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Wednesday, September 16, 2015 : Saguaro National Park, Tombstone

 

Today, as any other day, we wake up not too late, chat with the family on Skype  (but how the hell did we do before Skype ?), have breakfast and leave the hotel.

 

On our program today, we have two visits :

 

 

We can take all our time, we only have about 110 mi. to drive, a little below 2 hours overall.

 

I refill the Camaro just outside Tucson, a few miles before the park.

 

Saguaro National Park, Rincon District

Saguaro National Park, Rincon District

 

The Camaro's onboard GPS very accurately takes us to Saguaro National Park Rincon Disctrict entrance. We add the park entry sign to our ever-expanding collection.

 

The visitor center is conveniently located next to the park entrance, and we stop there for a few minutes.

 

The weather is fair, and even quite hot. Although there is no doubt about visitor safety in a National Park, we are nevertheless in a desert, and we definitely  keep that in mind. As usual, we have an ample supply of water and a few snacks in our backpacks, just in case.

 

Marie's sciatic seems to have subsided.

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Giant saguaros, Saguaro National Park, Rincon District

Giant saguaros

 

Saguaro National Park Rincon District is essentially made of a one-way circular loop road, Cactus Forest Drive, a very appropriate name. Along this road, a few roadside stops and branches allow to see parts of the park.

 

As usual, and in order not to restart Marie's sciatic, we favor a few shorter hikes over a longer one.

 

After a relatively short unpaved branch off Cactus Forest Drive, we stop at Mica View, a picnic area in the middle of the desert, surrounded by giant saguaros. From there, a rather short trail leads to Broadway, which looks like a meeting point for horseriders. At first, we hesitate between several paths. In the middle of a totally flat desert, where all cacti look like each other, it is not that easy to find marks and keep them. We finally find the signed trail, and we cautiously decide to follow it.

 

We did not get lost, and that's really good. Other visitors would never have put us back on the right trail, there is almost nobody. At Broadway, we cross a group of three horseback riders and, back at Mica View, there is another car. And that's it.

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Mica View, Saguaro National Park, Rincon District

Mica View

 

However, if we follow a few safety and common sense rules, we can access gorgeous, wildly, breathtakingly beautiful lansdcapes.

 

The trail between Mica View and Broadway is absolutely flat. Back at our starting point, however, we can see a few wrinkles. A little further, Tanque Verde Ridge crosses the park West to East. We can see it in the background of the picture.

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A very old saguaro, Saguaro National Park, Rincon District

A very old saguaro

 

This picture pretty well shows how giant saguaros age. The two small ones, in the giant's shade, are no more than a few decades old. The tallest one must be around 300 years old. It already has four main arms, which is pretty uncommon, and is well over 40 ft. tall.

 

The small dark holes have been carved by birds feeding on the cactus flesh under its skin.

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Barrel cactus, Saguaro National Park, Rincon District

Barrel cactus

 

This strange cylindrical cactus is called a barrel cactus in America. At first, it develops into a spherical shape and, as it grows further, it lenghtens into a cylinder. In spring, fruit grow on its tip.

 

Since they grow on very poor and very dry soil, cacti grow very slowly. They spread their roots across a vast area, close to the surface, which allows them to very efficiently soak and keep rainwater. They act like genuine sponges !

 

Those plants are called succulents, as a reference to their very high juice, or sap, content, which gives them an outstanding ability to store water in their flesh. They are sometimes wrongly called fat plants : in fact, they have little or no fat matter.

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Tanque Verde Ridge, Saguaro National Park, Rincon District

Tanque Verde Ridge

 

We proceed along Cactus Forest Drive up to a parking lot named Javelina. Doesn't the name ring a bell ? Yes, that dark wild hog we could never see yesterday at the Desert Museum ! Do we have a better chance today ? Well, no. There is no javelina in sight here either.

 

From this parking lot starts Tanque Verde Ridge Trailwhich climbs up Box Canyon, up to Tanque Verde Peak, 7,049 ft. above sea level. We are here at roughly 3,100 ft high, and the trail is about 7 mi. long, one way. That's sort of too much for us, and we wisely satisfy ourselves with a few pictures of the mountains and the small canyon at our feet.

 

We proceed on Cactus Forest Drive. We have now driven the complete loop, we are back in front of the visitor center and we finally leave the park. The least we can say is that we have not been too bothered by the crowd.

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On our way to Tombstone, AZ

On our way to Tombstone

 

On the absolutely straight road heading due south that leads to Interstate 10, I am able to swiftly take a picture thru the windshield with my phone. We can vaguely see the reflection of the head-up display of essential car information, including speed. That kind of system, directly inherited from fighter jets, is gradually getting more common in Europe on some high-end sedans.

 

We take Interstate 10 for about 30 miles. We leave it at Benson and take Arizona SR-80 to Tombstone.

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E Allen St, Tombstone, AZ,  main street

E Allen St, Tombstone main street

 

There are actually two towns in one in Tombstone. The first one is the modern town, with nothing specific compared to many other towns in the West. The second one is the Wild West town, carefully preserved in the style of its time.

 

Tombstone was founded in 1879 to run the local silver mines. It quickly attracted a population more keen on enriching itself, were it by means of theft or plundering, than on abiding by the law. What's more, the location of the town, hardly more than 30 mi. from the Mexican border, encouraged cattle theft from Sonoran, Mexico, ranches, and its resale in Arizona. The end result was a crime rate that spiraled out of control, and it required all the dedication of the Earp brothers, the second, Wyatt, being the most famous one, to bring a measure or order back in town.

 

Predictably, tensions arose almost immediately between the Earp brothers and the Gang of Cowboys, a loose association of cattle thiefs, owners of saloons, night-clubs, brothels, and other questionable characters. The Clanton and McLaury brothers framed the Earp brothers into a trap, which remained famous under the name "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral". And, in real life as in Hollywood, law and morality ultimately prevailed.

 

Later, the town, entirely made of wooden houses, in a region where water was so scarce that firefighting was next to impossible, was almost burned down twice by raging fires. Then silver mines declined, and Tombstone owed its survival only to the fact that it remained the county seat until 1929. Nowadays, the town mostly lives off tourism.

 

Despite such adversity, unparalleled in the history of the West, Tombstone is still there. Its nickname, directly inspired by its rather troubled history, to say the least, is "The town too tough to die".

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Wyatt Earp and his brothers, gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Tombstone, AZ

Wyatt Earp and his brothers, gunfight at the O.K. Corral

 

E Allen St, Tombstone main street, is lined with many buildings carefully preserved in their Wild West style. It is the historic and touristic district.

 

The reenactment of the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral obviously takes a prominent place among the many activities offered in Tombstone. The four Earp brothers (Wyatt is second from left, on the picture), parade on E Allen St, before showing up behind the shop where the show takes place.

 

Oddly enough, history mostly remembers Wyatt Earp's name as the main character in the famous gunfight. But his elder brother, Virgil, who was a marshall in Tombstone, had way more experience than Wyatt in law enforcement.

 

By the way, what is the difference between a sheriff and a marshall ? A sheriff is chosen by voters, his jurisdiction is therefore limited to the county that elected him. A marshall is a civil officer representing the Federal Government, and his jurisdiction covers the whole United States. In theory, he cannot be revoked. His authority is therefore much higher than a sheriff's.

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Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Tombstone, AZ

Gunfight at the O.K. Corral

 

The reenactment of the gunfight is performed in a backyard lined with rows of seats, hardly a few dozen feet away from where the actual gunfight took place. The characters, first the good ones, the Earp brothers, then the bad ones, the Gang of Cowboys, the Clantons and McLaurys, come onstage. The audience makes itself heard, acclaiming the good ones, booing the others. The reenactment is a series of short scenes, lasting about 20 minutes overall.

 

The gunfight by itself is pretty short. Characters walk and take their positions in the yard, one after another, the trap is set. All of a sudden, a shot is fired, then more gunshots erupt, and thirty seconds later, everything is over. The Gang of Cowboys can bury their dead, and the Earp brothers enjoy their victory.

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A carefully preserved building, Tombstone, AZ

A carefully preserved building

 

After the reenactment, we wanted to watch the documentary that tells the history of Tombstone, but it has already begun. Not a problem, we can have a walk in town before next show.

 

On E Allen St, this carefully preserved building includes several shops and a hotel. And at last, I find a pair of Western boots and a Stetson hat at my size. It was high time, we have little over a week left !

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The stagecoach, E Allen St, Tombstone, AZ

The stagecoach

 

While we are having an ice-cream and soft drink break, a stagecoach passes a few times in front of us. All tourists adore it, those inside as well as the onlookers on the sidewalks.

 

Then it is time to go and see our movie. In about 30 minutes, it tells the history of Tombstone.

 

We spend a moment strolling thru the city, and walk back to our cark, parked outside the touristic district. We walk by a reconstitution of Tombstone prison. I realize the place is really large, relative to the size of the city. Let's not forget that, in terms of law enforcement, Tombstone's poisonous reputation must have mandated oversize resources.

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The town too tough to die, Tombstone, AZ

The town too tough to die

 

Tombstone's motto is everywhere, down to front car license plates. In Arizona, only the rear plate is mandatory, and the front plate, when there is one, allows owners to express their imagination.

 

By the way, where does the name of the town Tombstone come from ? Opinions vary. When Ed Schieffelin made it known that he was going to prospect in this arid and lawless region, his friends may have told him something like "Take your coffin with you, for the only rock you will find will be your tombstone". When he had his mining permit registered, he declared it under the name "Tombstone". Later, when he founded the town, the name was naturally adopted. We have already seen more uplifting city names !

 

By the end of the afternoon, we leave Tombstone towards Sierra Vista, 18 mi. away. The narrow and winding road crosses an almost desert area, where we do not see anyone.

 

One more time, our hotel carries a name we have never heard of, and one more time, it is a really good surprise. The Sierra Suites is a beautiful place, in a typical hacienda style, with adobe colors prevalent. The room is large and comfortably furnished. We enjoy the pool and jacuzzi for a while.

 

Later on, we go out to buy food, pizza within 5 minutes walking distance for Marie, and Mexican for me, right next door from the hotel. We have dinner outside, in one of the patios, fitted with small tables and chairs. We enjoy a quiet night. The high temperatures of the day have given way to a much milder and nicer evening.

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