Two roads diverged in a yellow wood...

Westward, Ho! Saguaros, Big Jets, and Gun Fights

Monday, May 9, started early. In order to get out by 7 AM and make a tour time later, I had to be up at 5:30 and walk in the dark. (Yes, so far I haven’t missed a day. Yay, me!) The walk was great except for being scared to death by some kind of animal coming out of the brush and right across my path. When we were loading up, I realized what it was when two jackrabbits came hopping out chasing each other. Then there was another one at the dump station. I guess pre-dawn is their time to play. We headed west on NM-9 through Playas where we saw the Playas Training Center. I asked Mr. Wonderful (MW) if they trained PLAY-AHS in Playas. He didn’t find it as funny as I did. Further west we stopped at The Valley Mercantile in Animas. Some of these tiny town stores are so cool; they have a little bit of EVERYTHING…hardware, farming supplies, rv stuff, convenience store stuff, etc., etc., etc. We grabbed drinks and a couple of biscuits, then continued west, finally turning southwest on US-80. Somewhere along the route we passed huge fields that we couldn’t identify, but finally saw a sign that said they were green onions. A couple of javelinas also ran across the road in front of us, but I wasn’t fast enough with the camera. Just past Rodeo, New Mexico, we crossed into Arizona and lost an hour, because they don’t do Daylight Saving Time. MW forgot that when figuring our time, so we were actually well ahead of schedule. Near Apache, Arizona, we stopped at the monument commemorating the surrender of the Chiricahua Apache Geronimo in 1886, ending the last of the Indian wars in the United States. The actual spot of his surrender to General Nelson Miles is in remote Skeleton Canyon in the nearby mountains. We passed through Douglas, once again right at the Mexican border, then stopped at Bisbee to check out the Lavender Pit copper mine. It is a pit 4,000′ wide, 5,000′ long, and 850 feet deep that was mined from 1917 to 1974. It’s really amazing and somehow very pretty with the variety of colors in the rock. There is also a monument to T/SGT Arthur J. “Art” Benko, along with a list of the others who served in WWII from the area. T/SGT Benko was a top turret gunner on a B-24D bomber. He has the distinction of being one of the war’s leading gunner aces, and actually took out SEVEN Japanese Zeros in one battle while wounded in both the neck and hand! He received the Legion of Merit, two Distinguished Flying Crosses, three Air Medals, and two Purple Hearts. Wow!

Back on the road, we drove a few miles down to Old Bisbee for our tour of the Copper Queen Mine. Although we were early, they were very nice and put us into another group. The tour is a ride into what was once the most productive copper mine in Arizona. The mine ceased production in 1975, and a year later it was open for tours. A mine tram takes you 1500′ into the mountain, with a couple of stops at features. We were lucky to be in a small group of only four other visitors with a great guide. This mine began before modern technology. It took an entire day to hand drill six blast holes, and men had to push the heavy carts. Later donkeys were brought in to haul the carts, which were later electric. Sledge hammers and chisels were replaced by pneumatic drills. Dynamite was the only consistent tool for the life of the mine. It was a pretty darned cool place, and we were glad we stopped. (Sorry some of the pics aren’t great. It was really dark down there!). Oh, almost forgot…they have an RV park right at the mine that would be great for exploring Bisbee. We didn’t drive up there, so this isn’t a review but just information…Queen Mine RV Park, 520-432-5006.

After the tour, my stomach was saying LUNCH! We went right down the road to The Bisbee Table, where MW had the reuben and I had a San Ramon salad. The food was pretty good, but the service was sorely lacking. Before getting back on the road, we took a walk around Old Bisbee. The town is filled with buildings dating back 120 years or so and is very beautiful. One of the locals said the temperature there is rarely too hot because of the altitude, protected valley and cool breezes. (I checked the averages, and when Phoenix is 114 in August, they average 87.)

Back in Brutus, we continued west on US-80, then AZ-90 through Sierra Vista and north to our next campground, Kartchner Caverns State Park.

Tuesday morning we got an early start to check another park off of our bucket list. It was about a 40-minute drive over to Saguaro National Park (pronounced sah-WAH-row) and was well worth the trip. These giant cacti only grow in a portion of the Sonoran Desert, but nothing says “old west” better than seeing that silhouette against the clear sky. In fact, theist side has been featured in movies dating back to the heyday of the western genre. John Wayne rode a horse through there! These towering cacti have an average life span of 150-175 years, however some may live to be over 200! They don’t produce flowers until they are around 35 years old, and arms don’t begin to grow until they are around 60-75 years old. A grown saguaro can weigh more than 8 tons (80 pounds for each foot of trunk) and be 50′ tall (although there have been ones noted at 75′). It is estimated that 1.8 million saguaros are in the park, which is divided into East and West districts. Both have terrific mountain views and lots of cactus. We headed for the loop in the east district and hiked for about 40 minutes or so (about 2 miles) on the Mica View and Cactus Forest Trails. We saw plenty of birds and bugs drawn to the cactus blooms, and a couple of rabbits scampering off. The park offers miles of hiking/biking opportunities and has backcountry camping, too. If you’re just wanting a nice drive, the one-way loop takes you through the beautiful saguaro forest with great views of the mountains. There is a little interpretive museum and gift shop in the Visitor’s Center, too.

Back in Brutus, we found a bite for lunch at Jerry Bob’s Family Restaurant…good breakfast and sandwich fare. Our original plan was to head back to Petunia after our National Park visit, but the night before MW was scrolling through things to do in Tucson. “What?! Did you know there is an air and space museum in Tucson?” “Why no, I did not.” If you’ve read this blog for any time at all, you know that we both have plane fetishes. His is worse than mine, but they compel us to look at planes everywhere. This time it was at the Pima Air & Space Museum. Up until this visit, our favorite air museums were at NAS Pensacola and Wright-Patterson AFB. They are great. This one is just BETTER and on a grander scale. Adjacent to David-Monthan Air Force Base and their famous “boneyard“, this museum has multiple hangers with amazingly restored aircraft. Unlike some other museums, they also include some civilian stuff like a B-787 Dreamliner and several Presidential aircraft. When we first arrived, I had to make a client call, so headed for the Flight Grill to take care of that. Then I caught up with MW to check out the four huge hangars and large outdoor area full of planes and aviation stuff. In one hanger they had an SR-71 Blackbird, my favorite plane, and honestly, one of the most beautiful ever built. (Click on the link to see what it looks like if you don’t know. Couldn’t get a good pic of the one at the museum…too big in the space.) They also had the Air Force version of a Lockheed Constellation similar to the typhoon hunter my Dad was in for his Navy tour in the late 1950s. Pretty neat! Our final stop was the 390th Museum and their amazing B-17. The ABSOLUTE COOLEST thing in the whole place, though, was a Marine EA-6B Prowler. Why? We don’t see them often, AND MW most likely flew in THAT ACTUAL PLANE during Desert Shield and Desert Storm. (They had all of the squadron aircraft in Bahrain, and crews were not assigned to specific planes, so jumped around.) When we get back to the barn, we’ll be pulling his flight logs to confirm. After walking around for a couple of hours checking out all of the coolness, we finally headed back to the campground.

Wednesday we headed out about 6:30 AM for a hike. You’d think that would require me to set a wakeup alarm, but sunrise here is at 5:30 AM. I’ve not made it to 6:00 AM since we arrived. (Except for the Indian Reservation in the northern part of the state, Arizona does not Spring forward.) We took the Foothills Loop, which is 2.4, 2.9, or 50 miles, depending on the source…front of brochure/inside of brochure/Talisa after climbing those hills. It was a very rocky and sometimes steep trail that took us high enough to get spectacular valley views. Not long after we started, I nearly broke my neck trying to avoid stepping on a snake. I’m pretty sure it was just a garter snake, but I didn’t see it until the last second. The 2′ long little fellow was stretched out across the path, and MW must have stepped right over him. Aside from birds and plenty of flying bugs, the only other animals we saw were a rabbit and a couple of mule deer. The views were incredible, though. With all of the up and down and a couple of rest/view stops, it took us about 1.5 hours. I think that’s pretty darned fast for 50 miles! *wink, wink*

After resting to let my spaghetti turn back into legs and getting cleaned up, I finally headed out to take care of chores about 10:30 AM. The first stop was the Snow White Launderette in Sierra Vista. This place was a little old, but clean, and was really cheap…$1.75 for small washers and $0.25 for 8 minutes in the dryers. Once that job was done, I parked myself at Panda Express and tackled some writing, then hit Target. On the way home I popped into Vinny’s New York Pizza for a small pie and some wings to take home to MW…both okay, but not great. Then it was a quick stop for some $4.69/gallon gas and back to the campground.

Thursday began with work and writing. I took the day off from walking since there would be a lot of sightseeing later. We headed out just before lunch time, planning to stop somewhere along the way to grab a bite. Well, there’s nothing along the way. We ended up eating in Tombstone at the Hitching Post Cafe. (I LOVE a Chicago dog, and they do a pretty good one.) My sister, Julie, walked up to meet us. She has lived in Tombstone for about a year with her significant other, Paul Bloom, and they LOVE IT! It’s cool to walk around town with her, because she knows EVERYONE, and they are all shouting out “Hi Julie!”

Our first tourist attraction was the Gunfighter Hall of Fame. Owned by Richard Ignarski, this place has a pretty extensive collection of gunfighter memorabilia, including…Jessie James’ trigger finger…ewwwww! There are lots of cool guns and other memorabilia, and his displays tell the whole story about those famous western figures we’ve all heard of. I have to admit, though, that I poked at Richard a bit by talking about Brushy Bill aka Billy the Kid who died in 1950 in Hico, Texas. There are also quite a few displays of western movie and TV memorabilia. My favorite was the Buntline Special used by Hugh O’Brian in the TV series The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp. In real life, novelist Ned Buntline (aka Ezra Zane Carroll Judson) presented five people, including Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, with the long-barreled pistols. Many years later, Wyatt said he gave his Buntline to his partner Charlie Hoxsie in Alaska. It and its new owner subsequently disappeared. The best part about this museum is the owner. He is a wealth of information and is available to fill in any blanks or answer any questions you may have. I’d consider it a “must see” in Tombstone.

While we are on the museum and history subject, let’s just get this little bit of fiction out of the way. THERE WAS NO GUNFIGHT AT THE O.K. CORRAL! I know, some of you are clutching your chests and gasping for air, but it’s true. Oh, there was a gunfight and there was an O. K. Corral. The fracas, though, happened on Fremont Street closer to the corner of Third in Harwood’s Lumberyard. That’s why the original note in the Tombstone Epitaph referred to “the incident on Fremont Street”. Although there were a couple of prior cases of writers referencing the proximity of the O.K. Corral to the fight, the location change became permanent in the public consciousness because of the 1957 movie Gunfight at the O.K. Corral starring Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. I guess they just thought O.K. Corral sounded better than Harwood’s Lumberyard. The majority of folks in Tombstone will give you the real story if you ask, although there is one group that basically reenacts the movie. (Why perpetuate the fiction when you could educate people?) So the next time you hear someone refer to the fight “at the O.K. Corral”, correct them. The wild west was fascinating on its own and doesn’t need embellishment!

Paul is an actor who plays a VERY convincing cowboy. (Check out his IMDB page.) He’s done several movies recently, and in Tombstone, is part of a show reenacting several historical events from the old west at The Saloon Theater. (Check out this WildWoolyWestProductions short. Paul is El Guapo.) Our original plan was to catch his show, but unfortunately, one of the actors quit…so, no show. Bummer! To placate the sad visitors, Paul arranged for us to sit in on a full rehearsal…a personal show with him, Kaiden Stanley, and David Kelly. Yay! It was terrific, and we thought the newest actor, David, did a great job with just a day or two of rehearsals…it’s a LOT of dialogue! The gunshots indoors just about made me wet my pants, though! Since it was rehearsal, there were a few bits to iron out, and the funniest part of the whole thing was an ad lib by David. Paul grabbed him by the vest aggressively, then pulled back and said David should shave that beard, because he was afraid of getting a handful of it. Without missing a beat, David said something to the effect of “not to mention the nipple rings”. Everyone in the room totally broke up. After rehearsal was over they were talking about what David’s cowboy name should be. Without missing a beat, Julie and I in unison said “Nipple Ring”, both adding a different name on the end. Too funny! We voted for him to keep the beard, though. (Pics of the guys courtesy of Julie.)

Next it was time to take a ride out to one of the most famous places in Tombstone …Boot Hill. We’ve been to Boot Hill cemeteries in Dodge City, Kansas, and Deadwood, South Dakota. People in any of these three towns will tell you that theirs is the original Boot Hill. It’s true that all three are the most famous. Deadwood’s Boot Hill, Mount Moriah, is the burial place of Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, although the former was originally buried in a different cemetery in town. Dodge City’s Boot Hill is the purest form, a burial ground for mostly unknowns who died badly (with their boots on), but now more kitschy plaques have been added to entertain the tourists. Tombstone, which is the final resting place of the Clantons and McLaurys from that “incident” we spoke of earlier, is the coolest of the three. Although it is downhill from town, it sits on a lovely hillside overlooking the valley and the mountains on the other side. Across the way is a great view of the Sheepshead, a mountain formation that Julie has named the Lamb of God (it really does look like it). She and Paul have property in that valley so that, when they move out there, she can look at her lamb every day. So which of the three has the original Boot Hill cemetery? None of them. That honor goes to Hays, Kansas, before the other three towns were even founded. (INTERESTING SIDE NOTE: Wild Bill Hickok served a term as Sheriff there in 1869.) The moniker went on to be used in towns across the west. Sometimes it was just where they buried the unknowns and hoodlums, and other times it was the only cemetery. It’s interesting that they equated dying with your boots on with violence. Almost all of us have our shoes on 2/3 of the time.

By the time we finished up at the cemetery, it was time for a drink! We headed back into town to Wyatt Earp’s Oriental Saloon and bellied up to the bar. They had a Prickly Pear Lemonade Margarita that was pretty darned awesome and very refreshing. After resting our dogs for a bit, we took a stroll around town, ending up at a store called the Red Buffalo. There, Julie’s friend, Cindy, gave us a little history lesson. The movie Tombstone, which is playing on a continuous loop in many of the establishments in town, is one of my favorites and a terrific story. BUT, it’s not historically accurate. Although Morgan Earp did die from a shot fired through the back door window while he was playing pool, it was several months after the big gunfight and not on the same night that Virgil was ambushed. Morgan’s end came during a game with owner Bob Hatch in this building, which at the time was the Campbell & Hatch Saloon and Billiard Parlor. Mortally wounded, he reportedly said “This is the last game of pool I’ll ever play.” Less than an hour later, he was gone. We thanked Cindy for the lesson and headed down the street to another attraction.

The Bird Cage Theater was built at the end of 1881 and had a reputation…and it was bad. During its 8 year run, the place was open 24 hours every day of the year. Twenty-six people reportedly died in the theater, and there are more than 140 bullet holes in the building, plenty of which are inside. The theater scenes from Tombstone are on a set very similar to this theater’s heyday, including balconies down each wall. While the walk through was interesting, the $15 per person fee was crazy. Also, if you have dust allergies, you’ll want to steer clear, because there appears to be very little maintenance and cleaning. Oh, almost forgot…they say it’s haunted, but we didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. You won’t see any pics of this place here, though, because they don’t allow you to use any pictures taken in this tourist trap without written permission. Sorry.

Okay, not that we are lushes or anything, but it was time for another drink, so we headed to Big Nose Kate’s Saloon and bellied up to yet another bar. This time Julie and I just had soda, though. It was finally time for supper and a different show, so we headed over to the Crystal Palace Saloon, where their motto is “still serving good whiskey & tolerable water”. One of the first and finest saloons in Tombstone, Bat Masterson worked there at one time, and Wyatt Earp ran the faro games. The Iron Brotherhood Motorcycle Club, a group of law enforcement guys, rented out the Crystal Palace as part of an annual event. They had music and a show with…you guessed it…cowboys (although oddly, there were a couple of pirates in the bunch). A group of the actors’ wives and locals were up in the balcony, and several were filming the show. We arrived early enough to order our food (ribeye for me and chicken fried steak for MW…both delicious), then visited with everyone while waiting for the show to start. The guys put on a good, funny show, and we really enjoyed getting to see Paul do his stuff. Oh, and the bikers seemed to love it, too. By the time it was over, it was time for us to head for the hills. Paul caught up with Julie, MW, and I, and we said our goodbyes. It was a good visit, and I will definitely head back to Tombstone. Maybe not when it is so hot next time, though. On the way back to the park, we stopped by the Amazon locker in Benson, Arizona, to pick up my new printer.

Kartchner Caverns State Park is a beautiful park centered around an extensive cave system, with lots of other attractions within driving distance. There is a large Discovery Center dedicated to how it was found and explored (see below), and a variety of cave tour options are available, some limited by time of year. Other amenities include a gift shop, the Bat Cave Cafe, picnic areas, an amphitheater, a group pavilion, the Hummingbird Garden Walk, and two bathhouses. Hikers will enjoy miles of trails, the longest of which (4.2 miles) can also accommodate bikes and horses. Accommodations include four 2-room camping cabins with heat and a/c, microwaves, and mini fridges and a 62-site campground. All sites have water and picnic tables. Electric at the 43 back-in sites is 30-amp, while the pull-through sites offer 50-amp. All facilities were kept very clean. It was a beautiful place, and we would go again. For this stay in May 2022 we paid $130 for 4 nights.

Friday we didn’t have to leave early, so we checked out the park Visitor’s Center. The caverns were discovered by two amateur cave hunters. Gary Tenen and Randy Tufts. Randy Tufts had been hiking in the area in 1967 and found a sinkhole. It appeared impassable, but stayed in the back of his mind. Seven years later, he returned with Gary Tenen to explore it further. After crawling through a narrow, 200′ tunnel, the space suddenly opened up into a large room. They had found a place untouched by man! Concerned that it would be exploited and ruined, they agreed to keep it secret until they could ensure it would be protected. After 4 years, they spoke with the property owners, and all agreed that the find needed to be protected before it was made public. They initially looked into the possibility of developing it themselves, but eventually turned to the Arizona State Parks Board in 1984. It still took until 1988 to finalize the acquisition, and another 11 years to celebrate the opening of the upper caverns at the new Kartchner Caverns State Park. In addition to cave tours, the facility has a ranger station, small museum, and gift shop. Although our time on this trip was filled with other sites, a good cave tour is never a bad thing, especially if you’ve never been on one.

When we finally got on the road, we headed north on AZ-90 to I-10 west. We zig-zagged through the east and northeast side of the Tucson suburbs, then turned north on AZ-79. In Oro Valley, we planned to stop at First Watch, but there was a wait at 11:15 AM. We walked next door to Which Wich, which was pretty good. Back on the road, we continued north through Florence, then turned left on US-60 over to Apache Junction. AZ-88 took us the few more miles to our new home, Lost Dutchman State Park.

Saturday began with a nice, long walk around the park. It is absolutely beautiful here, and at 6 AM, the animals are pretty active. The park is covered up with gambel’s quail and desert cottontails. I also saw a jackrabbit/hare, several ground squirrels, and an abundance of birds loving the saguaros. Later, after getting cleaned up, we spent a relaxing day at home.

Sunday we left early to hike up towards the Superstition Mountains, but not to the “kick your butt” section. We weren’t alone. We saw lots of ground squirrels, birds, and rabbits, and even a couple of mule deer. There was also what appeared to be a big cat, either a large bobcat or small mountain lion, that crossed the road a ways down as we were heading for the trail. You are never alone on a hike, for sure, but it wasn’t long before other hikers started showing up trying to get out before the heat catches up to them. (We’ve been hitting the high 90s here and are looking forward to the low 100s at the next park. Yuck!). After getting cleaned up, we headed out to check out the Church at the Mount, which is located in the Goldfield Ghost Town across the valley. It was a very rustic church with an odd setup. We didn’t see any signs for church parking and were unsure where it actually was, so ended up parking in the town tourist section and walking through. It was already in the 90s, and by the time we made it to the church building, I was sweaty and covered in dust. That’s probably how it would have been in the old days, huh?! (It wasn’t until I glanced out the side window that I realized we could have driven up the side road to the back parking lot and walked right in.) The very small building was pretty full, and there seemed to be quite a few locals, several of whom came by to say hello. At the beginning of the service, one of the deacons welcomed everyone and, since there were first-timers there, explained their beliefs…Baptist..and why they are armed. Oh, I forgot to say he was strapped. So were several other people in the congregation. I’m sure I’ve been to churches where people were wearing concealed sidearms and know plenty of people who are always packing, but having armed members stand at each entry door for the entire service was a first. The deacon said it was an effort to ensure none of the atrocities that had occurred elsewhere happened in their little hamlet. After the service, we headed over to Hackers Grill for lunch, then ran a few errands before heading back to Petunia.

Lost Dutchman State Park is spread out in a Sonoran saguaro forest at the base of Superstition Mountain and is absolutely beautiful and very well-maintained. It is named after the legendary missing gold mine, which is purported to be in the Superstitions near Apache Junction. (Although many believe the legend is just a fable, an estimated 9,000 people per year make an effort to find it.) The town of Apache Junction is a short drive, and all of Mesa and Chandler are easily reachable. The main activities at the park are hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding, and there are miles of trails of varying difficulties, including some that climb up into the cliffs or extend into the Tonto National Forest and Superstition Wilderness. Although you can hear a little road noise, it is quieter than I expected, and the layout provides for decent privacy. Amenities include an amphitheater, covered picnic tables, picnic pavilions, and ranger programs and events. Lodging options include cabins and RV/tent camping. There are five two- or three-room cabins with heat and air conditioning. All are wheelchair accessible and also have picnic tables and fire rings with grill grates. (Fire bans are often in effect, so don’t count on being able to use them to cook.) Bathhouses are a short walk. For camping, there are three group camping areas and 135 sites. The latter includes 68 electric (50/30/20) and water sites that are mostly pull-through and 67 non-hookup sites. All include picnic tables and fire pits with grill grates. RVs of all sizes can be accommodated. Cell signals were find for AT&T and Verizon. We would definitely stay here again, but would prefer the winter. It was already hitting around 100 degrees during our visit, but the temps did drop down nicely at night and hiking/walking was comfortable very early in the morning. The heat kicked in pretty good by 10 AM or so. For this stay in May 2022, we paid $110.00 for three nights.

That’s it for now. Next up…the last of Arizona and into California. See you on the path!

Talisa

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2 Comments

  1. Julie

    You are such a talented writer. We really enjoyed your visit!
    Have fun on your travels!❤️

    • Talisa

      Thank you! We enjoyed it, too! I saw Paul’s post about the movie. Looks cool. Hope you guys have a great summer. TJ

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