Mining, a Shoot-Out, and some more Caverns

It’s been nice to have a few days without too much driving. From Chiricahua it was only an hour and a half or so’s drive to Bisbee, another old mining town. Bisbee has had the big advantage over Jerome (further North in Arizona; we visited earlier in the trip) that mining continued here right up until the 1970s. At this point, similar to what happened in Jerome, the artistic types moved in, attracted by very low property prices. Bisbee thus avoided the decades of “ghost town” decline suffered by Jerome and other similar mining towns. Today, Bisbee is a very attractive little place with plenty of heritage still on show…

The museum in town was small but worth visiting. They’d had the Smithsonian in to help them with a new exhibit on mining, which included some very pretty rocks.

Whilst in Bisbee, we went on a trip into the Queen Mine…. Mining and settlement only really took off in this area after Geronimo finally surrendered in the 1880s, so it’s all quite modern really. The mine was interesting, but it didn’t quite have the depth of history or the “social grimness” of Cornish mining…..

From Bisbee it was only about a half-hour drive to Tombstone, scene of the 1881 gunfight at the OK Corral. The whole town is centred on tourism, and it’s amazing really how much they’ve managed to make of a 30-second gunfight…. Even the local dibbles are in on the act:

There are re-enactments at the OK Corral itself, re-enactments elsewhere around town, and various other local establishments (theatre, hotel etc) offering visitor experiences. I’d read on Tripadvisor that everything in Tombstone costs $10. Certainly the few signs we saw were indeed $10, but we gave the all of the major tourist traps a wide berth and instead paid $5 each to visit the Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park, which is a museum inside the old court building. First things first though; we’d arrived in Tombstone in the late afternoon, got ourselves set up on the RV park in the centre of town, and gone for a wander. Mark had read the menu of the (closed) OK Cafe and decided that the time had come to go out for breakfast the following morning (he has a number of “to try” American food items, including “stack of pancakes”). So we did: we couldn’t be expected to survive the “Town too Tough to Die” empty stomachs now, could we?

The museum was great, with the old post office interior, Cochise County attorney’s office and court room all on show together with lots of information about the people who moved to Tombstone in the early years, cattle ranching etc.

It’s the only museum I’ve ever been to that has exhibits on different types of barbed wire…..

Mark was, as usual, somewhat easily distracted by the interactive exhibits:

We had a good wander round Tombstone itself, and came across some of the OK Corral’s cast out in the street touting for spectators for their next shoot-out…. (the building with the tower in the first photo is the museum we visited)…

Just outside Tombstone is the famous Boot Hill cemetery, full of folk who died in the early 1880s. The cemetery had fallen into disrepair and was “tidied up” by locals in the 1920s using available records. There was no indication of when the current wooden grave markers were added, or who wrote the amusing ditties….

There are a lot of “unknown” markers; of the rest, most seem to have met an unfortunate end (“shot by” xyz, “hanged”, “murdered” etc). There was just one marker that said “died a natural death”….

Fairbank, a ghost town on the old railroad line a few miles from Tombstone, didn’t detain us for too long.

Our next stop was Kartchner Caverns. According to our guide book, these are “one of Arizona’s great natural wonders”. It occurs to me now as I write this that Carlsbad Caverns are in Mew Mexico….. The big selling point of Kartchner Caverns is that they were only discovered in the 1970s and have only been open to the public for 20 years or so. This enabled a lot of the lessons learned at places like Carlsbad (where Hollywood movies have been filmed in the caves, boy scouts used to camp out and light fires etc) to be taken into account to ensure that the caves are protected and as little damage as possible is done. Visits are by guided tour only and we even had to walk through multiple doorways and a mist spray on the way in (as otherwise we’d apparently suck humidity out of the caves…..). No bags, no cameras, no ‘phones etc….. So I’m afraid I have no pics….

Overall, the caverns were much smaller than Carlsbad and rather than the spectacular big formations we saw there, the highlights at Karchner were more in the delicate smaller formations, particulary the soda straws and cave bacon (which really does look like bacon). It’s a living cave, so we could see tiny beads of moisture sparkling on the ends of many formations, and there was a steady “drip, drip, drip”. Karchner Caverns were beautiful in their own way, but if I could only visit one I’m afraid it would be Carlsbad every time….