Saturday, October 12, 2013

Tombstone: The Town Too Tough to Die

Today we went from 21st century aircraft at the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson to the gunfights of the mid-1800's in the Old West town of Tombstone while traveling 120 miles on our BMW R1200 GS motorcycle, riding the little-used 2-lane highways in southern Arizona.

Mike loves airplanes and flight, and the Pima Air & Space Museum with its collection of more than 300 aircraft spread both inside hangars and parked outside on the hot and dusty grounds was a fantastic way to start the day. We saw airplanes that flew missions in WWII and VietNam, nuclear bombs (without a warhead) still in use today, scores of helicopters, the oldest existing SR-71 Blackbird (longrange Mach 3+ reconnaissance aircraft), and several seaplanes. We didn't cover the entire 80 acre museum, which means we'll be back to Tucson for another visit.

Brad and George planned a fun motorcycle route to Tombstone that stayed off the Interstate, giving us the opportunity to ride through the changing southern Arizona landscape. We saw mountains, rocky bluffs, flat sandy desert that stretched out to the horizon, and wavy golden grassland where I half-expected to see herds of buffalo.

We pulled into Tombstone in time for lunch at the OK Cafe where the ceiling was raised to accommodate a large stuffed buffalo head mounted on the wall over our table. I've never been to a town where people dressed in clothing from the 1880's enthusiastically told us to "don't miss the bank robbery at 3pm!" and a stagecoach was the only traffic along the main street.

Tombstone citizens dressed in 1800's clothing

A cowboy told jokes before the diarama/movie about the history of Tombstone narrated by Vincent Price where we learned how the town earned its name. According to the town's website:
Tombstone was founded in 1877 by a prospector named Ed Schieffelin. Ed was staying at what was then called Camp Huachuca as part of a scouting expedition against the Chiricahua Apaches. During his time there he would venture out into the wilderness "looking for rocks", all the while ignoring the warnings he received from the soldiers at the camp. They would tell him, "Ed, the only stone you will find out there will be your tombstone". Well, Ed did find his stone. And it was Silver. So, remembering the words of warning from the soldiers, he named his first mine The Tombstone.
The town was founded to support the thousands of miners prospecting in the mountains, but Tombstone really became famous for the gunfight at the OK Corral where Wyatt Earp and his brothers, in the name of bringing law and order to the wild town, gunned down three cowboys known for steading horses, robbing stagecoaches and shooting up the town. It sounds odd to say that the live re-enactment of the gunfight was fun, but watching the actors play out scenes I've seen countless times in Western movies really was great entertainment. At one point the actors adlibbed and started laughing so hard it took them a few minutes to compose themselves and finish the play.

Big Nose Kate, Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp and Virgil Earp
Big Nose Kate's Saloon still serves food and drink to a rowdy crowd, the Bird Cage Theatre is a museum full of old posters and memorabilia advertising singers and plays from over 100 years ago, and the Crystal Palace Saloon that started life as a brewery in 1879 still serves dinner.
Our hotel was just down the road from the Boothill Graveyard where the cowboys killed in the gunfight at the OK Corral are buried along with several other people whose white crosses on their graves piled high with rocks proclaim they were "hanged", "shot", "murdered" or every once in a while "died a natural death".

 I can imagine Tombstone on a Saturday night in the 1880's, with hundreds of cowboys and miners going in and out of the saloons, horses tied up along the wooden sidewalks, and loud music spilling out into the street. Tonight was a quiet night in Tombstone except for the sound of our motorcycles as we rode out of town to our hotel.

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