Southern Arizona – Old West Towns and Ghosts Towns

We chose to take a trip to Mexico with our friends Ann and John so we had to change the dates of the start of our Summer 2019 trip (Glad we did because we had a blast in Mexico). But, that meant that we only had three days to explore Southern Arizona so that we could stay on schedule for the rest of our Summer trip.

Tombstone, AZ

Everyone should see Tombstone at least once because it has an amazing history and is the epitome of an Old West Town (although for us it is somewhat corny). We only had one day here and many things were closed (we were there on Monday) and those that were open closed at 4 p.m. so we had limited choices on what to see and do.

We always like to take a bus or trolley ride when we get somewhere because it gives a great overview of the area and then we can decide what we want to go back to see later, or if we are there for a short time we can see most of the highlights. The Goodenough Mine had a deal that you could add a trolley tour to your mine tour for only $5 so we did that and started with a tour around the town. To read about the mine tour go to our Three Days Underground blog.

Boarding the vintage trolley on a fairly warm day and being told we couldn’t open the windows for fresh air because the trolley is getting old, wasn’t a good start so I was worried about what the tour was going to be like. Luckily, there were a couple windows that did open so it wasn’t too bad as we took off with the narrator giving us the history on why the town is called Tombstone (see Three Days Underground blog for the explanation).

Allen Street, the main street of Tombstone

Motorized vehicles are not allowed to drive down Allen St. where there are stagecoach tours, and people dressed in period costume are there to invite you into their establishments, tell you about the next gunfight, or just provide directions and information. So, our trolley tour went on other streets in the town.

Schieffelin Hall was built in 1881 by Albert Schieffelin, the brother of Tombstone’s founder Ed Schieffelin. It was built to be a first class opera house, theater, recital hall, and a meeting place for Tombstone citizens. It is the largest standing adobe structure in the Southwest United States.

The trolley took us above the town so we could have an overlook of the town and see the Dragoon Mountains in the distance.

The Sagebrush Inn was built in 1947 and it’s located in a quiet part of the town making it a nice place to stay while still being in town. Many movie legends have stayed there while in the area filming including John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara and Glen Ford.

The Tombstone Epitaph was established in the 1880s and is famous for its report on Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in 1881. It is also known for documenting the history of the American West. In the museum you can read the original report of the Gunfight and you can buy a replica as well.

One of the things we didn’t like about Tombstone is that almost every attraction costs you anywhere from $3 on up. The Boothill Graveyard (1878-1884) was originally called the City Cemetery, then it became the Old Cemetery and sometime in the 1920s they started calling it Boothill. We didn’t go back to take the tour for $3, it didn’t seem worth it to us. The fact that the website has giftshop in its title just screams “tourist trap” to us, and that’s not our thing.

My favorite building in Tombstone is the Courthouse. I love Victorian buildings and this one’s interior is in the shape of a cross. It was once used for the sheriff, recorder, treasurer, board of supervisors, jail, and courtrooms of Cochise County. It is now a museum (with a $7 entrance fee). It is the smallest historic park in the country. There are replica gallows in the courtyard to represent where seven men were hanged including those responsible for the Bisbee Massacre in 1883.

The guide didn’t give us any details about this but I thought it was really cool. I don’t know if it’s original or replica.

The trolley tour ends right by the entrance to the Goodenough Mine Tour.

The trolley tour used to go to the Schieffelin Monument which is the resting place of the founder of Tombstone, Ed Schieffelin, but the dirt road is rather rough so they stopped going there. So, we decided to ride our bikes out there to see the monument.

The Bird Cage Theater in Tombstone opened in 1881 and was known as the “wickedest night spot between New Orleans and San Francisco”. It is also known to have ghost activity and has even been featured on the show Ghost Hunters. Legend has it that 26 people were killed in the theater during its time as the wildest and meanest places in Tombstone. There isn’t much else going on in Tombstone in the evening so taking a ghost tour of this site seemed like a fun thing to do. There is a 6:15 pm tour for everyone and an 8:00 pm tour for adults only. We chose the latter to avoid having kids running around and distracting from the tour. The tour costs $25 which we thought was a bit much, but we looked at it as an investment in the preservation of this historic site. If you don’t want to take the ghost tour you can do a daytime tour of the theater for $14.

Our guide took us through most of the building providing us with the history of the theater, stories of the bullet holes and tales of the soiled doves that worked there. We saw the gaming room downstairs where men won and lost fortunes. The theater is staged with mannequins and many artifacts from the theater, the town and its residents.

This is the original curtain
for the theater.
Tombstone
Elevation 4250
Pure Water Good Schools
Wonderful Climate

This nude photo of “Sadie Jo”, Josephine Marcus, was taken in 1881 when she worked at the Bird Cage Theater. It was a gift to Sheriff John Behan, her live-in lover until she met Wyatt Earp. This photo was concealed until after his death in 1912.

The picture on the top right is the narrow staircase that led to the “bird cages” where prostitutes worked. The red curtained area is one of the bird cages. The basket is a serving basket used by the girls in the bird cages to get refreshments. The original grand piano has been in the same spot since 1881. It was shipped around the horn of South America to San Francisco by boat and was then brought to Tombstone on a mule train. Other photos are replicas of the gambling room, bar and the Tombstone hearse.

After touring the theater we spent a half hour on the stage with the lights out hoping to communicate with any spirits that might be around. Our guide told us of encounters that others have had and the spirits that have been recognized including a young boy that was known to have died in a drowning accident. Unfortunately, we didn’t hear from any spirits, we had a woman in our group that coughed almost non-stop, our experience might have been better if she hadn’t been there. Even if you don’t believe in ghosts, touring this theater is well worth the time. The history, artifacts and stories are very interesting and entertaining.

Although we didn’t get to see everything in Tombstone, including the O.K. Corral, and its infamous 30 second gunfight, I feel like we saw enough to say that we’ve been to Tombstone. As I said earlier, we don’t really like staged “Disneyland-like” types of tourist attractions but Tombstone does a good job of feeling fairly authentic and is a great stop for a day or two.

Goodnight and Goodbye Tombstone Arizona

Fairbank Historic Townsite

During our mine tour in Tombstone, our guide told us about other towns in the area that we might want to visit. On our way back from Kartchner Caverns (a definite must see which you can read about in our Three Days Underground blog), we decided to stop at to see the townsite and ride the Fairbank loop via the San Pedro trail which meanders along the San Pedro river, through the natural landscape and past a trail that leads to the old cemetery.

The town came into existence when the railroad established a station there. It was named for N.K. Fairbank who was a merchant from Chicago and a stockholder in the railroad and an organizer of the Grand Central Mining Company. The town was an important supply point for Tombstone and was a busy community into the twentieth century.

We were the only people at this site and on the trail so it really felt like a ghost town. There is a visitor center but we couldn’t find any information about when it is open. The trail which was a loop and approximately 4 miles long was a fun (although sometimes narrow, sandy and steep) ride that made visiting this site more fun and interesting. If you don’t want to hike or ride the trail, the buildings are just off the Highway 82 so it’s an easy and quick stop that will add to your old west experience.

Bisbee

I have wanted to visit Bisbee for years and was so excited that we could add this town to our Southern Arizona itinerary. I wish we had more time (we only had four hours) but at least we got a taste of this cool town and know that we want to go back again and stay for awhile.

Bisbee is an eclectic, artsy, historic community with delicious restaurants (many that are vegan friendly), beautiful historic buildings, a variety of shops and more all nestled between beautiful mountains. The town has a history of mining and the Queen Copper Mine Tour was fun, informative and gave a great overview of mining life and practices. To read more about the Queen Copper Mine tour, see our Three Days Underground blog. There is also a copper pit mine outside of town that is quite spectacular to see and is not far from Erie, Street which is in the made up town of Lowell, AZ that is like stepping back in time and should not be missed. It’s a great place for photoshoots, especially for people who like vintage cars and buildings, which we do.

The first two photos below are of main street in Bisbee and the Copper Man Sculpture which left James Taylor’s song Copperline stuck in my head all afternoon even though the song isn’t really about copper mining. The other photos are of the fictional town of Lowell, AZ.

Lavender Pit copper mine began in 1917 and ended in 1974. The pit is 4,000 feet wide, 5,000 feet long and 850 deep.

Bisbee has been added to our “must go back” list and if you haven’t been there, I highly recommend it and suggest you plan on at least a few days so you can really experience this awesome mountain town.

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