There is a style to American folk lore that is proprietary. Characters, not actors, play the role of some of humanity’s most notorious and legendary. The stories unwind of how one lives and thrives, where the long-lost lie in boot hills all through the West, the outlaws, the gunslingers, the Billy-the-Kids and worse.
Travel is a learning tool and the chilling stories in the North about the man who shot Wild Bill Hickok are a precursor to the heat of Arizona’s epic saga. Sizzling to this day are the ways of freedom and the ways of the old west in a death-defying tourist attraction. Here a six-gun is the standard and there is history that may offend when walking the streets.
In the heart of the Chihuahua desert, visitors come to the infamous Boot Hill. There is a sense on entering “The Town Too Tough to Die” of the good people long gone, of the varmints buried with an ounce of lead, and of a rough and bloody history.
“The only rock you’ll find is your tombstone,” early silver prospector Ed Schieffelin was told when coming to mine this territory. The silver claim he staked became more than a metaphor and a town; it became a monument. Today, the signs proclaim the birthplace of a location where so many were marked for death — this is Tombstone, Arizona.
Somewhere in a clapboard shop with Wi-Fi, old meets new. Dirt roads are lined with the same wooden sidewalks that countless people strode while watching horrific history in the making over the last century and a half. Late in the night while the bars rally, the legends of the greatest and most notorious characters may cross the threshold of our world to embolden the spirit of Tombstone.
Entering the tumultuous story is as easy as attending an exciting gunfight re-enactment. Fully costumed actors perform a choice of shoot-ups, including the notorious gunfight at the OK Corral, where Wyatt Earp and brothers, along with Doc Holliday, confronted two sets of cattle-thieving brothers, killing three of the men. Seek those ghosts and many other stories at the Boot Hill Graveyard.
The story goes that Ed Schieffelin requested to be buried dressed as a prospector along with a pick and canteen. His burial monument still stands at the Tombstone Monument Ranch. Located 73 miles southeast of Tucson, the ranch is surrounded by open country, historic mines, and old railroad trestles reining in a stunning view of the rugged Dragoon Mountains. Chief Cochise and the Chiricahua Apaches used the vertical labyrinths of the Dragoons when fleeing the United States Army more than a century ago.
The Tombstone Monument Ranch was built as an 1880s Mainstreet, showcasing a boardwalk with a post office, newspaper office, blacksmith workshop and Miss Kitty’s bordello. All buildings exhibit an authentic turn of the century look. The room settings are facsimiles of the storefronts found in the town of Tombstone, and all provide easy access to the lodge, pool, hot tub and horse corral.
Awaken in the “Marshall’s Office” or even the “Jail”. The “Old Trappman Saloon” offers live music and the chance to learn or play Five Card Draw, or Texas Hold’em. Varied trail riding is offered for all levels of horseback riders, and a popular history ride appeals to inquiring minds. This working cattle guest ranch is located two and a half miles from the center of the most iconic cowboy town, and what was once known as the wildest, most lawless place between New Orleans and San Francisco.
Buried north of Tombstone, south of Interstate 10, Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts unearthed more history in the making. In 1974, their amazing discovery in the Whetstone Mountains led to what is known as Kartchner Caverns today. After four years of secret exploration, these cavers told the property owners, James and Lois Kartchner, about this extraordinary find and enlisted efforts to protect this living cave which became a state park.
Temperatures of 70 degrees and consistent humidity have been maintained, preserving the two and a half miles of spectacular and intricate mineral formations. Kartchner Caverns is home to one the world’s longest straw stalactites, and many other unusual formations that shimmer an orangish red hue.
Take a lighted tour or try the helmet and headlamp version to savor the thrill of seeing each formation individually as the original discoverers did. Go behind the scenes while enjoying the full grandeur, whether it be time traveling or cave exploring, and call it a wrap.
To learn more about the Tombstone Monument Ranch visit; www.tombstonemonumentranch.com
To learn more about the Kartchner Caverns visit; https://azstateparks.com/kartchner/.