Traveling the country full-time in our RV because we can!
In 2017 we decided to sell our big house and most of our stuff to start traveling the country in our RV. Having jobs that allow us to work remotely we can travel and still get paid. Why wait until retirement!
I call it Kasha KaWowee! and John calls it Costco Kablewy.
We changed our schedule so that we could get to Colorado earlier which meant that we only had two days in the Albuqueque area. Since we both have lived in New Mexico we have spent plenty of time in the area so it wasn’t that big of a deal for us to cut this part of the trip short. But, there was one place that I definitely wanted to go to while we were there.
When I told our fellow RV friends, Brenda and Wally (our38ftlife.com) that we were going to be in the area, Brenda said that we had to hike at Kasha-Katuwe. We had never heard of it so I immediately googled it and agreed that this was something we had to see!
The geological formations at Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument are extraordinary. They aren’t like the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park or any other rock formations we have ever seen. The formations are cone shaped and occurred when there were volcanic eruptions 6-7 million years ago. The eruptions left ash, pumice and tuff deposits over 1,000 feet thick. The explosions from the Jemez volcanic area sprayed pyroclasts and created a pyroclastic flow. The most interesting part of these unusual hoodoos are the boulder caps on the top that protect the soft pumice and tuff underneath. Some of the tents have lost their caps and have started to disintegrate. The tent rock formation are fairly similar in shape to each other but vary in height up to nearly 100 feet.
Surveyors have recorded many archaeological sites indicating human occupation for 4,000 years. During the 14th and 15th centuries, ancestral pueblos were established and their descendants, the Pueblo de Cochiti still inhabit the surrounding area. Also, there is a 1540 record from Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado where he mentioned the Pueblo de Cochiti in his diary.
The area is supposedly known for its bird watching. We don’t recall seeing any birds but that’s likely because we were so interested in the rock formations that we weren’t looking for birds. The only wildlife we saw were a few chipmunks and ground squirrels.
There are a couple hikes that you can do but Brenda said that we had to take the hike to the top so we did. Both parts of the trail begin at the designated parking area for the monument. The Cave Loop Trail is really easy, it’s about 1 1/4 miles long but the best part was the more difficult Canyon Trail that is 1 1/2 miles one way into a narrow canyon (sort of like a slot canyon) and an elevation gain around 650 feet which brings you to the top of the mesa. At the top you will have amazing views of the Rio Grande Valley as well as the Sangre de Cristo, Sandia and Jemez Mountains.
The trails are well maintained but the guide warns that if it storms it is prone to flash floods and lightning may strike the ridges. As a matter of fact, just a week ago (early August) the trail had to be closed because of a storm. When we got to the top of the mesa, the clouds started rolling in so we started our trek back down. We were about a 1/2 mile from the parking lot when it started to rain, it was a bit cold but we were back to the truck quickly so it wasn’t too bad.
The Bureau of Land Management manages the Monument. There is no drinking water available so make sure to bring your own but there are restroom facilities. The entrance fee is only $5, we used our National Parks pass so it didn’t cost us anything. The hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and the rangers begin closing procedures at 3:30 p.m. When we were headed down we passed the rangers climbing to the top to start clearing people. I’m sure they were all soaked by the time they got down.
Below is a slide show of the photos from the hike.
This was a great outing and we are so glad we went. This hike is the first one added to our list of favorite hikes for our Summer 2019 trip. There will be a page on our blog where we will keep a list of our favorite hikes.
John and I met in a photography class Clovis, NM in the 1989, where we were attending Eastern New Mexico University. We were both married at the time and were just casual acquaintances. A couple years later I was out with a girlfriend and John was on a date and we met again at one of the two local bars. We were both separated at the time and as we say “the rest is history”. Since we were already going to be in New Mexico for our 2019 Summer Trip we decided to go to Clovis and see how it had changed. When we lived there we thought it was a rather depressing and boring place to live and 30 years later that feeling has increased. It doesn’t help that the Air Force Base is much smaller now because that means there are many empty homes and stores.
I wish we had a picture from 1991. Below is almost 30 years later at Kelley’s Bar & Grill where it all began.
In the Slideshow below: Twin Cronnies Drive-Inn that hasn’t changed a bit, a typical 50s style drive-in restaurant. Hotel Clovis – opened in 1931, it’s the only “high-rise” in the whole town. Downtown Clovis – this was on a Saturday, you can see how empty it is. Very depressing! Lyceum Theater – a mission style theater opened in 1921, it’s a performing arts venue now. State Theater – is an art deco style theater that opened in 1936, it’s currently for sale.
The best part and the main reason we went to Clovis was to visit the Norman and Vi Petty Rock & Roll Museum and the Norman Petty Recording Studios.
Did you know that Clovis, NM has a rich musical history and is home to an iconic recording studio (that you can tour for free) as well as a great Rock & Roll Museum (only $6 entry fee) that honors the legacy of Norman Petty and his wife Vi? The museum wasn’t here 30 years ago (it opened in 2008) but the recording studio has been here since the 1950s. Neither John or I toured it when we lived here so we had to make sure to tour it this time. I bet I drove by the recording studio on 7th St. a hundred times and I never paid attention to it.
I called a couple weeks in advance to schedule a tour of the studio and it wasn’t for a couple days so we decided to go to the museum first. The museum is in the basement of the Chamber of Commerce and what a great little museum it is!
They have a 20 minute video that takes you through the history of music in Clovis and the “Clovis Sound”. There is so much memorabilia, instruments and other interesting artifacts that you could spend hours there. Below is a slideshow of some of the highlights for me.
When I called to schedule our tour, I spoke to Kenneth Broad (he’s the executor of the studios) and said he was going to be out of town but there was someone else who would be able to give us our tour. We were thrilled to arrive and find out that our tour guide was David Bigham, one of the singers in Buddy Holly’s backup group, The Roses. Below is David Bigham now and in the photos of The Roses he’s the one on the right. It was so much fun and very interesting to hear his stories.
Norman Petty’s label Nor-Va-Jak is the birthplace of “the Clovis Sound” that was created back in the 50s and continues to influence Rock & Roll to this day.
The first really big hit from Petty’s studio was by Buddy Holly who was from nearby Lubbock, Texas (the big city compared to Clovis, NM) . “That’ll be the Day” was recorded by Buddy Holly and the Crickets in 1957 and was certified gold (more than one million sold) and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and in 2005 it was added to the National Recording Registry, a list of sound recordings that “are culturally, historically, or aesthetically important, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States”.
Buddy Knox’s “Party Doll”was recorded by Petty. Buddy Knox from Happy, Texas and his band performed with Roy Orbison on a radio show and Orbison suggested that they record with Norman Petty. “Party Doll” was written by Buddy Knox and Jimmy Bowen and went to number one on the U.S. Top 100 Chart in 1957. If you’ve ever seen the 1973 move, “American Grafitti”, you will hear the song featured there.
Everyone who worked with Petty said he was a genius when it came to sound and engineering. He came up with all kinds of interesting sounds. For example on Buddy Holly’s song “Peggy Sue” the drummer played the drums in one room and the sound was sent to a speaker in the attic of the building next door, then they mixed a measure of the “live” drum with a measure of the attic recording to create an echo effect.
Buddy Holly brought a portion of the melody to Norman Petty. Norman finished the rest of the melody and wrote all the words and taught the song to Vi Petty, his wife. She sang it for Buddy Holly when he came back to the studio. He told her she ought to record it. She did and Norman had it pressed on their label.
Below is a slideshow of the recording studio.
We finished the tour in the apartment in the back where the artists would hangout, eat, play music and collaborate. I’m bummed because I didn’t take many pictures of it but I was just taking in the whole place listening to Mr. Bigham’s stories.
We don’t recommend Clovis as a destination but if you happen to be driving on Interstate 40 through New Mexico, take a detour to the South. It’s a good place for a quick layover for grocery shopping or other errands and it’s totally worth the detour to visit the museum and take a tour of the recording studio.
John and I both lived in New Mexico and have been to Carlsbad before (we weren’t together at the time) but it has been almost 30 years. We wanted to visit again and see what we remembered and explore the area together. We were still in awe of Kartchner Caverns (see our Three Days Underground blog for info on those caverns) and wanted to compare it to Carlsbad since neither one of us had many memories of what we had seen 30 years ago.
If you plan on visiting any National Parks, make sure you buy an America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass, it’s only $80 per year and will pay for itself in no time. If you’re 62 or older you can get a lifetime pass for $80 or an annual pass for $20. We already had a pass from when we visited Joshua Tree National Park before we hit the road in May. Carlsbad Caverns entrance fee is $15 per person, add that to the $20 we would have paid when we went to White Sands National Monument and the $30 for Joshua Tree and we are now even money with many more National Parks on our list for this year. The pass covers your entrance fees to National Parks, National Monuments, Battlefields and National Recreation Areas/Forests.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park
I pride myself on being a pretty good travel planner but our first visit to Carlsbad Caverns proved otherwise. There are several ranger led tours that you can take where you will explore areas only accessible on the tours. I booked two tours, put them in my calendar and we showed up at Carlsbad Caverns ready to explore only to find out that we were a day early. I had it in my calendar right, I just didn’t have the days of the week in my head right. I’m blaming it on my recent retirement and losing track of what day it is. Luckily, the tours weren’t full so we were able to take the tours. Later in the season this probably wouldn’t have worked and I’m so happy we didn’t have to come back another day because the caverns were an hour away from our RV Park. There are a couple parks closer to the park (in White’s City) but they have horrible reviews and are in the middle of nowhere. Since we were going to be in the area for a week, we wanted to be closer to town.
If you plan on taking a ranger guided tour, I would recommend making reservations to ensure you get a tour. Depending on the time of year the tours sell out quickly.
Our first ranger guided tour was the King’s Palace tour ($16 for both of us). We rode the elevator down to the main area of the cave where there is a gift shop, café and the place to start the self-guided tour of the Big Room. It’s cool but kind of scary to watch the elevator illuminate the depth that you are traveling rather than the floors like we are used to. We met our guide who gave us a quick safety briefing including don’t touch anything, I wish more people paid attention to this. The tour was about an hour and half long and we were taken to the deepest part of the cavern open to the public at 830 feet below the desert surface. This isn’t a difficult trail, it’s only one mile but we did have to descend down the trail in the beginning which meant walking up a very steep hill at the end. The cool temperature of the cave (I wish I had brought a sweatshirt) made the hiking quite comfortable. We saw a variety of cave formations including columns, draperies, helictites and soda straws but my favorite part was when we were seated in a large open area and the lights were choreographed to highlight different cave formations. We also had a time where the ranger turned off all of the artificial light, I couldn’t even see my hand right in front of my face it was so dark. Our guide was very knowledgeable of the history and geology of the cave. It’s quite difficult to get photos inside the cave because of the limited lighting, but I tried anyway.
John had a work call to take after our first tour so we decided I would grab lunch from the café on the surface, bring it to the truck and we could eat while he was on the call. Well, little did we know that the café was about three employees short so it took about 40 minutes to get our food (we only had an hour until our next tour) and they couldn’t pack our food for us to take it out of the building. So, I ate my burrito in about five minutes and then snuck John’s food and drink out on a tray with a plastic glass. Right as I was walking out with his food, he came walking in so he was able to sit at the table and eat, but only had about 10 minutes. Needless to say, I wish I would have packed a lunch that day!
Our second tour was the one that I was most excited about. The Left Hand Tunnel tour ($14 for both of us) is a historic tour in an undeveloped section of the cave with unpaved trails and the whole tour is by candle-lit lanterns. We met our guide and the 10 other people on the tour who were all from a Texas college on an outdoor experience trip throughout Southern New Mexico. The parks rates the trail as moderately difficult and I’m not sure why except that it’s by candlelight and there were a couple places where the trail was a bit slippery and we had to navigate around a couple small cavern pools.
When we were about to begin the tour, our guide says he will light everyone’s lanterns now and then reaches in every pocket to find his lighter and he can’t find it. He says “I’ll be right back folks” and people are questioning how he could forget the lighter. Well, that was just an act because he came back dressed as Jim White, the man who discovered the caverns in the early 1900s and spent 30 years exploring the caverns and is credited for finding 19 of the 32 miles of cave passageways known today.
Our guide did a great job of staying in character and explaining how he found the caverns, explored them, marked them, etc. We thought it was a bit corny, especially since this hike was touted as moderately difficult and it seemed more like a Disney tour or something. I’m still glad we did it though because it was interesting seeing everything only by candlelight. There weren’t as many formations to see but at the end we walked out on individually for quite a distance so we could experience what it was like for Jim White when he explored the caverns. That was the best part of the tour! I didn’t take any photos during the tour, I wanted to be “in the moment” plus it was difficult with a lantern in hand.
We were hoping to take the elevator back up and then walk in through the Natural Entrance and explore the Big Room. Unfortunately, it was too late in the day as they stop people from entering the Natural Entrance after 3 p.m. because the hike in can take awhile and they don’t want people stuck in there when they are trying to close the caverns. So, we had to take the elevator back down to gain access to the Big Room. The enormity of this room is awe inspiring! It’s 8.2 acres which is over 1,300 yards long and 208 yards wide (to put this into perspective, a football field is 100 yards long and 53 yards wide). The Big Room is the largest known limestone chamber in the Western Hemisphere and the trail is a fairly well lit and easy to navigate loop that can take an hour and half to explore. Most of the trail is wheelchair accessible which I think is so cool!
Below top row left to right: Speleothems (cave formations) – Lion’s tail, stalactites and stalagmites. Thank mnemonics from my childhood for helping me remember which is which. Bottom row left to right: The shine is evidence that there is still water in the cave meaning it is still alive, Rock of Ages (one of the largest formations in the caverns) majestically stands alone, one of the original rope ladders used to discover the caverns.
The vastness of the caverns is hard to capture in photographs so I took a lot of short videos. I’ve put them all together below. Towards the end you can vaguely hear someone talking, the was our guide in the King’s Palace. Sorry, my iPhone doesn’t do a great job on video.
Carlsbad Caverns is difficult to describe because so much of it is up to interpretation and your personal feelings. The whole time we were there my thoughts were on the fact that these caverns are 60-80 million years old and the formations grow at an incredibly slow rate so the big ones are also millions of years old and my time on earth is so short compared to these other living things on our earth. It was just another reminder that our lives our short and we should savor every day and every experience. When I sat in the complete darkness of these vast caverns I felt a calm that I can’t really describe except to say it helped me realize that the things that stress me out or bother me are so fleeting in the grand scheme. I really need to try to remember that feeling! What you take away from the Caverns may be completely different and it could be different from one visit to the next. That’s the beauty and magic of this natural wonder!
By the time we finished touring the Big Room, we had been at the caverns most of the day so we decided to go back to the RV Park and take care of the dogs and come back another night for the Bat Flight Program. On our drive back, while still in the park, John spotted a Barbary sheep up on the rock face. It was too far away to get a good photo but I was excited to see it because I had never seen one before in the wild.
We came back the next night for the Bat Flight Program (another advantage to having the Parks pass because we didn’t have to pay another entry fee). There are signs everywhere that say that you can’t take photos or videos during the Bat Flight, I was kind of disappointed because I really wanted a video of it. But, I’m happy that they have that rule because it makes you be completely present in the moment and it ensures that the bats aren’t frightened by the movements, sounds and flashes. They ask that everyone remain as quiet as possible when the bats start to come out. I was impressed that everyone (except for a couple of really young children) did a great job at being quiet.
It was so amazing to hear the sounds of their wings as they flew overhead. They way they moved together was like a choreographed ballet. Don’t worry, you can look up and you won’t end up with bat guano in your face! The ranger describes the amount of bats as light, medium and heavy because it’s impossible to count the millions of bats that fly out of the cavern. On this night he said that it was medium, which was magnificent! I can’t imagine what it’s like when it’s heavy. The bat flight lasted 30-45 minutes, we lost track of time because we were mesmerized. If you go to the caverns, make sure you stay (or go back) for the Bat Flight program, you will not be disappointed!
Sitting Bull Falls
Since we didn’t have any plans until the evening’s Bat Flight Program we decided to go for a hike at Sitting Bull Falls. It was about an hour drive to get there but it’s rated as the #2 thing to do when in Carlsbad (the Caverns being #1). We first walked up the paved path to the waterfall. We weren’t expecting very much as this is New Mexico, the hills aren’t very tall and there isn’t much water. The falls are small but pretty and unexpected in the middle of the desert.
After we finished our hike, which ended up being longer than we planned because the trails aren’t very well marked, we met the ranger. We always like to talk to the Rangers because they have good stories and information. He told us just down the road was the site of the Last Chance Canyon Apache/Cavalry Battle Site. John and I are both interested in Native American history (John more than me because he’s 18% Native American) so we decided to see it. There isn’t really anything there to see except the landscape but one of the things I love about traveling with John is his ability to describe what a place would have been like in that particular time in history. He had me picturing the Apache on the top of the ridge looking down on the Cavalry down in the meadow.
We wanted to see if there was anything else nearby so we started walking through the meadow and came across some free range cattle. They saw us and started walking towards us and I got a little freaked out (they were big and there were a lot of them) so we turned around and headed out.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Did you know that only 52 miles from the city of Carlsbad is another National Park in another state? We didn’t until we were at Carlsbad Caverns and the postcards I bought had cards from both parks. Since we were so close we decided to visit and mark another National Park off of our “we’ve been there” list.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park is the most extensive Permian fossil reef and has the four highest peaks in Texas. Growing up in Colorado and having lived in Washington, the peaks aren’t that big but it was still pretty. It was a REALLY hot day so we decided not to hike (the rangers were advising that people only hike early in the morning) but we did drive around the park some.
There’s a short walk from the Visitor Center that takes you to the Butterfield Overland Mail Pinery Station. Butterfield Overland Mail came before the Pony Express and the Transcontinental Railroad and was the first successful attempt to link the East and West with reliable transportation and communication. Stations were located about 20 miles apart and from September 1858 to August 1859 coaches stopped to rest and for water, food, new mule teams and protection.
Below are remnants of the walls of the station.
We saw a sign for Frijole Ranch and I said “we both like beans, let’s go check it out”. Unfortunately they have it fenced off because the many cottonwood trees that surround the ranch have been deemed unsafe. So, I took a couple photos and we left.
The scenery was beautiful and I especially enjoyed the flowering cacti.
It seemed appropriate to end our day (and our time in Carlsbad) at the Guadalupe Mountain Brewing Company in Carlsbad, NM. I’m not a beer drinker but John is and we enjoy going to local breweries to taste the beers and have some food. We ordered a pretzel, John had a flight of beers and I had a local wine (which was horrible, New Mexico has a lot to learn when it comes to wine making). John’s favorite beer was the Luscious IPA, it was so good that John wanted to have his growler filled with it but we were told that the beer maker doesn’t allow growler fills because he doesn’t like how it makes his beer taste. Not sure what that means but John ended up not getting any beer that night.
Carlsbad is in the Southeast corner of the New Mexico desert and not really on the way to anywhere else (except for El Paso, Texas), but it is worth the trip. We are glad we were able to make memories here together and encourage you to check it out, even if you only have a couple days.
Visiting Roswell and Alamogordo was not on the top of my list of places to go but John was very interested in seeing the New Mexico Museum of Space History in Alamogordo and the White Sands Missile range so we added it to our itinerary. Since we had to drive through Roswell on the way, we decided to stop at the Roswell UFO Museum. While some of the museum is kind of hokey (as I expected) there were also some very interesting personal accounts, videos and other exhibits to investigate. See The Palenque Astronaut carving below for an example. I’m glad we didn’t make a special trip there as it wasn’t as big as we expected and if you watch any shows or read any books on the Roswell crash or other alien encounters, there isn’t much new information. It’s only $5 to get in and they gave us the military discount of $3 a person when John told them he was an Air Force veteran. Not a personal highlight of this trip for me, but we can add it to our “we’ve been there” list.
After our quick stop in Roswell we were on our way to Alamogordo which was more exciting for me because I wanted to visit White Sands National Monument.
Our first excursion was the New Mexico Space History Museum which we unfortunately went to on the same day as several buses of school children making it difficult to see everything, but we did our best. It’s only $8 to get in and we thought it was worth it. They have a planetarium and theater which we couldn’t go to because the school children had every show booked. The museum has several levels and you start at the top and go down traveling through the history of space exploration. Just as with the UFO Museum, this isn’t something that I was really interested but I have to admit that I found much of this museum quite educational and enjoyable.
Above is a space suit and capsule that was used by Ham the Chimp (acronym for Holloman Aerospace Medical Center) in 1961.
I especially liked the outdoor exhibits including the Daisy Track which is an air-powered sled-track used to study the effects of acceleration, deceleration, and impact on the human body and various equipment systems. I also enjoyed the static displays of rockets, especially the 86 feet tall, Little Joe II which is the largest rocket ever launched from New Mexico.
This is an interesting museum to learn more about space and the role that New Mexico played in space history.
We had a couple days of high winds which kept us from going to White Sands National Monument but the minute the winds subsided we headed out. It seems appropriate that the Space Museum, the Missile Range and other space related things are in this area because the White Sands National Monument landscape makes you feel like you are on another planet.
I loved the tranquility and peacefulness of seeing dune after dune of pure white sand. Driving on the road felt like driving through the Colorado mountains with snow piled on the sides. The ripples and patterns in the sand were unique as snowflakes and hard to capture with a camera, but so beautiful in person.
It was fun to see the families that staked a claim in the sand with their pop-up tents, coolers, lawn chairs and sleds for sliding down the dunes. It’s like a giant beach but without the water! The foliage and flowers that thrived in the sand was a surprise to me and I sought out (and photographed) every one I saw.
Since it wasn’t very hot outside we decided to take the Dune Life Nature Trail. The trail was very well marked and was easy to follow and the markers are tall enough that as the sand dunes shifts and change in height, you can still see them and follow the trail.
Even if you only have an hour to drive through the monument, I highly recommend it. If you have more time, pack a picnic and bring a sled and enjoy a whole day there!
What else is there to do in the Alamogordo area? Well, if you know us, you know we love wine so we always try to find local wineries and we found one in Tularosa, NM about 8 miles from our RV Park. We drove up to what looked like a manufactured home and there wasn’t any signage saying there was a tasting room so I called the number on their website and asked if they were open and where the tasting room was. The guy comes outside and says “we’re right here, come on in”. Needless to say, we were the only ones there so we had a leisurely tasting of their wines. New Mexico is trying to get people in the state to like wine and therefore make them a bit sweeter than we like but we still enjoyed trying them and we purchased their Rose and Sangiovese (which didn’t taste as good when we had them later but for the price, they were fine).
Did you know that Alamogordo is known for its pistachios? We didn’t but were happy to find that out, especially since Pistachioland was right across the street from our RV Park (along with the world’s largest pistachio that’s 30 feet tall). John had some work to do so I walked across the street and sampled sweet, sour and even hot (like Hatch chilis) pistachios. They also had wine tasting, but their wines were way to sweet for me. Unfortunately I got there too late to take a tour of the pistachio farm which would have be fun!
If you like to hike, I recommend getting the All Trails app on your phone. Everywhere we go I will look at that app to see what hikes are in the area. While in Alamogordo, I found Three Rivers Petroglyph Site that was only 30 miles from our RV park and has a short hike with over 20,000 petroglyphs. There is a map that you can follow that will give you the highlights but there are so many more that aren’t even listed.
There is also another short trail that leads to the remains of a Mogollon village whose people were likely the ones who made the petroglyphs. It was occupied for approximately 400 years and when partially excavated in the 70s the foundations of three types of prehistoric buildings unearthed. We had never heard of the Mogollon people so this stop was very interesting to us. John and I both feel a connection to the native peoples of North America, John more than me, probably because he is 18% Native American.
Some people theorize that aliens and ancient petroglyphs could have some connection. There are petroglyphs that depict what people believe to be alien spacecraft and other extraterrestrial beings, so ending our Rowell/Alamogordo “Space” trip with petroglyphs was like traveling full circle.
Although Alamogordo was not one of the “oh my gosh I can’t wait to go” places on our itinerary, we found plenty of fun, interesting and educational things to do. If you’re passing through, consider stopping for a day or two.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
Most times when we are traveling we see and think about the sights that are above ground, the ones that are right before our eyes. But, after our three days underground, we now wonder what’s below the ground that we are missing or has yet to be discovered.
First Day Underground
Our first day underground was at the Good Enough Mine in Tombstone, AZ which was founded by Ed Schieffelin in 1878 and production started in 1879. The area was originally called Goose Flats but Schieffelin changed it to Tombstone. The name Tombstone came about because soldiers continuously told Schieffelin that “the only stone you will find there will be your tombstone”.
Boy were those soldiers wrong! The Tombstone Mining District is 40 square miles and there are 320 miles of documented mine tunnels and many more that aren’t documented. The mines produced $40 to $85 million in silverand were the largest productive silver district in Arizona.
Before we went below ground we had the opportunity to see some of the original tools used for mining. Once underground we walked through narrow tunnels currently lit with electricity and imagined what it was like to work by candlelight while yielding the heavy the tools needed to break away the ore.
We were also very interested to hear about how the mine shaped Tombstone. When Schieffelin first made his claim there were about 100 people in Tombstone and over seven years it grew to around 10,000 people. It wasn’t just miners that came to Tombstone.
The soiled doves, performing the oldest profession, were an integral part of the building and funding of Tombstone. Prostitution was legal and in 1881 the mayor allowed brothels to exist in residential areas and not just in the red light district. In its heyday there were about 3,000 working girls. We found it quite amusing to hear that the Catholic Church was built through donations from the prostitutes.
Second Day Underground
When we told our friends Brenda and Wally that we were going to Tombstone they said that we had to visit Kartchner Caverns. The caverns are in Benson, AZ and are only 30 miles from Tombstone. Knowing that they like to hike and explore like we do, we took their advice and I’m so glad that we did. Brenda said it is amazing, and she was right!
They don’t allow you to take photographs (or anything else) in the caverns so the only way I can show you what’s there is to give you the link to the website: https://azstateparks.com/kartchner/. I can say that we learned so much about cave formations, it was fascinating! Did you know that they have bacon underground? And, Kartchner Caverns has the longest soda straw I’ve ever seen, it was 25 feet long. Soda straws in caves on grow on average, one tenth of a millimetre per year. I’ll let you do the math on how old the 25 foot one is (my daughter is the math whiz, not me, especially when it requires conversions from the metric system). It’s safe to say that it’s a really, really, really old soda straw. We saw draperies and so many other cool things. Here are some photos that were taken by professionals.
If you are ever in the area, do not miss these caverns. They are still active which means they have a water source so the formations continue to grow. We could only go into one of the areas because the other area is being occupied by bats and can only be visited from October to April.
Third Day Underground
I have wanted to go to Bisbee, Arizona for years. I have heard from friends that it is an eclectic, artistic community similar to Santa Fe so I knew we would like it. And, we definitely did. We are going to plan to go back and stay for at least a week sometime so we can explore it more. We only had a few hours there so we decided to continue our underground exploration by taking the Queen Mine Tour.
I was so excited when I saw that we would be riding a train into the mine because it reminded me of going to the Berchtesgaden Salt Mine in Germany with my Mon and brother when I was a kid and in 1988 with my first husband and 18 month old daughter.
Everyone received a helmet, safety vest and flashlight. You’d think that some of the people on the tour had never used a flashlight before, watch the videos to see the lights flashing all over the place.
The train in the salt mine was gravity driven so the climb in was slow but the ride out was like a fast enclosed roller coaster. I was expecting the same thing with this train and was so excited. Silly me, I didn’t realize as we were going in that we didn’t go up, we just went in, so it was as slow coming out as it was going in.
Our three days underground in Southern Arizona were so much fun and very interesting. To think about the caverns and its millions and millions of years of history makes our lifetime seem like the proverbial drop in the bucket. Learning about the lives of the miners and the history of mining which was less than 150 years ago puts into perspective how far our society has come in such a short time.
John and I decided in April 2017 that we wanted to sell our house, sell most of our stuff and go full-time in our RV. By the middle of June we did it! At the time I thought I would blog our adventures so our friends and family could keep up on what we were doing. The very first time I started to write I found that I was rewriting and questioning my style and subject matter and it felt more like work than fun, so I decided not to do it. I decided to just keep posting on Facebook to share our experiences and save our memories.
Fast forward to May 2019, I am no longer working and we are on a four month trip so it seemed like a good time to try blogging again. Also, many of our friends no longer use Facebook and have asked for another way to follow our adventures. So, buckle up and join us as we explore our beautiful country, we hope you enjoy the ride!
Our theme song is “My House” by Kacey Musgraves. Thanks to our daughter Heather Nelson for the suggestion.