My husband and I recently visited two places in Arizona that were on both our bucket lists.
Our first stop in the Grand Canyon State was long overdue. We were visiting the amazing Grand Canyon, one of the Seven Wonders of the World and the only place former president Teddy Roosevelt advised all Americans they “must see.”
We had reserved tickets to take The Train from Williams to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. There are numerous packages available, some with discounts for booking both hotel and train reservations. The least expensive is Pullman class, and we were quite happy with that option.
Words can’t really describe the spectacular scenery viewed from the canyon. Truly one of God’s best masterpieces, it left us speechless. The only sound to be heard was that of cameras or smartphones clicking as everyone rushed to try to capture its magnificence.
Once we grew accustomed to the altitude and the splendour of the view, it was time to explore the architecture of the Grand Canyon Village. The railroad hired architect Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter to design many of the buildings, such as the Hopi House, Lookout Studio, Bright Angel Lodge, Desert View Watchtower, and Hermit’s Rest. It was unusual for a woman in the early 1900s to receive such a prestigious design contract.
After walking around the South Rim for a while, we went back to the historic El Tovar Hotel to enjoy Navajo tacos and other local favourites for lunch in the elegant dining room. Tables were spread with white linen and well-trained waiters hovered to take orders. But the best part of dining there was the stunning view of the South Rim on display through the large windows.
The next day we drove to the historic town of Tombstone in a 2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid. Travelling by car is easier than public transport, since you can pack the car with stuff you wouldn’t dare take otherwise. It didn’t take long before the Avalon was fully loaded with souvenirs and other essentials picked up on the trip.
We spent the next few days at Tombstone Monument Ranch. Horseback riding, hiking, cowboy breakfast, campfire sing-alongs, and two-steppin’ to a country music band were all on the menu.
Our room at the ranch was in a recreated Old West town, with wooden sidewalks and dirt roads. Ours bore the title “Miss Kitty’s Bordello,” while others were named “Jail,” “Saloon” and “Newspaper.” The décor was in keeping with the Old West motif, but thankfully the plumbing was indoors and quite modern! The bed was also extremely comfortable for a bordello.
In the town of Tombstone, we saw a re-enactment of the gunfight at the OK Corral. We learned the gunfight didn’t really happen at the corral, but on a downtown street. After watching re-enactments of other gunfights that took place in the area, we understood that life was a pretty cheap commodity in Tombstone.
A visit to the old Boot Hill cemetery outside town confirmed this. Few of the folks buried there died bootless. We only saw one gravestone that read “died of natural causes.” One read “hung by accident,” while others said “killed by (insert cause: gunshot, knife, hanging, rattlesnake, etc.).” Quite a few of them were marked “unknown,” which meant their loved ones back home probably never knew what happened to them.
A favourite event at the Monument Ranch was breakfast with Arizona Bill. His stories about prospecting in the desert and the treasures he found over the years were fascinating. His cowboy breakfast, cooked over a campfire, was good too.
Bill told us about Tombstone’s founder Ed Schieffelin, whose impressive cone-shaped rock monument and grave can be seen down the ranch road.
When Ed was serving as a scout with the army during the Indian Wars, he went into the desert searching for “rocks.” His friend and fellow scout Al Sieber scoffed at him, saying the “only rock you’ll find out there is your own tombstone.” But he found a rich vein of silver, and had his revenge by becoming quite wealthy, naming his mine “Tombstone.”
He named the town he founded in 1879 “Tombstone,” too. At the peak of silver fever started by his strike, the town’s population was 7,500. It was probably larger since only white males over 21 were counted in the census.
Earning the title “The Town Too Tough to Die,” Tombstone today is home to 1,500 residents. The town is the site of numerous events throughout the year, including Wyatt Earp Days in May.
The Monument Ranch is located in Cochise County, with great views of the Dragoon Mountains. Various packages and activities are available for anyone interested in going back in time to revisit the days of the Old West.
After several sunny, relaxing days at the ranch, we loaded up the car with a few more souvenirs from Tombstone. It was time to turn our trusty Toyota back toward Texas. After a road trip of 2,300 miles, we were all in need of refuelling.
Far from being able to cross the Grand Canyon or Tombstone off our list of places to explore, we are now talking about going back—soon!
Jo Ann Holt is a journalist and car columnist based in Dallas.