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A journey of discovery - and rediscovery - in Tombstone and Bisbee

What do you remember from when you were 5 years old? John has a fond memory of visiting Tombstone, Ariz.

Here’s his story:

When I was 5, I wanted to be a cowboy more than anything. Toy six-shooter in hand, I ran around the yard in Scottsdale, Ariz., pretending to be Wyatt Earp, the famous lawman, vanquishing all the imaginary bad guys who stood in my way.

Perhaps because I was so obsessed with cowboy culture, my parents took me to Tombstone to watch a reenactment of the fabled “Gunfight at the OK Corral.”

I was mesmerized.

This was way better than all my favorite cowboy TV shows. The staged battle looked real, and afterwards we toured Boot Hill, where some of the OK Corral gunslingers were buried.

In the years since, I’ve forgotten most events from my childhood, but not that trip to Tombstone.

This fall, as Leslie and I were traveling through the southwest in our RV, I saw Tombstone on the map and decided to go back to see what I remembered from that long-ago trip.

As we traveled through Cochise County in southeastern Arizona, one thing stood out that had changed. Dozens of snowbird-friendly RV parks are now scattered through the area, several of them in Tombstone itself.

Clearly, the appeal of Tombstone has not worn off.

We pulled in and parked on a side street, then walked through the well-preserved frontier town. Today, all of the T-shirt and gift shops seem a little hokey, but the OK Corral sign at the north end of town still brings a thrill.

We lingered there for a while and I strained the brain cells to pull up any other childhood memories. Then we moved on to new discoveries in the area.

Artsy Bisbee

About 20 minutes down the road from Tombstone is Bisbee, an old mining town-turned-artsy enclave. In the late 60s, Bisbee was in a state of decline, and the hilly city attracted West Coast artists and hippies who bought up the dilapidated buildings and renovated them.

Today, Bisbee is beautifully restored, with secret stairways snaking through town in a way that reminded us a little of San Francisco. In all, the town has more than 1,000 stairs scattered around its steep hills, and we had fun exploring.

Leslie made friends almost immediately with a local resident, and she quickly learned about the best place to have lunch in town: Cafe Cornucopia, where we ate a killer meatloaf sandwich.

One sight we’re sorry we missed visiting: The Shady Dell, a vintage RV Park which is also home to Dot’s Diner. Next time!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch …

Kartchner Caverns State Park

This stellar state park was our home during this journey of discovery and rediscovery. It’s hard to overstate just how much we loved our two days at Kartchner Caverns.

Nothing against the commercial RV parks of Cochise County, but for us, the state park experience was just what we needed after touristy Tombstone.

Kartchner Caverns were discovered on private land in 1974 by a couple of ardent cavers, and they kept it a secret until the 1980s. The state of Arizona eventually got possession of the beautiful location and turned it into a park.

Today, you can book a tour of the caverns at the park visitor center. We stayed above ground, enjoying the exceptional campground and hikes in the rugged foothills of the Whetstone Mountains.

This is a wonderful state park, one of our favorites in Arizona. Put it on your list.

Leslie Kelly
Leslie Kelly is a freelance writer.