With the scorching late summer sun beating down on the car we set off for Tombstone- "The Town Too Tough To Die!" Southern Arizona is the setting for this town, which for me was a place where history and imagination marry together to create a most incredible scene. "Cowboy chaos" was how I saw it, as we parked and walked to the main street of Tombstone, that Sunday morning in early September.
It's a 70 mile drive from Tucson, and you will need a car to get there. The directions as given on the Tombstone website are:
Take Interstate 10 East to Benson (about 40-45 miles). Exit South on Highway 80 which will take you straight to Tombstone.
Parking was easy as there is plenty of space in the road which borders the main street.
I wasn't sure what to expect. It was like the scene in a western movie, but as the town is also home to over 1500 residents, you have to remember that the scenes you see are also real as well as imaginary. Cowboys in big boots stomp the streets, ladies in Victorian costumes glide along the boardwalks, baskets in hand. Gunshots bang into the sky, and horse and carts trundle along the main street. Saloon bars line the streets with their swing doors, and trinket shops selling Tombstone souvenirs are littered about too. I found myself for some bizarre reason emulating my son's newly acquired US accent. It was the atmosphere that did it, and I was soon in fits of giggles as the scene was surreal, and denim clad cowboys said howdy to me at every corner!
Tombstone was founded in 1879, and it was, in its day, a silver and gold mining town- prosperous and at the time - the county seat. More famous though in its history was that it was the setting for the site of the famous gunfight of the OK Corral. This battle took place between Wyatt Earp and his brothers and friends, who fought with the Clanton Outlaws and two of their supporters. The gunfight resulted in several dead, and of course the resulting historical event became a household name even a century on.
Gunfights are re-enacted in the street at regular intervals during the day, affording tourists the chance to witness, first hand, the action as it would have happened. This is a treat and not to be missed, as loud shots boom through the air and everything gets nasty! It isn't all drama; there are also demonstrations of the fashion worn at the time, so ladies and cowboys parade in front of tourists in costumes pertaining to the era. This allows some wonderful photographic opportunities.
The town of Tombstone took a tumble as an underground river flooded in 1887, and destroyed the silver mines and following this the population dwindled. The only notable events in its history after that was its role in the production of manganese for World War 1, and subsequently in World War 11 the city was to provide lead supplies. Following on from then the place has become a tourist attraction and over 400,000 flock there each year!
There are many places to seek refuge from the street action, and restaurants to dine in are plentiful. We ate in The Longhorn restaurant, the oldest one in Tombstone, which was good. The food was cooked to order, very enjoyable and the service was superb. There were plenty of vegetarian choices for us, and the ambience within the restaurant was cosy, quiet and relaxing. They even made me an English tea!
There are also many places of interest including the Birdcage Theatre, which runs tours both day and night. This place was frequented by prostitutes, and is said to be haunted. The courthouse is worth a look as it has historical details of Tombstone and even a set of gallows. There are many other places to discover, some free, some charge, but it is possible to soak up the atmosphere of Tombstone for free if you are on a budget, and just want to parade up and down the street. The feel of the place is so intense you could almost bottle it. As I write this review I can almost walk up the street as if I was actually there.
Before leaving the area a visit to the graveyard outside the town called "The Boothill" is well worth a look. Here lie the remains of those folk who lived and died in Tombstone, many of whom were hanged for quite trivial reasons. My eyes were drawn to several of these,
He was beaten in the face with a stone until he died. Trouble was over his mining claim, which he had not recorded.
Shot by Wm. McCauley. Two hot-tempered ranchers, who disagreed over the best way to drive cattle, fast or slow.
Smith, age 23, a native of Germany, was struck on the back of his head with a poker and killed by Thos. Donald (or Doland) during a fight.
This was just the first row and it got worse! I am sure that life in this place in that century was a very turbulent and difficult existence. The fallout from the OK Corral fight also lies here. The views from this graveyard are stunning over the landscape hot and arid, but there is a lovely shaded area to sit and cool down, and in common with so many places in Arizona there is a free drinking fountain.
Visiting Tombstone had worried me slightly because my personality and crowds are distinctly opposed, and I am more at home in an isolated spot, than I am in a bustling town. The place was noisy and vibrant, and very hot indeed, and so a couple of hours were enough for me to appreciate it, and to be given a glimpse of what life had been like in those very early years. The gun shots were loud, and I would think they would have frightened young children, although I saw many in their buggies on the boardwalk happily licking ice creams despite being in a war zone during the mock gun fights.
My gran was born in 1894 and it made me think what life had been like across The Atlantic just prior to her era - incredible I am sure. Yes Tombstone is touristy, and yes it is to a certain extent living in the past, but there are few places to see the way life was in history so graphically. I think it is rather special, and I'm sure as I post this review, the sound of gunfire will soon be resounding over Tombstone, as another cowboy falls.
Boot Hill Graveyard & Gift Shop
Open 7:30 AM - 5:30 PM, Daily
(Except Christmas & New Year's Day)
P. O. Box 731
Tombstone, AZ 85638
Phone: (520) 457-3300
This review has now been published on Ciao with pictures under my user name Violet1278.
Located in the county of Cochise in Arizona, Tombstone is most famous for its role in 'wild west' history. The city was founded in 1879 and soon boomed as a mining community. Without railroad access Tombstone was very isolated and this led to a lawlessness which attracted many outlaw gangs. The most famous event in Tombstone was the 'Gunfight at the OK Corral' between the Clanton gang and city marshall Wyatt Earp and his group in October 1881. This event is reenacted every day at 2pm.
By the mid-1880s the mines had been depleted and Tombstone became virtually deserted. However today it is thriving as a tourist destination with over 400,000 visitors each year, and is well worth a visit.
SOME REGULAR TOMBSTONE EVENTS
Events happen on a daily basis in Tombstone. As already mentioned there are reenactments of the Gunfight at the OK Corral, and plentiful opportunities for historical tours.
In August is a weekend event called Vigilante Days. This features a variety of street entertainers, a chili cook-off and a fun run. A particularly fun feature is the opportunity to go on wagon rides.
PLACES TO VISIT
Obviously this is a must-see place for any visit to Tombstone. It is worth noting however that the gunfight did not actually take place in the corral, as is often believed, but instead BEHIND it. There are historical plaques to show you where various parts of the gunfight itself took place.
BOOT HILL CEMETARY
Boot Hill Cemetary is one of the most famous cemetaries in the USA. It is the final resting place for many of those who died in Tombstone, both through violence and disease. Those who died in the OK Corral gunfight are buried here.
Helldorado Town is a small theme park in Tombstone featuring a comedy gunfight, shooting gallery and a mine shaft. It is particularly fun for any children you may have with you.
MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCES IN TOMBSTONE
I have only been to Tombstone once but very much enjoyed it. It is fun to visit somewhere that makes you feel like you have walked onto the set of a cliched wild west movie, but I wouldn't advise going there if you want to get a sense of what it was really like to live in Tombstone in the wild days of the west. It is pleasant to visit the places where the famous events took place, and learn more about how and why they happened, but it does feel very touristy, too much so in fact. However it is true that Tombstone as a town would have died by now if it wasn't for the tourists so that is the price we pay to preserve the history.
If you are interested in the 'wild west' then Tombstone is worth a visit, but I wouldn't plan going for longer than a day trip.
In the summer of 2003 our family spend 2 months travelling from Tucson, Arizona to Alberta in Canada. Our first week was spent staying in a rented house in Tucson and it was from here that we visited Tombstone.
Whats so special about Tombstone?
Tombstone is most famous as the town where the gunfight at the o.k. Corral took place more than a century ago. Wyatt Earp, his brothers and friends took on the outlaws Clanton and his 2 supporters. The gunfight left several of the men dead and ensured that Tombstone found its way into the history books and onto many tourists lists of must see places!
Tombstone started life as a boomtown in 1877 when silver was discovered in the area. At the time this area was Apache land and there were many fierce battles as the Apache fought to preserve their homeland. The town was named Tombstone by the silver prospector Ed Schieffelin, who was told that if he ventured into this area to look for silver then the only stone he would find would be his own Tombstone! However he survived and the town that he named prospered. Tombstone grew to a population of several thousand people. In 1887 an underground river flooded all the silver mines forcing their closure. The mines were never reopened and the population of the town slowly decreased. To day, Tombstone stands as a well-preserved real Wild West town.
What is there to see in the town ?
Tombstones historical district has numerous original buildings all well preserved. There are other buildings that are in keeping with the styles of the time. I would recommend you visit the birdcage theatre on the main Allen Street. Birdcage like structures hang from the ceiling. These cages used to be where prostitutes would sit and ply their trade. It costs $5 for adults and $ 4 for children.
The main street, (Allen Street) has a wooden boardwalk running along both sides. The road through the middle is wide and used to stage the regular gunfight re-enactments that take place here. We visited on a Sunday in June and watched a really exciting gun fight! Be warned though it is very noisy and life like, but there is shade available and you can sit on the boardwalk to watch! The gunfights that take place on the main street are free to watch.
The famous site of the o.k. corral gunfight is also on Allen Street. Inside the corral there are displays about the shootout and life sized figures of all those involved. There are regular re-enactments of the famous event here too, although there is a charge for watching. The weather in the summer here is very hot and there is very little shade inside the corral. On the day we were there the temperature was in the 100s! The noise of the gunfire will probably be too frightening for young children. My 20 month old was definitely not impressed! Unless you really want to see the gun fight at the o.k. Corral re-enacted, and pay for the priviledge, then I would suggest you see whether there are others taking place, and there normally are. These will be free or ask for a donation.
Next door to the o.k. Corral is the Tombstone historama. Here the history of Tombstone is acted out through changing, revolving scenes. This has a small entrance charge of $2.50 for adults and a bit less for children. Although our children enjoyed the show it really is not worth the admission fee. It is possible to buy a joint ticket for both the historama and the o.k. Corral for $6.50 for an adult and a bit less for children.
If you want to visit Tombstones original saloon, then the Crystal palace at the end of Allen Street wont disappoint you. Many of the actors come in here to have a beer when they are not taking part in shootouts! We took our children inside and nobody told us they couldnt stay so I guess children are welcome!
The original courthouse building is still standing and open daily from 8-5. The building now houses photos and newspaper articles from Tombstones past. There is a gallows in the courtyard, which was probably the most interesting thing on display! The courthouse is on the wonderfully named Toughnut Street!
Another building worth a visit (and its free)! is the newspaper office. It is possible to buy a copy of the newspaper that carried the story of the famous shootout. This building is situated just off Allen Street.
There are many other old buildings most of which now house souvenir shops or ice cream parlours. Despite the fact that Tombstone is obviously a tourist trap, I think it has a very authentic feel to it. Tombstone is built on a plain and is surrounded by mountains. There are many old silver mines in the surrounding area, not to mention real modern day cowboys! I stopped a cowboy I thought was an actor to congratulate him on his horsemanship and costume. He looked amused and told me he had a ranch a few miles up the road and came to watch the actors as I had! He had been riding all his life and was certainly no actor!
If the heat starts to get to you then you can take a stagecoach ride around the town. These leave from the main Street and are reasonably priced.
Accommodation and eating
If you are visiting in the summer then you will need to make sure you drink plenty of water. We took several litre bottles with us but still had to buy more. There are several places to eat along the main street although we brought fruit and snacks for the children with us. I did however think that the lamplight room on fourth street, looked fun. This is a restaurant situated in the Tombstone boarding house dining room. There are only a few tables and you have to book, so we didnt eat here.
If you want to stay in Tombstone then there is a best western on the outskirts of town, rooms here cost about $80.
I think the nicest looking place to stay is the Tombstone boarding house a few blocks from the main Allen street. This is an old whitewashed building that was originally the home of Tombstones bank manager. Rooms here cost about $85. The lamplight dining room part of this establishment. This would have definitely been where I would have chosen to stay! There are no large towns near to Tombstone so your choices are a bit limited.
We did buy ice creams and sodas in Tombstone and found the prices higher than in Tucson, but thats to be expected!
Before you head off you should make time to visit the wonderful boot hill graveyard on the north edge of town. Entry to the graveyard is through a gift shop but is free. There is a lovely shady seating area outside with cool water sprinklers-bliss! The graveyard contains the graves of many of those who lived and died in Tombstone. There are some very interesting inscriptions on the tombstones such as hanged by mistake! I would advise you to time your visit here for as late in the day as possible and what ever you do avoid the midday heat!
How to get here
Tombstone is 70 miles south east of Tucson and 181 miles south east of Phoenix. There are direct flight from the u.k to Phoenix. The price of flights varies but I have seen flights to Phoenix for around £300 in August, with B.A. We flew to Phoenix, hired a car and drove to Tucson. We rented a house in Tucson for a week and so we were able to see a lot of the surrounded area.
There is no public transport in this remote part of Arizona so a car is essential. However car parking is plentiful, along the side of the a joining street to Allen street and is free and unlimited.
If you are looking for an authentic Wild West experience then this is the place for you! Tombstone is situated in remote country and has many ghost towns and disused mines surrounding it, so it looks the part! If you are staying in southern Arizona then a visit to Tombstone should be on your agenda. Our 6-year-old son loved his visit, although our 20 month old was too young to cope with the heat and noise of the place. I would love to go back, perhaps when the children are a few years older.
If you would like further information about Tombstone or would like to check when gunfights are due to be re-enacted then there is a website at www.city of Tombstone.com.If you send them an email they will give you a list of all forthcoming attractions in the area. Tombstone certainly lives up to its name-Tombstone the town too tough to die!