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Tombstone, Arizona

Rarely has there been a time when I have felt the need to do something…touristy. Yet here we are, bouncing down a dusty highway with Benny and Vito toward the ghost town of Tombstone, Arizona, from our last adventure at Buckskin Mountain State Park. I admit I have a knack for choosing the dusty forgotten trail when embarking on any adventure. The Victorian buildings, the giant oaks, and the road less traveled are far more inviting. I’m not one for the bright lights of the Las Vegas Strip, smoke-riddled hallways, or loud music – those days are gone for me, and I’m thankful they are. It is safe to say Tombstone is precisely as I imagined it. Wide, unkempt roadways with only landscape to look at, Tombstone nears the southern border of the United States, and for those unfamiliar, there’s a heavy presence of Border Patrol.

Some signs alert us we are headed toward a tourist trap as we approach town. “Tombstone National Monument Guest Ranch,” “Daily Gun Fight, High Noon,” and “Big Nose Kate’s Saloon” – are all healthy markings of a town trying to survive.

Pulling off SR-80 into the Wells Fargo RV Park, the spaces are tight, but you’re situated close to town, so it’s worth an ounce of struggle. Most of the spots are occupied by long-term residents, so if someone speaks up while you are attempting to park, they are knowledgeable and less full of malarky. Upon arrival, we learn quickly that here again, we’ve managed to travel at the windiest time of the year, and with minimal tree coverage, the gusts of wind and dirt devils add a little something to our visit. A ghost town it is, as there are not many people walking around on a Thursday evening. We are quick to learn that the majority of the town closes up shop shortly after dinner, which is fine for us – we are readily armed with sausage and beans and a copy of (do you dare ask?) “Tombstone” (1993) as we settle in for the night.

The closeness of the trailers lined up like horse stalls keeps the whipping wind to a minimum. It’s also a key feature of Airstreams: the curvatures of the top and corners reduce the amount of pushing often felt by wind gusts against other high-profile vehicles. Drifting off to sleep, we still hear the sound of the road as the semis pass through town.

Taking in the Scenery

Awakening in the morning and observing the usual rituals of coffee and shuffling the dogs along as one might prepare pupils for school, we gather ourselves to wander down the road before the rest of the world wakes up. Vito has developed a habit of “roo-rooing” at me in anticipation of a walk – almost as if to say he’ll be late for the bus if I don’t hustle.

Tombstone is sleepy and a bit tired on the outskirts, with a church, a veteran’s bar, and private homes encompassing the same intersection as the RV park. The neighbors appear friendly and much like small towns in the Midwest: drivers and pedestrians alike nod and wave. It’s peaceful and unpretentious. This time of day has always been my favorite. It’s magical to feel you are among the first people to greet the morning before the hum of life sets in.

Walking past the park toward the main road, we take Benny and Vito clear to the other side toward the Tombstone Graveyard. Unbeknownst to us, the graveyard fee entry by which we had to pass through a “service dog only” hut which was not advertised online. This obstacle turned out to be just fine since the desire to leave our dogs for want of a few suspect cemetery plots was not part of our agenda.

The Boardwalk

With the dogs thoroughly stimulated, we gave them their first mid-trip alone time. To decrease the chance of sudden noise surprises from a potential staged gunfight, I turn on “Blazing Saddles” (1974) and fill up their puzzle toys so we’re able to go to the center of town for an hour after a brief “dog check” ten minutes in. So far, Benny and Vito are successfully unphased, except for a large dog barking nearby during our check-in, so off to lunch we went. The center of town is straight out of a Western movie if one were to combine it with Ocean City’s boardwalk. Old wood buildings flank either side of the street, with a dirt road acting as the sea between. Colorfully painted signs beckon the tourist inside with promises of genuine antiquities, “Olde Tyme Photos,” and sarsaparilla. About halfway up the road are four men in black trench coats and varying lengths of mustaches announcing the daily gun show is about to start. On-lookers are drawn in by their hollers and redirected to ticketing for a town look-a-like stage on the last block before the RV park. Having lived in towns with a similar claim to fame, I’m amused by the entertainment, but I am not buying a ticket.

Up the street, we wind up standing in front of the famous Big Nose Kate’s Saloon. There’s a bit of a line, so we leave our name with the hostess and pass through the tables to a stairwell that dips below the floorboards to the gift shop. The stairs are steep, so I’m mindful of each step as I descend into wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling trinkets. I select a pint glass suitable for the long drive home. It’s destined east for a relative with a fondness for silliness and travel. The shopkeeper tells me that if we order a specific beer off the menu upstairs, we can get the same souvenir glass for less. We thank her for her advice and pass on the invitation, heading back upstairs just as our name is called to our table. The tables are packed, and so are the walls. Looking up, they are covered in Western-themed artwork and backlit stained glass. An older gentleman has taken the stage and sings country tunes on his guitar beside a midsize amplifier. He livens the mood but does little to cut down on the chatter in the room.

The saloon is family-friendly: children squish away French fries and chicken fingers while their parents generously wipe the ketchup off the table before the server returns. I see an older man in a plaid loose cap with eyebrows drawn on with a magic marker. Groups as small as two and as large as seven mill in and out, jumping up from their seats to take photos with the mock noose hanging near an open coffin. The manager joyously grabs duster jackets and fake artillery for family photos – it’s clear he’s having as much fun as his guests are.

From a list of themed entrees keeping with the town’s aesthetics, Jamie and I each decide on the “Westerner” – a pulled pork sandwich served with fries and a pickle. The sauce is drippy and runs down my arms to my elbows; EXACTLY what I would want in this establishment. I wouldn’t call this fine dining but more “just fine dining.” It serves a purpose, and the people-watching is entertaining while we devour our food. Hearing Jamie speak across the table with all the hard surfaces, high ceilings, and sea of people is far too arduous a task, so we give up and soak in the noise till we get the check.

The convenience of the location of the RV park in town is borderline immeasurable. The “gun show” isn’t as loud as I expected; the sound is muffled and sporadic when we reach our trailer to check on the dogs and take a social break. The gun-slinging has come to an end, so we take the opportunity to walk the dogs in a different direction, serving the dual purpose of stretching our legs and letting Benny and Vito get a “sniffari” in. Admittedly, the weight of lunch has worn me out, and I find the comfort of the couch calling my name. Slipping back into the Airstream after brushing the dust and scant burrs off of everyone, I grab a pair of pajama pants and a blanket for an afternoon snooze.

At about 3:00 pm, ready to explore again, we leave the boys and head slightly away from town to the Tombstone Brewery. The floors are sealed with cement, and the décor is simple and justified. It’s comfortable, serving craft brews and seating guests on barstools where the locals can congregate and those passing through can get a break from the town. We sit down at the counter near a war veteran and his dog. We find out they are staying at the Wells Fargo RV Park, just like us. He talks about his experience with dog training over the years and their drive down from Oregon. He finishes his beverage and is on his way. We each enjoyed a lager and talked to the bartender. The walls are covered in patches from law enforcement, military, and firefighters who have visited from out of town. There are shirts and sweatshirts for sale to the side that surround the beer brewing tanks, though most sizes have already been sold out. I find myself curious if they sell their t-shirts online so I can purchase one in Jamie’s size, but their online store isn’t fully set up, which leaves my marketing brain spinning. Ah, well, there will be others.

My legs start getting antsy, and I want to walk more before the sun goes down. We make a round of the town outskirts, which doesn’t take more than a generous twenty minutes. Mostly passageways to gun show alternatives. Our minds fully satiated, we are ready for a skillet dinner and an early retreat.

Our two-day drive back home begins tomorrow.

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