Heart of a Gypsy part 5- Tucson &Tombstone Az
My husband is a cowboy at heart. He doesn’t ride a horse or chew tobacco, he is not really big on cows, but somewhere inside of him there is a want to be a part of the West. I guess we all played Cowboys and Indians as kids; we all listened to country music at least once, and we probably all wished we could have worn a ten gallon hat and talked like John Wayne. This brings us to our family vacation a few years back when my husband talked us all into a trip to Tucson/Tombstone. I am fairly certain that this idea came to his mind following the John Wayne marathon. But who am I to judge.
We headed out for Tucson early in the morning; it’s a five hour drive from our house. We had one rest stop way the other side of phoenix. Indian women were selling pottery and beads. At that point I knew this was going to be a great vacation, no vacation is complete without pottery and beads (at least not in the Southwest). It was already over 90 degrees outside as we headed into Tucson in search of our hotel. We are an adventurous bunch. I never like to pay a lot for a hotel room because we are never in them for very long. Some people may prefer the sunken tub and a view, but how much time do you spend in the room?
We somehow ended up at the south end of Tucson at the Palo Verde Inn and Suites. I have stayed in some questionable hotels… nothing like this. Our room was right off the pool (that part was great); the place was in desperate need of repair. In fact in the next courtyard over there was an in ground Jacuzzi that someone was making a planter bed out of (you know because they did not want to pay to fix it). The landscaping was nice and our air worked so we went on with our trip.
That first night all we had was a street map, so we drove around looking for a local Mexican food place (you don’t go to Tucson to eat spaghetti). We did not find a Mexican food place but we did find a Claim Jumpers. We are rural people and had never eaten at Claim Jumpers. It was fairly awesome. It wasn’t local Mexican food however I would absolutely go there again. Plus the motif was western complete with antler chandeliers so I felt a certain satisfaction in the idea that we were doing something novel.
That night we swam at the hotel and relaxed. Outside of the decapitated room and Jacuzzi filled with dirt the place wasn’t too bad. One thing that worked in our favor was that even though the pool was suppose to close at 10pm, no one ever showed to lock the gates during our entire stay, a couple of those nights we were in there until 1am, something that obviously never happens in your more prestigious hotels. Since the pool was the best thing about the Palo Verde you had to appreciate that they neglected to shut it down.
Day two of our vacation was a trip to Tombstone. If I had indulged him, my husband would have bought chaps and a six shooter for this outing. He was pretty excited. The type of excited that makes you hope the whole day is not a bust. After a minimal breakfast we headed out. The desert scenery turned into rustic mountains. Old tourist trap signs lined the highway and I am still looking for a sign that says “two headed snake” because you know I’m stopping if I ever see it!
The town of Tombstone is only three blocks and half of it is dirt roads. The rich mining history of Tombstone is what attracted the likes of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday. To see it today there are lots of historically restored buildings and people running about in period dress. Up to this point I had not seen the movie Tombstone. That sounds silly, but we actually bought the DVD from Wal-Mart in the middle of this trip. It started to rain, not just sprinkle, rain. Can you imagine rain in Tombstone in July???
Our first and probably the most interesting stop was the Bird Cage Theater. Back in its day the Bird Cage was house of entertainment and prostitution. Not much has changed in this building during the last 100 years. They do not tell you at the door but, the Bird Cage has prostitute photos on the walls and many of them are nudes. I mention this because I had to reign in my ten year old who was jump started into puberty during this visit. What I liked was that they have not restored this building. A lot of what was there 100 years ago is still in its natural state. In case you are wondering it looks almost exactly like the scene in the movie Tombstone when Ringo shoots off a couple rounds at the theater.
Next we strolled through town making our way to the OK Corral. You will notice my husband found a Duster and a hat… we knew that was going to happen. The OK Corral was not what I expected. There was a gift shop and a television running various versions of Wyatt Earp movies. The people were nice, but it lacked something… it lacked an actual corral! Maybe they should have renamed it the “where did you put the corral, corral”. This lack of corral and animals was not lost on my sons who kept asking, where is the corral? Ok so no corral. Just a gift shop where the corral once stood.
We wondered through shops on our self guided tour and eventually found the Epitaph newspaper building. They had the original newspaper from the shootout at the OK Corral. The Epitaph building itself was pretty interesting and full of old stuff. The neat thing about Tombstone was almost everywhere you went people were in old west attire. The women had big puffy gowns and the men were wearing chaps and gun holsters, they made you feel out of place like you needed to go get a period costume yourself and prance around. It sorted reminded me of Disneyland with all the costumes.
Somehow we made our way to the courthouse/museum. I love this building. You can see from the pictures the great care and grandeur that was put into creating the Cochise Courthouse. Built in 1887, the structure is solid and strong. The original fixtures (they were eventually outfitted for electricity) still hang in the hallways. Outback is the gallows with ropes hanging off them as if they are daring you to attempt to lift something from the gift shop? Inside the Courthouse is the history of Tombstone along with the most extensive barbwire collection I have ever seen.
There were several horse drawn carriages going back and forth… in the muddy street. I have to say the mud made it seem more real. We had Lunch in a building that was rebuilt after one of Tombstone’s many fires. The giant mahogany bar complete with corbels and mirror looked as if the building was built up around it. My kids were just excited that they got to go in a bar (boys). On the walls were tons of old gambling memorabilia; a roulette wheel, old cards, and few contraptions that looked like pachinko machines.
We walked down the side streets where there is a mine you can tour and a giant tree along with countless gift shops. We wanted the meat of Tombstone, we wanted to see how people lived, worked, and hey wait a minute where is boot hill? My husband informed me we passed it on the way into town. So as we headed out of town we stopped at boot hill. There is a huge sign at boot hill telling visitor to be respectful of the dead. At that point the reality of the old west hits you. Lots of people died. People died of illness, mining accidents, and a few from shoot-outs. We were standing on that hill thinking about all who had gone before, this wild town in the middle of nowhere.
Our first day looking around in Tucson landed us at the San Xavier Mission. For those who do not know; missions were usually built within a day’s ride of each other. San Xavier construction began in 1783. From the outside the mission is a grand building with two towers (one has lost its dome over the years). There are not any other buildings around the mission so just looking at the building from the outside is peaceful. We were there on a Saturday and mass was in session. Not being Catholic we toured the grounds until church let out.
Once inside the church, there is so much to look at that a person cannot possibly take it all in. The pictures I took do not give credit to the extreme visual display that takes place inside the mission. I think that San Xavier reaches people in different ways. I loved the building for its architecture and history. The details were at every turn. For me it was a fantastic religious and cultural representation of the cross between the Spanish and the Natives of Mexico.
After San Xavier we went on a wandering expedition of Tucson. We found old churches, the Presdio, and the art museum. We walked through the old shops full of Frida Kahlo pictures and day of the dead trinkets. As you would expect the Spanish guitar music seemed to follow us. We found a little market place where the walkways were over hung with roses. After dinner we took the boys to a Tucson’s drive in theater. I did not know that drive-ins still existed. The last photo is of El Conquistador water tower. For days we traveled around Tucson and I kept seeing this tower and I wanted a picture of it. If you want to see it, it now resides in the middle of the residential area surrounded by private property. Let’s just say I took the picture quickly. It was worth it though. I encourage anyone who loves culture, shopping, and history to visit Tucson…