places for sale however. The locals all have to go to Sierra Vista, 16 miles away, to do their shopping as there are only three stores in Tombstone that carry food: the Tombstone Grocery, which is just a large convenience store, the Circle K which is another convenience store, and Family Dollar which has some canned and packaged stuff. If we did move here, I’d have to rig myself a costume. Think I’d go for grizzled prospector/loveable sidekick look.
Ajo to Tucson with a side trip to Green Valley: 178 miles
Tucson to Tombstone: 74 miles
Total to-date: 5,106 miles