Tombstone

Overview

Introduction

The name Tombstone conjures up visions of the Wild West, and a visit to this town in the southeastern part of Arizona 185 mi/295 km southeast of Phoenix will provide enough activities to satisfy even the most die-hard western buff.

Like many towns established in Arizona in the 1800s, Tombstone was a mining center. The silver and gold in the area attracted prospectors beginning in the late 1870s, and Tombstone quickly became a boom town full of brothels, bars and brawls. From time to time, folks relied on their six-shooters to take what they wanted or to settle a disagreement.

Tombstone's greatest fame stems from the 1881 gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which pitted the Earp brothers and their pal Doc Holliday against the Clantons. You can visit the site today, between Third and Fourth streets downtown. There are some wonderfully hokey figures positioned around the corral grounds to illustrate where the gunslingers supposedly stood. (Historians continue to debate what happened and where. The latest theory suggests that the gunplay occurred in a vacant lot next to the corral.) Better yet, be there at 2 pm any day of the week to watch a live re-enactment of the shoot-out.

For a better understanding of the rest of Tombstone's early history, visit the Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park. The restored building has artifacts and photos about the town, and the courthouse gallows stands ominously outside. This was the next-to-final stop for some of Tombstone's rougher customers.

The final stop, Boot Hill Graveyard, is north of downtown. An assortment of outlaws, gunslingers, prostitutes and just regular folks were laid to rest there. The preserved grave markers contain a good dose of history and humor. The site is pretty to behold, too, located on a hill that provides views of the surrounding mountains.

Other major Tombstone sights include the Crystal Palace Saloon, where you can belly-up to the bar in the same spot that the old-timers did, and the Bird Cage Theater, which once operated as a combination saloon, gambling den and brothel.

If you've ever wondered what riding in a stagecoach was like, you can find out firsthand by riding the Tombstone Stage Coach around the town. Allow a full day for a visit to Tombstone, especially if you're making a day trip from Tucson. If you want to time your visit to coincide with a special event, Wyatt Earp Days take place in May, and the Rendezvous of Gunfighters is held on Labor Day weekend. Helldorado Days, in October, is Tombstone's oldest, biggest and most popular (crowded) event, with a parade, street dances, costumes and plenty of gunslinging.

For something completely different, visit the Rose Tree Inn Museum on Fourth Street, home of what is claimed to be the world's largest rosebush. It's a white Lady Banksia that came from Scotland in 1885 and now extends over 8,600 sq ft/800 sq m.

About 10 mi/16 km west of Tombstone, there's a reminder that European settlement in this area preceded the Earps and Clantons by more than a century. The Spanish presidio of Santa Cruz de Terrenate served briefly as a bulwark against Apaches before being abandoned in 1780. Well-marked ruins are all that remain, but the spectacular Fremont cottonwoods in the surrounding San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area are well worth a visit in their own right.

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