“Wide, open spaces.” “Riding off into the sunset.” “Go west, young man.” When you hear these old familiar phrases, what comes to mind? For me—rugged terrain, dusty trails, ghost towns, saloons, wooden facades, careworn faces, tumbleweeds…and land. Lots of land, as far as the eye can see. Over the last couple of centuries, the quest to defend or claim the land “out west” has flavored our history books, stage and TV shows, and of course the silver screen.
Legends—part truth, part romance—helped immortalize the historical events that shaped this southwest corner of today’s United States. My recent visit to southern Arizona gave me a chance to see for myself how this desert way of life preserves some of its past in the present..
Ever heard of the O.K. Corral—or Boothill? Well, a shootout near one lead to a few burials at the other, all in the city of Tombstone, “The town too tough to die.” A three-hour drive south of Phoenix placed us squarely back in time—1881 to be more specific. Our first stop: the Boothill Graveyard.
It’s first official name was the Tombstone Cemetery, giving a final resting place to many of the town’s early inhabitants. From 1878 until the late 1880s, law abiding citizens and criminals alike were buried here until a new cemetery opened in a different part of town. Very soon, the incoming population of what became known as “the old cemetery” slowed down considerably.
After decades of neglect, tremendous effort on the part of many local individuals and historians brought this burial site back to life (so to speak), replacing what was left of the old wooden markers with stone lookalikes. The name Boothill, most likely a product of the early western cinemas, stuck.
Walking the cemetery, plot guidebooks in hand, we learned a bit about how and why some of Boothill’s occupants met their demise. The harsh terrain surrounding this place was a grave reminder to me of just how tough day-to-day living could be, all those years ago.
Our guidebook indicated a few slightly familiar names located in Row 2: the Clantons and the McLaurys. Three of them died October 26, 1881—shot to death—in a vacant lot just behind a rather famous landmark: the O.K. Corral.
In 1877, Tombstone became a boomtown, thanks to its founder Ed Schieffelin and his discovery of silver. Even in the days before cell phones and social media, news traveled fast—that is, when instantaneous potential wealth was at stake.
Prospectors and other opportunists arrived by the hundreds, ready to seek their fortune. And this eclectic collection of people, massed in such a concentrated area, experienced their fare share of trouble. Enter, stage left, a trio of brothers: the McLaurys and the Clantons—the cowboys, and the Earps, along with one Doc Holliday—the law.
Weeks of heated arguments between the two sides culminated in a gunfight that somehow became famous. The location: a vacant lot behind the O.K. Corral. After just 30 seconds, Frank & Tom McLaury and Billy Clanton were dead. We timed our visit just right…
Entering the O.K. Corral’s arena, we purchased tickets that also included a 24-minute multimedia presentation of the town’s history, along with a live outdoor stage re-enactment of the gunfight. We climbed into the grandstands and took our seats, awaiting an infamous fight.
As instructed by “the law,” we cheered for Wyatt Earp, his brothers Virgil & Morgan, and Doc Holliday. And booed “cowboys” Frank & Tom McLaury, and Billy & Ike Clanton. Before the first bullet flew, Ike managed to run to safety, but the rest of his clan were not so lucky.
Post “gunfight,” we enjoyed the theatre and the museum grounds, as well as walking around Tombstone, visiting its many shops and other attractions. We even stopped by their local newspaper office—now a museum too—with plenty of printed history and items to peruse.
Leaving town, we had a newfound appreciation for our automobile, giving us the opportunity to ride off—comfortably—into the sunset…
Have you ever seen a saguaro cactus? As in up close? Found only in the Sonoran Desert, this monumental symbol of the Southwest can grow to over 40 feet tall and live close to 200 years. Scottsdale’s Pinnacle Peak Park fast became my favorite way to walk among these beautiful giants.
Entering the trail head, we began our climb toward the peak. Expertly maintained, the path wove us through a terrain featuring several different cactus types, along with many other desert dwelling plants and shrubbery. The trail also provided our mini hike with rock formations, informational placards—and one stunning view after another!
But, for me, the stars of the show were the saguaro. Striking in every way, their stillness was almost statue like. Given their height, they could very well dominate their surroundings—only they didn’t. Instead, saguaros were living in harmony with their trail neighbors—flora and fauna alike.
Whenever I’m in this part of the world, I use my internal divining rod of hunger (and my phone’s GPS) to locate the nearest In-N-Out Burger. This restaurant chain of fresh deliciousness has fed hungry burger fanatics “out west” since 1948. And—yippee!—there’s one in Scottsdale!
It’s a simple menu too: just three combo meals offered, but served up perfectly every time by a truly friendly and professional staff. And their eateries are always clean, inside and out. My go-to order: Combo #2 Cheeseburger, fries and a drink—usually iced tea for me… as always, it hit the spot.
There’s something magical about Arizona’s wide open spaces. The rugged beauty, the wild history and the sheer grit people needed (all those years ago) just to survive. Be it silver, lots of land or other opportunities, I wonder—in the 1800s—what did the residents think of their surroundings? If only the old saguaro could talk… J 🌵