In November 2009, during our 21-month cross-country journey, we arrived in a small Arizona town. We were eager to explore this well-known town of less than 1,500 residents. On that day, we booked a three--night stay at the Best Western Overlook in Tombstone, Arizona.
During that first visit, we strolled down Allen Street, walked around the historic district, took a stagecoach ride, got our picture taken with “Doc Holliday,” visited the historic courthouse and the well-known Boothill cemetery, had a sarsaparilla at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon and made friends with a personable waitress at the OK Café on East Allen street.
On our second morning in Tombstone, we awoke to find snow covering the desert floor and the top of the large cacti. We will always remember the joy and surprise we felt that morning. Heading to the breakfast area, we shared our excitement with the motel clerk and, with a smile, he responded: “You haven’t seen anything yet. Wail until you have seen the desert in bloom.”
That comment about the desert in bloom is the reason we returned to Arizona in November 2010, for a six-month stay with two goals in mind — return to Tombstone and enjoy the desert blooms. Over time we have fulfilled both goals and decided to become full-time residents of this beautiful state.
During the last 11 years, we have returned to Tombstone on many occasions. We have introduced family and friends to the town, participated in the Rose Festival, Vigilante days, Helldorado days and have rekindled the friendship with our friend in the OK Café.
We do not perceive Tombstone, with the nickname “The Town too Tough to Die,” as simply a tourist attraction. To us, it is a community that loved its town enough to not let it die. On our cross-country journey, we stopped at several “towns” that were abandoned and left to decay. The residents of Tombstone reinvented their town rather than allowing it to disappear. As visitors to their community, we walk down Allen Street and view it as a tribute to their perseverance and hard work.
We have enjoyed all of our explorations in this historic town and have particularly loved finding some of the many structures within the Tombstone Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. We have located many of the structures including the City Hall (1882), Schieffelin Hall (1881), The San Jose (Tombstone’s first lodging house), St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Tombstone Courthouse, Crystal Palace, Bird Cage Theatre, and Fly’s Photography Gallery, to name just a few.
We have had many laughs and good times in this town. Here is a small sample of the sites we have explored and enjoyed.
Right from the startThe Schieffelin Monument on Allen Street was built on the burial site of Edward Schieffelin, the young scout and prospector who discovered silver in the area and founded the town in 1877. Per his request, he was buried in Arizona near the spot where he discovered the precious metal. He was reportedly buried in prospector’s clothing, with a pick and canteen. On top of the grave, we found a 25-foot-high stone monument shaped like a prospector’s claim. It’s part of the Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park.
On our first visit, we were impressed with the spectacular desert views, the beautiful stone monument, and the inscription: “Ed Schieffelin, died May 12, 1897, Aged 49 years, 8 months, A Dutiful Son, A Faithful Husband, a Kind Brother, and a True Friend.” This is a beautiful place to come and pay tribute to the man who followed his dream. A picnic table in the area provides a great opportunity for those who wish to spend time in this beautiful location.
In 2018, we were informed that one of the guest ranches in Tombstone was under new ownership and was currently named The Tombstone Monument Guest Ranch. Located on Allen Street, the ranch is across from the Schieffelin Monument and provides guests the opportunity to experience the Old West. We visited the ranch in March 2019, and we were amazed: the ranch is built in the image of an old western town. The rooms are all originally styled and line the main street. Guests can sleep in the Jail, the Marshall’s Office, the Grand Hotel, the Courthouse, the Dentist office, and other western quarters.
Upon arriving, we confirmed our lunch reservations, toured the ranch, and took photographs of every building, bench and sign, What fun! We ate lunch at the Old Trapmann Saloon and Restaurant. On the way back to the car, we discovered an area we had missed: adobe walls with a sign that states: “1880 Adobe Wall — Old Trapmann Homestead.” At some point, we are sure that we will return to this ranch and stay overnight — maybe in the Jail, well maybe not!
History above & belowWe had frequently seen the sign advertising the Good Enough Mine Tour and it was an activity we always wanted to participate in. In 2015, the decision was made with excitement and a little bit of anxiety. We paid our entrance fee and put on our shiny, blue, plastic helmets. OK! We were ready. Our tour guide came to get us and off we went down a trail, past mining equipment of all kinds, and eventually arrived at the entrance of the mine. A path led us into the entry cave where we received our introductory lecture and our instructions. We were now ready to enter.
We entered the mine via a long, steep wooden staircase. At the bottom of the stairs, the passageways became narrow in places. There were passageways in all directions (most of them were roped off, so we would not wander off and get lost), and at times we could see tunnels on a level above us. During that hour, we learned a lot about the process of mining, saw the beautifully colored walls and learned to navigate in less-than-ideal situations. When we returned to the great outdoors, we were happy that we had made the decision to go “mining.” A very interesting and educational experience. By the way, this is an activity that we brag about to family and friends.
Tombstone Courthouse State Historical Park, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, preserves the original Cochise County courthouse and the Schieffelin Monument. The Victorian-style building, built in the shape of a cross, was opened in 1882. Today, the historic courthouse also contains a museum with valuable information about the history of Tombstone and the surrounding area. The museum contains photographs, artifacts, an old jail and a replica of a gallows on the grounds.
We have visited Big Nose Kate’s Saloon on a multitude of occasions with many friends and family members. We love exposing them to the western atmosphere, live music, good food, and cowboy waiters. We are also known for stopping in for a meal, a sarsaparilla, or simply to enjoy the music. We have watched tourists stand in the wooden coffin to get their pictures taken, we have noticed the cowboys and cowgirls sitting at the gorgeous wooden bar, and we have chatted with the owner on occasion. An anonymous source had shared with us that, on occasion, when leaving the Big Nose Kate’s Saloon, the wooden sidewalks tend to sway a bit. On one occasion, we thought that we felt the walkway sway — just a little!
More must-see landmarksWhen we visit Tombstone, we always bring guests to the Bird Cage Theatre, which operated from 1881 to 1894. We love watching their faces as the guide explains the history of the building, points out the bullet holes in the walls, and points to the staircase that leads to the “ladies’ chambers.” After the initial and brief introduction, we love accompanying our guests through the building and viewing all of the artifacts. Most of our guests love viewing the room where the longest poker game in history reportedly occurred!
Of course, at the end of the journey, we always end up in the gift shop. The last time we visited, we were very interested in the gift shop. We had recently talked to a collector about trade tokens that he finds in abandoned mining towns. We did locate some tokens in the gift shop, but we were not certain that they were original tokens, so we did not purchase them. (Trade Tokens were coin-like tokens issued by merchants that could be exchanged for “goods.” They were frequently used in mining towns).
The Rose Tree Museum offers visitors a very different experience. We have enjoyed visiting this site. We have taken the self-guided tour of the Robertson-Macia House, viewed all the artifacts, climbed the ladder in the backyard to see the canopy of blooming roses, and have enjoyed the incredible smell of the roses in bloom. The main feature at this site is the World’s Largest Rose Bush imported from Scotland in 1885. It is hard to describe the size of the rose bush. We have attended the Rose Festival, but when we visit off-season, we sometimes stop by to purchase a bag of rose petals to make sachet bags for family and friends.
The Tombstone Epitaph, founded in 1880, is the oldest continuously published newspaper in Arizona. The monthly publications contain a large variety of articles about the history and culture of the Old West. Its offices are open to the public. On site, visitors can buy some of the recent publications and purchase yearly subscriptions. We have found the articles to be informative and educational.
The Boothill Cemetery, north of Allen Street, was used between 1878-1884. This small graveyard, built on the side of a hill, reportedly contains about 250 graves. After the new cemetery was built, this small graveyard fell into disrepair. Today, after much research and effort, it has re-opened to visitors. This is the burial site for those of all nationalities and cultures. Here, they buried the noble and the outlaws. We have always enjoyed strolling through this site and some of the grave markers have made us chuckle (and sometimes laugh out loud). For example: “Here lies George Johnson — 1881 — He was right — We was wrong — But we strung him up and now he’s gone.” Our favorite: “Here lies Lester Moore — Four slugs from a 44 — No Les — No more.” No wonder we have to stop here with family and friends.
Many times, as we explore the beautiful state of Arizona, watch a river flow, take a video of a huge jackrabbit, take photos of a field covered with spring wildflowers, watch a coyote leisurely walk down a street and search for desert frogs after a monsoon rain, we think about the young motel clerk who enticed us to return to Arizona. We acknowledge that he was right: We hadn’t seen anything yet!