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Travels with Grama

Route 66 &
Tombstone - 2008

Road Trip -2008

If we were to describe this year's trip, it would be "Fill in the Gaps".

We tossed around several destinations. Two days before we left, we still hadn't decided. East was experiencing the worst floods of the century - scrap that idea. I had driven down the west coast through Los Angeles and really didn't want to do it again. My preference is to avoid large cities while on holidays. Regardless, the west coast was experiencing torrential downpours and wildfires, so scrap that idea too. We were having a terrible spring in Calgary and "wet" wasn't what we were looking for. The only place not snowing, flooding or pouring cats and dogs was "South".

OK, so South it was. But where and how far ?? The night before we were to leave, we'd agreed to take I15 to Salt Lake City as fast as possible, just to get out of the crappy weather and then we'd plan from there. We discussed different locations and sites of interest but nothing concrete. Several times we've tried to get to Tombstone but time usually got in the way. We've also wanted to work Route 66 into our itinerary. Every year there has been somewhere, where we say "this is an area we should come back to" - like the ghost towns of Utah and Nevada, historic Ely, Boulder Hwy 12 and our favourite cabin, at the Chuckwagon Motel in Torrey to name a few.

As the navigator, I was compelled to go online and search out the wildest, wiggliest roads which would connect to all these places and keep us off the interstates. The roads that scare the hell out of us seem to be the criteria of a great trip. It is amazing how quickly it all came together when I typed in "switchback roads in America". Coincidentally, while I was hunting for new roads, Doreen was at her house researching historical info on Route 66 and Tombstone, so by morning, we "almost" had a plan.

This was also the year that en route, we adopted "Willie" He would serve as our new mascot and sat up front and centre on the dash.
2006 Route 66 & Tombstone Photo Album

To Page 2 - Mexican Border to Calgary

Calgary to Butte, Montana

Friday, June 13th, 2008

We had some delays getting out of Calgary. I drove to Doreen's and we loaded the car in the pouring rain. So much for curly hair and dry clothes. Then it was back to my house and then again to Doreen's to retrieve important "forgotten" items. After making a quick stop at "Timmies" for coffee, we finally hit the road - at least for 3 blocks - when the new windshield wiper flew off. We found a Nissan dealer, replaced the wiper, and at last- 2 hours later - we were rolling down the road happily singing "On the Road Again". Subconsciously, since this was Friday the 13th, we were wondering if this was an impending sign of doom or whether the delays kept us out of harm's way somehow.

Despite our late start, we managed to make it to Butte just at dark.

The bad weather hadn't disappeared. When it was raining in Calgary, it was snowing in Montana. There was frost on the road when we headed out the next morning - not typical middle of June weather. We didn't leave the snow behind until we were well into Utah.

And then it was just plain "hot".

Tooele, Utah

Our intention was to make tracks to Salt Lake City, which we did. We left I-15 on the north side of Salt Lake City mid-afternoon Saturday and headed west for a side trip to Tooele, UT to visit our friend Shirley. We didn't tell her we were coming - wanting to surprise her. Luckily, she arrived home just a few short minutes before we arrived. We had a quick but nice visit. checked out the new pond Shirley and her husband Don had just finished building, and continued on our way.

Ely, Nevada

Somewhere along the way, we firmed up our plans to incorporate Route 66 into the destination of Tombstone and to travel Highway 191 on the return trip north from there. It was one of the "squiggly" roads I'd found online. In the meantime, after leaving Tooele, we decided to revisit Ely, Nevada and check out the local attractions.

Pete and Bonnie from Vancouver, B.C.
outside the Hotel Nevada in Ely.

We left Tooele, travelled south down Hwy 36 to Hwy 6 and connected to Hwy 50 west to Ely. From frost on the road in in the morning to 107° F in Ely in the evening, it seemed like an impossibility but we weren't complaining. We got ourselves settled into the motel and headed over to the Hotel Nevada for supper.

After supper, while sitting outside of the Hotel relaxing, we met a couple just arriving on their motorcycle - hot and tired. Pete and Bonnie were from Vancouver, BC and had just spent a couple of days travelling down the west coast through all the rain. We were thankful we'd chosen to avoid that route. They were also on their way to Tombstone, but on a different route.

Doreen - at the Ramada Hotel - gambling her hard-earned $20. Our motel room door was about 10 feet to the right of where she's sitting so she could sneak out in her "jammies".

She's going to kill me !!!

Ely to Laughlin, Nevada

Connors Pass

Connors Pass (elevation 7,722 feet) is a pass through the Schell Creek Range southeast of Ely. It is one of only two sections of Hwy 93 in Nevada that climb above the tree line. The rocks in that area look like gold and I keep trying to get pictures of them but either we've been unable to stop or the sun isn't right. Oh well, a good excuse to return to the area.

I did spot an "old road" down the side of the highway and convinced Doreen to turn around and go back to investigate. This chopped up, rutty, bumpy, twisted narrow trail was to say the least a jolting experience. There were a couple of spots where we wondered if the road would simply end, leaving us no where to turn around. We did manage to follow it all the way through to the end and exited just behind Majors Station at Hwy 93 junction.

Bristol Wells Ghost Town

Travelling south on Hwy 93, there is a back road that leads west and south around Dutch John Mtn. and back onto Hwy 93. This is where we came upon this ghost town totally by fluke.

Bristol Wells is about 15 miles north of Pioche six miles off of Hwy 93. In 1880 the population was about 400. It had a post office from 1878 - 1887. All that remains are two buildings, a windmill, and the three charcoal ovens.

The charcoal ovens were used to convert local wood into charcoal for use by the mining industry. After the silver veins ran out and the smelters shut down, they served as shelters for prospectors and stockmen. Rumor has it that local stagecoach bandits also hid in the ovens. At the time, we really didn't know what they were and had to search online to find out. There is another group of them just off highway 50 at Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park located 7 miles south of Ely then 11 miles SW on Cave Valley Road. We hadn't stopped and were much happier finding these ovens in a natural setting accidentally.


After driving the back road up into the hills and down, we turned onto Hwy 93 south again and drove to Pioche, where we toured the old town. Most of Pioche's mines have been left to ruin. Pioche is a strange mixture between old and new with a history to match the lawlessness of Tombstone.

In 1864, Native American Paiute led a missionary, William Hamblin, to silver deposits in the vicinity of Pioche. San Francisco financier, Francois L.A. Pioche purchased claims in 1868 and formed the Meadow Valley Mining Company. The mining camp, called "Pioche's City" later became simply Pioche.

In the early 1870's Pioche was one of the largest mining towns in southeastern Nevada with a population of 10,000 people by 1871. Guns were the only law. Nearly 60 percent of the homicides reported in Nevada during 1871-72 took place around Pioche making Bodie, Tombstone, and other better known towns pale in comparison. It has been reported that seventy-five men were buried in the cemetery before anyone in Pioche had time to die a natural death.

One of the worst fires in the West took place in Pioche in 1871. It began in a restaurant during a celebration commemorating Mexican independence and quickly spread. When it reached a stone fireproof structure where 300 barrels of blasting powder were stored, the subsequent explosion shot nearly 400 feet into the air, blowing a 1,000-pound door clear out of town. The explosion, debris and fire killed thirteen people, injured forty-seven, and left the entire population homeless.

The fortunes of Pioche diminished in the 1880's due to the shutdown of the mines. An economic boom occurred during World War II when Pioche was the second largest lead and zinc producer in the nation. Present day Pioche has very little mining activity. Pioche is the county seat and the main focus is now government.

Valley of Fire

Valley of Fire is located six miles from Lake Mead and 55 miles northeast of Las Vegas, just off I-15. It is Nevada's oldest and largest state park, dedicated 1935. The valley derives its name from the red sandstone formations and the stark beauty of the Mojave Desert. Ancient trees and early man are represented throughout the park by areas of petrified wood and 3,000 year-old Indian petroglyphs.

Lake Meade

Construction of Boulder Dam, later named Hoover Dam, began in 1931.The reservoir created by the damming of the Colorado River became Lake Mead, named after Elwood Mead, the Bureau of Reclamation commissioner at the time. It is one of the most important water resources in the West.

Lake Mead ensures a steady water supply for Arizona, Nevada, California, and northern Mexico by holding back the flow of the Colorado River behind the Hoover Dam. It is one of the largest water reservoirs in the world. When full, the lake contains roughly the same amount of water as would have otherwise flowed through the Colorado River over a two-year period: roughly 36 trillion liters (9.3 trillion gallons).

Boulder City

Boulder City was designed to be a model city. It was built by the six companies and U.S. Government to provide homes for the men building Boulder (now Hoover) Dam. The Federal Government owned the entire town until January, 1960 when the it was turned over to the State of Nevada.

Boulder City is still very much a Government town, with many of its residents working for the National Park Service, and various federal and state departments.

Laughlin, Nevada

Laughlin's current location was established in the 1940's called South Pointe due to its proximity to Nevada's southern tip. The settlement consisted of a motel and bar that catered to gold and silver miners who dotted the map, and to the many construction workers who built Davis Dam.

Davis Dam was designed to help regulate the mighty Colorado and to provide electricity to the Southwest. Once the dam was completed, construction workers left and the motel fell into disrepair.

Laughlin's name comes from Don Laughlin who bought the southern tip of Nevada in 1964.

Laughlin, who operated the 101 Club in Las Vegas, opened what would become the Riverside Resort which offered all-you-can-eat chicken dinners for 98 cents, 12 slot machines, two live gaming tables, and 8 motel rooms.

On a previous visit to Laughlin, Doreen and I stopped briefly at the Colorado Belle Hotel and travelled on a boat taxi up the river. We decided we would stay there this trip - an old hotel to mark our starting point to Route 66. The Colorado Belle is a fixed building made to look like a six-deck replica of a 19th century Mississippi paddlewheel riverboat. Although the Colorado Belle wasn't constructed until near the end of Route 66, it is one of the older hotels in Laughlin and seemed appropriate for the mood.

Lake Havasu, Arizona

My hubby, Steve, had visited Lake Havasu area and kept talking about wanting to retire there, so I thought it might be a good idea to go have a look at the town. Before striking out on Route 66, we took a quick side trip south to see the sites and find out what all the hype was about.

After leaving Laughlin, we followed the Needles Hwy along the west bank of the Colorado River on the Nevada side to Needles,CA and onto I-40 through Topock, AZ and connected to Hwy 95 south to Lake Havasu. Once we turned onto Hwy 95, however, the drive became long and uneventful and I have to admit I just couldn't get excited about the idea of moving to this place. Although Lake Havasu is very pretty, it's location was too remote for convenient travel when you are not a fixed resident.

Lake Havasu City, grew around an old mining town established in the early 20th century. In 1964 the property was developed as a planned community. It was incorporated in 1978. Lake Havasu was formed in 1938 by Parker Dam on the Colorado River but one cannot reach the Grand Canyon from Lake Havasu, however, due to the dams - Davis Dam (Lake Mohave), Hoover Dam (Lake Mead) and Parker Dam.

London Bridge

A popular tourist attraction in Lake Havasu City is the London Bridge crossing a man-made canal that leads from Lake Havasu, on the Colorado River, to Thompson Bay. It was purchased from the City of London in 1968. The bridge was disassembled, and the marked stones were shipped to Lake Havasu City. It officially opened in October 1971.

Route 66 - Needles, California to Williams, Arizona

Route 66, (a.k.a. the Will Rogers Highway, the "Main Street of America" or the "Mother Road") was established on November 11, 1926. Road signs did not go up until the following year.

The famous highway, encompassing a total of 2448 miles, originally ran from Chicago, Illinois, through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, before ending at Los Angeles.

It was recognized in popular culture by both a hit songs and a television shows in the 1950s and 1960s. Route 66 was replaced by the Interstate Highway System officially decommissioned and removed from the system on June 27, 1985.

Historic Route 66

Portions of the road through Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, and Arizona have been designated a National Scenic Byway "Historic Route 66". It has begun to return to maps in this form. Some portions of the road in southern California have been redesignated "State Route 66", and others bear "Historic Route 66" signs and relevant historic information.


The city was founded in 1883 as a result of the construction of the railroad, which crosses the Colorado River at this point. The name is derived from pointed mountain peaks at the south end of the valley.

Historic Route 66 passes through the city, lined with motels and other shops from that era. Our excitement grew when we hit the "turn here" sign. Doreen had researched Route 66 for many years on the net and finally this was it. Route 66 was now happening!


We progressed slowly along Route 66 stopping around every turn and Doreen had me taking photos of every Mile sign, just in case something interesting happened in between so we'd know where we were. Sometimes I think the lady is touched - but we aim to please.

Oatman Slideshow

Viewing the sights around us, we just about missed this sign. Doreen hit the brakes and backed up to get another look. We already knew there were donkeys in Oatman from surfing the net, but didn't realize there were herds of them wandering wild in the desert.

Oatman's burros are the descendants of the burros brought in by the miners in the late 1800's. When the miners no longer needed them, they were turned loose. Although there are many herds of "wild burros" in the mountains, each morning one particular herd continues to come into town as it has done for over a hundred years. They wander the streets, fascinate the tourists, and eat. Pellets and carrots are for sale at many of the shops. They are quite entertaining, even following tourists into the local shops. Then, shortly before sunset they wander back to the hills for the night.

Oatman began over 100 years ago as a mining tent camp. In 1915, two miners struck a $10 million gold find, and within a year, the town's population grew to more than 3,500. It was named in honor of Olive Oatman, who was kidnapped as a young girl by Mojave Indians and later rescued in 1857 near the current site of the town.

Oatman was served by a narrow gauge rail line between 1903 and 1905 that ran 17 miles to the Colorado river near Needles, California.

Both the population and mining booms were short-lived. In 1921, a fire burned down many of the smaller shacks in town, and three years later, the main mining company shut down operations for good. Oatman survived by catering to travelers on Route 66, but in the 1960s, when Route 66 became what is now Interstate 40, Oatman almost died. With the revival of Route 66, Oatman once again is a very popular tourist stop.

As we rounded the bend into Oatman, it was everything we expected and more - a truly fascinating place basically out in the middle of nowhere. It is an authentic old western town with burros roaming the streets and gunfights staged on weekends. The burros are wild but adapted to humans and can be hand fed.

Our first stop was in front of a kiosk selling carrots ($1.00 a bag) and Route Beer 66.We no sooner had a bag of carrots in our hands when the entire herd descended upon us. We had to buy more carrots just to keep them happy.

The owner of the kiosk, a lady named Brenda, had moved to Oatman 15 years ago from Massachusetts She knew all the donkeys by name and gave us a bit of history about them. One donkey was off to the side - timidly clinging to the edge of town. Apparently the male stole her from another herd and she was still afraid of the activity. Brenda said that this happens often - nature's way of keeping the herd from getting too inbred. Brenda assured us that it wouldn't be long before her fears subsided and she was part of the "in town" group.

One burro, demanding attention (we were out of carrots) walked right up to Brenda's kiosk, latched onto one of her paper posters and tore it off the wall. Time to buy more carrots I guess. One would swear Brenda and the burros were in cahoots.

The Oatman Hotel, built in 1902, is the oldest two-story adobe structure in Mojave County and has housed many miners, movie stars, politicians and other scoundrels. The town was used as the location for several movies such as How The West Was Won, Foxfire and Edge of Eternity.

Probably the Hotel's most famous claim to fame is that Clark Gable and Carol Lombard honeymooned there on March 18, 1939. Their honeymoon suite is still one of the major attractions at the Hotel. Gable returned there often to play poker with the local miners and enjoy the solitude of the desert.

Unfortunately, now there are no tourist accommodations in Oatman, so we were unable to spend the night there. We would have liked to stay longer to visit the shops and of course "feed the donkeys".

Sitgreaves Pass

We reluctantly left Oatman and continued on Route 66. It rises to a peak of 3,550 feet between Oatman and Kingman, as it breaches the Black Mountains. The pass was named for Captain Lorenzo Sitgreaves.

In 1926, not all cars could speed up the mountain through the pass. Vehicles of the era, lacked a pump to bring the gasoline from the gas tank to the engine. Gravity was quite adequate to bring the fuel to the engine unless the tank was low and the vehicle was traveling up an incline.

The solution to this problem was to back up the steep and winding mountain road.

Fortunately, we had no problem climbing the mountain and were able to stop along the way to investigate some abandoned mines and take in the spectacular views.

Cool Springs- Mile 45

Cool Springs Camp gave early westward bound Route 66 motorists a welcome break before they tackled the treacherous winding ascent through the Black Mountains over Sitgreaves Pass. Built in the 1926, its' amenities included a cafe, garage, a Mobil Oil gas station and tourist cabins.

We stopped here to investigate, however, were disappointed to find out they were not open. (As it turns out, they have not been open for quite a while.) There was a coke machine and benches under the shade so we stayed long enough to have a refreshing drink.

The tourist bubble burst when Route 66's alignment was changed in 1952 and Cool Springs, along with other businesses catering to Route 66 motorists, shut down. It was converted to a poultry operation called "The Chicken Ranch." However, after a fire, that enterprise was also abandoned.

Chicago real estate agent Ned Leuchtner and his wife Michelle purchased the Cool Springs Camp in 2002. They began a slow reconstruction project and plan to eventually locate to the desert. By 2004, there was again a recognizable building that could house a service station and cafe with the promise of more coming.

Seligman - Mile 140

We reached Seligman late in the day and still very much in awe of the historical revival of Route 66. We managed to get a nice "old route" motel. After quickly unpacking the car, we headed out to see the sites of Seligman. Doreen and I had stopped in Seligman briefly several years before, so we were quite happy to be back with enough time to do some exploring.

Seligman Slideshow

Seligman was established in 1886. It was originally located more than a mile southeast of its present location. Houses and structures were moved piece by piece to where they are today.

Seligman is the town where Arizona’s revival of Route 66 began. It marks the beginning of Arizona's Historic Route 66, the longest continuous stretch still in existence.

In November 1987 Arizona officially deemed old US Route 66 from Seligman to Kingman as Historic Route 66. Seligman embraced Route 66 wholeheartedly upon its arrival in the late 1920’s and continues to do so today.

Roadkill Cafe & OK Saloon

We had our supper at the Roadkill Cafe. The restaurant has an “Old West” atmosphere and a gift shop with fun "Roadkill" souvenirs and Route 66 memorabilia. And the food was excellent. We spent some time viewing the exhibits and gift shop items. Of course, we both just had to buy a Route 66 sign.

The OK Saloon is filled with antiques. Located outside of the OK Saloon is the old Arizona Territorial jail whose walls once corralled such notorious outlaws as Seligman Slim, Four-Fingered Frank and Carl “Curly” Bane. Adjacent to the jail are the Old West storefronts which have been used as a background for many commercials as well as documentaries.

Rusty Bolt

The next morning we shopped at the "Rusty Bolt". In 2001, we had stopped briefly at this store and we were looking forward to being able to spend more time this year. The store front is totally unique. If the roof top mannequins and antique cars don't rouse your curiosity, the grave at the side of the building certainly will cinch it - "here lies Billy Pretzel, last guy who touched my Edsel". Much to our delight, the store had tripled in size since our last visit. All the more shopping for us to do. Between the Route 66 memorabilia and the Betty Boop posters, it was time to once again repack the car.

Williams - End Route 66

Founded in 1880, Williams was named for the famous trapper, scout and mountain man, "Old Bill Williams." There is a statue of "Old Bill" at Monument Park, located on the west side of town. The large mountain directly south of town is named Bill Williams Mountain.

In the beginning, Williams, like so many other towns of the Old West, gained a reputation as a rough and rowdy settlement filled with saloons, brothels, gambling houses and opium dens. Restricted by a town ordinance to Railroad Avenue’s “Saloon Row,” it didn’t stop the numerous cowboys, railroad men and lumberjacks from frequenting these many businesses.

In 1926, Route 66 was completed through Williams, which spurred several new businesses along the highway. It was this increased automobile traffic that would eventually shut down the rail service in Williams in 1968. Williams lies on the route of Historic Route 66, Interstate 40, and the Southwest Chief Amtrak train route. It is also the southern terminus of the Grand Canyon Railway, which takes visitors to Grand Canyon Village.

Williams will go down in history as being the last town to have its section of Route 66 bypassed.

Lawsuits kept the last section of Interstate 40 from being built around Williams. After settlements called for the state to build three exits for the town, the lawsuits were dropped and I-40 was built.

In 1984, Interstate 40 was opened around the town and newspapers the next day reported the essential end of the famous US 66. The following year, Route 66 was decommissioned.

Flagstaff to Tombstone, Arizona

Morman Lake

With the Route 66 segment of our trip now finished, we headed east to Flagstaff and south on I-17 to where our journey took an interesting turn east at Munds Park, into the Coconino National Forest through the towering Ponderosa Pines towards Mormon Lake.

We may well have missed this adventure but the huge coil in the middle of our mapbook prevented us from knowing any better. It certainly looked like a proper road, when in fact, the term "cottage access road" would be truer to fact.

Shortly after leaving Munds Park and following the signs to Mormon Lake, we realized this was not a typically well-travelled country road. This lightly-gravelled washboard had more junctures and dead end turns than the back roads of Arkansas. Our only salvation was the small, handpainted sign arrows with Morman Lake written on them.

However, we persevered, trusting the signs and although longer than expected, the drive turned out to be another fun experience with beautiful scenery, magnificent animals and something to laugh about when we got home.

I've tried to retrace this route on mapquest and defy any reader to figure out which of the roads we actually took.

Mormon Lake is a shallow lake located in northern Arizona. With an average depth of only 10 ft the surface area of the lake is extremely volatile and fluctuates seasonally. When full, the lake has a surface area of about 12 square miles making it the largest natural lake in Arizona. In particularly dry times, the lake has been known to dry up, leaving behind a remnant marsh.

Mormon Lake Lodge situated in the tall pine country of Northern Arizona is just 30 minutes southeast of Flagstaff. (on the main hwy) The 80-year history of Mormon Lake Lodge began in 1924 in the heyday of ranching and logging in Northern Arizona, when a Chandler, Arizona man built the Lodge, formerly known as Tombler's Lodge.

On July 4, 1974 a faulty heater caused a fire that burned the Lodge to the ground. Local ranchers from throughout the state volunteered and rebuilt the Lodge by Labor Day weekend. Upon the completion, the ranchers burned their branding irons into the walls as a symbol of protection. When you visit the Lodge today, you can still see the brandings on the walls.

Saguaro Cacti Along the Road

Most of the vegetation was different from other areas of Arizona we'd travelled. I had not seen the saguaro cactus before so was quite intrigued and took plenty of photos. Although, I'd been to Phoenix and Tucson previously, I just hadn't been up close and personal with one, I guess.

The Saguaro, pronounced "sah-wah-roh", is a large, tree-sized cactus native to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. The saguaro blossom is the state flower of Arizona.

A fully-grown Saguaro cactus can absorb over 3,000 gallons of water in ten days. This is helped by the ability to form new roots quickly.

Saguaros have a relatively long life span. Some may live for more than 150 years. They can take up to 75 years to develop a side arm. An adult plant may weigh 6 tons or more. Harming a saguaro in any manner is illegal by state law in Arizona, and when houses or highways are built, special permits must be obtained to move or destroy one affected.

Tucson, Arizona

By sheer luck we came upon a lovely motel called the Country Inn & Suites where we spent the night in Tucson. Absolutely charming, clean and reasonably priced - worth the time to find it when you're in town.

Once we left Tucson, the vegetation changed again and the cactus plants along the roadside were what I think we refer to as Prickly Pear. They were just beginning to bloom.

San Pedro River

While travelling in the heart of the desert, you get used to it's grey/pink colours. So as we came upon this lush green valley that seemed to swallow the highway, we weren't surprised to see the sign designating the San Pedro River. The surprise was that the river was bone dry. We could not find even a small creek. The river must still flow underground and fill only in high rains.

It was in this lush valley we found the Fairbanks historic townsite where we stopped and took a short break before continuing on to Tombstone.

Fairbank Ghost Town

Fairbank, founded in the 1880s, was originally called Junction City, Kendall and then Fairbank after Chicago investor Nathaniel Kellogg Fairbank, who provided funds to open the silver mines in nearby Tombstone.

On February 15, 1900, it was the scene of a gunfight between lawman Jeff Davis Milton and members of the Burt Alvord gang, resulting in gang member "Three Fingered Jack" Dunlop being killed, and both Milton and gang member Bravo Juan Yaos being wounded, and the gangs attempt at a train robbery being thwarted.

During Fairbank's short heyday the town was home to a post office, established on May 13th, 1883, mills, several rail lines, a school and a hotel. By 1970 almost nothing was left at Fairbank. The last few residents were evicted when the buildings were declared unsafe. An effort to preserve the remains of Fairbank has been only partially successful. Some buildings remain at the site, but several are in extremely poor condition. The largest remaining structure, a hotel, collapsed in 2004.

Tombstone, Arizona
The Streets of Tombstone Slideshow

The Town Too Tough to Die

At last we made it, arriving on Wednesday, June 18th. After all these years of talking about Tombstone, it was hard to believe we were finally here. And we were totally amazed at the town itself.

We had imagined Tombstone to be a large city with an "old Tombstone" section within it, where the history, museums, etc. would be. Little did we know that the Tombstone of 2008 is not much different than the Tombstone of 1888.

We arrived early afternoon, got our hotel room and headed downtown to take in the sights. There we visited the Historama, purchased tickets for the many attractions, and adopted our soon to be permanent shotgun rider "Willie". We toured the OK Corral Museum and watched an historical presentation. A visit to Boothill Cemetery completed our afternoon and we headed back to the hotel to shower and rest before supper.

Walking down the street that afternoon, we had spotted 6 motorcycles parked with Alberta plates. Later that evening we met the riders - all from Calgary - at the Crystal Palace. They were all businessmen on a road trip and we exchanged a few stories before parting company and continuing on over to Big Nose Kate's Saloon. At 8:16 pm, it was still 107° and the air conditioning in the saloon was more refreshing than the ice tea. A short walk down the main street and it was time to hit the sack.

The next morning we were entertained with a skit at Helldorado, had our pictures taken in saloon girl outfits, and toured the Rose Tree Museum.

In the afternoon, we attended the re-enactment of the gunfight at OK Corral before hopping a stage coach for a commentated tour of the town. Then it was back to the motel where Doreen took a nap and I took a swim.

The next morning, we collected our free copy of the Epitaph newspaper, took one final pass around town and with Willie riding shotgun, we "moseyed on outta town".

Tombstone, while not what we expected, was certainly everything we could have hoped for and more. I definitely want to go back there.

A Little Tombstone History

Tombstone was founded in 1877 by a prospector named Ed Schieffelin. Ed was staying at what was then called Camp Huachuca (wa-chu-ka) as part of a scouting expedition against the Chiricahua (chir-i-cow-uh) Apaches. During his time there he would venture out into the wilderness "looking for rocks", all the while ignoring the warnings he received from the soldiers at the camp. They would tell him, "Ed, the only stone you will find out there will be your tombstone".

Well, Ed did find his stone. And it was Silver. So, remembering the words of warning from the soldiers, he named his first mine The Tombstone.

By the mid 1880's Tombstone's population had increased to around 7,500. This figure includes only white male registered voters over 21 years of age. If you take into account the women, children, Chinese and the many "ladies of the evening" the estimates are that the population was between 15,000 and 20,000 people. At its peak, it was the fastest growing city between St. Louis and San Francisco. There were over one hundred saloons, numerous restaurants, a large red-light district, an even larger Chinese population, schools, churches, newspapers, and one of the first public swimming pools in Arizona (which is still used today).

While the area later became notorious for saloons, gambling houses, and the famous Wyatt Earp & Clanton Gang shoot-out at the O.K. Corral, in the 1880s Tombstone was larger than Tucson and had become the most cultivated city in the West. In 1886 massive amounts of underground water filled the near 200 miles of mines and combined with the falling silver prices the boom ended. Having survived the Great Depression, removal of the county seat to Bisbee, and numerous city fires, Tombstone became known as the "Town Too Tough To Die."

Fires swept through Tombstone twice. Legend has it that in June of 1881 a cigar ignited a barrel of whiskey at the Arcade Saloon. The subsequent fire destroyed over 60 businesses in the downtown area. But the town rebuilt itself and kept on growing. In May of 1882 another fire ripped through downtown Tombstone destroying a large portion of the business district. Again, the town rebuilt.

Boothill Slideshow


Tombstone is also the home of Boothill Graveyard. Boothill began in 1879 and was used until 1884 when the New Tombstone City Cemetery was opened on west Allen Street. After the opening of the new cemetery, Boothill became known as "The Old Cemetery". The City cemetery is still in use today.

Legend has it that Boothill was named for the fact that many residents there died violent or unexpected deaths and were buried with their boots on. However, it was actually named Boothill after Dodge City's pioneer cemetery in the hopes of attracting tourists in the late 1920's. Many famous Tombstone folks lie there including the victims of the 1881 Shootout on Fremont Street between the Earps and the Cowboys. For many years, it was neglected. The desert overtook parts of it and vandals removed grave markers.

Then, in the 1920's concerned citizens began the process of cleaning up the Old Cemetery and researching the placement of the graves to preserve it for future generations (and to make a little money on tourism).

Perhaps the most famous of those buried at Boot Hill are Billy Clanton and the McLaury brothers, Frank and Tom. Their grave markers say "murdered on the streets of Tombstone, 1881". As legend has it, they were shot and killed by the Earp brothers, Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan, and John "Doc" Holiday at the famous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

OK Corral Slideshow

OK Corral

The most famous event in Tombstone's history was the famed Gunfight at the OK Corral, which didn't actually happen at the corral, but in a vacant lot on Fremont Street. On October 26, 1881, members of the "Cowboys" had a run-in with Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan Earp with help from Wyatt's friend Doc Holliday. 24 seconds and 30 shots later, Billy Clanton, Tom and Frank McLaury were mortally wounded.

The Earps and the Clantons and the McLaurys were powerful factions in Tombstone and their famous gunfight was not the first conflict they had with each other. The cowboys had many run-ins with the law which brought them into conflict with the Earps on a regular basis. They also interfered with the Earps' political ambitions, including Wyatt Earps attempt to set up a successful campaign for sheriff. Even without their political conflicts, however, conflict between the two groups seemed almost inevitable. The Clantons and the McLaurys represented lawlessness while the Earps represented the law. Who was right and who was wrong didn't seem to matter.

Tombstone had a city ordinance at the time preventing anyone from carrying firearms. The Cowboys' alleged unwillingness to abide by this ordinance proved a source of much conflict between the two groups. It was why the Earps pistol whipped a drunken Ike Clanton on the 26th of October. This event was largely the spark that triggered the famous gunfight. It made the Cowboy faction resent the Earps even further and made the Earps more determined than ever to disarm any Cowboys in the city. Thus, they marched over to where the Clantons and the McLaurys had congregated behind the OK Corral and demanded that they disarm. They did not, and a gunfight ensued.

Helldorado Slideshow


Helldorado, a nickname for Tombstone, Arizona (and variation of El Dorado) was created in the 1880's by a disgruntled miner who wrote a letter to the Tombstone Nugget newspaper complaining about trying to find his fortune and ending up washing dishes.

The mines filled with water and the demonetization of silver passed. Tombstone was fast becoming a ghost town. When Breckenridge published his book, Helldorado, in 1928, Tombstone once again attracted national attention. The town with a bank of memories polished up its gunfighter image and became an important tourist attraction. In 1929 the first annual Helldorado Days celebration was held.

The Bird Cage Theatre

The Bird Cage Theatre is another story. It was a saloon, theatre, gambling hall and brothel. No self-respecting woman in town would even walk on the same side of the street as the Bird Cage Theatre. It opened its doors on Christmas Day 1881 and ran 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year until closing its doors in 1889. In 1882, The New York Times reported, "the Bird Cage Theatre is the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast." Evidence of this can still be seen in the 140 bullet holes that have been found in the walls and ceiling.

The Bird Cage was named for the cage style crib compartments suspended from the ceiling. It was in these fourteen draped "Bird Cages" that the "ladies of the evening" entertained their customers. They were the inspiration for the song, "She's only a bird in a gilded cage", which was quite popular during the early 1900's.

The Bird Cage is perhaps the most authentic tourist attraction in Tombstone AZ. It still contains most of the relics, furniture, window coverings and even poker tables that existed in its wild west hey day during the late 1800s.

Tombstone's Mining History

One interesting historical fact learned, was the irony of how the mines declined. Since Tombstone was in the desert, a pipeline was built to supply the town with water. No sooner was this pipeline built than Tombstone's silver mines struck water.

After the mid-1880s, when the silver mines had been tapped out, the main pump failed, causing many mines to be flooded with deep groundwater.

As a result of relative lack of water and quick wooden construction, Tombstone experienced major fires in June 1881 and May 1882. The second fire was particularly destructive and signaled the end of the classic old boomtown mining city.

The second interesting fact we learned was that Tombstone’s rich mining history left an impending threat to the environment and residents of the area-- problems that are only now starting to be faced.

Deposits of toxic metals including zinc, lead and arsenic lurk silently in the soil at the Boston Mill tailings site, eight miles southwest of Tombstone, adjacent to the San Pedro River.

Miners removed the valuable metals but the toxic ones were left behind and for the most part ignored, until now. Today, not only are scientists trying to clean up a section of the site, they are using it as a trial study to find a safe and cost efficient way to neutralize hazardous metals in tailings sites across the southwest.

“The problem is much more widespread than people like to think,” said Peter Reinthal, associate curator and associate professor with the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona. “There are 60,000 abandoned or inactive mines in Arizona.

Amazing, that over 120 years later, we are cleaning up after a generation that had no idea what deadly footprints they would leave on this earth. Makes one wonder just what mess this generation will leave behind.

Bisbee, Arizona
Leaving Tombstone, we followed Hwy 80 which connected with Hwy 90 taking us on into Bisbee and eventually Douglas at the Mexican border.

Bisbee was founded as a copper, gold, and silver mining town in 1880, and named in honor of Judge DeWitt Bisbee, one of the financial backers of the adjacent Copper Queen Mine.

In 1929, the county seat was moved from Tombstone, Arizona to Bisbee, where it remains. To stop in Bisbee is to stop in time. Nestled in the mile-high Mule Mountains of southern Arizona, Bisbee has maintained an Old World charm seldom found anywhere in the United States.

The fine collection of well-preserved turn of the century Victorian structures are full of old west history and copper mining lore. Old miners' boarding houses have been refurbished into many charming small bed and breakfast establishments, of which no two are alike. Former saloons are now quaint shops, antique stores or art galleries, cafes and restaurants.

By 1950, boom times were over and the population of the City of Bisbee had dropped to less than 6,000, but the introduction of open-pit mining and continued underground work would see the town escape the fate of many of its early contemporaries.

However, in 1975 the Phelps Dodge Corporation finally halted its Bisbee copper-mining operations. The resulting exodus of mine employees might have been the end of the town. Bisbee survived and remains as the county seat.

A syndicated television series which aired from 1956-1958, Sheriff of Cochise starring John Bromfield, was filmed in Bisbee.

Mexican Border

We travelled right to the Mexican border at Douglas, AZ, just so we could say we were there.  We originally intended to go north on Hwy 191 after Bisbee, however, the few extra miles south was worth being able to say "we went from border to border ".

Along these southern Arizona highways, we discovered many strange and interesting-looking cacti. Being from the northern half of this continent, we only get to see this type of plantlife in pictures or sometimes in pots.

They are absolutely fascinating, not to mention very beautiful, especially at this time of year when they are in bloom.

To Page 2 - Mexican Border to Calgary
2009 Eastern Road Trip