It was a weekend of Monsoons in the Old Pueblo desert and for folks in Tucson right now that means the perfect time to go out and play!
With dark roiling clouds casting a deep shade across the valley and beyond, you can enjoy the spectacle of lightning battles and distant pockets of rain falling down like gauzy grey skirts of taffeta onto the parched and waiting desert. In other words, the perfect weather to take a relaxing day trip. The destination: Tombstone, the town too tough to die, and the town not tough at all to get to from Tucson. It is a quick drive on the 1-10 East and then the Highway 80 East, in a scenic tour through Benson and St. David that takes just over an hour. The drive is beautiful and offers some breathtaking panoramic views of the mountains and valleys of Southern Arizona.
(Mountain View from St. David, AZ)
Tombstone has a notorious history, playing host to one of the most famous and enduring legends of the Southwest. That of the deadly shoot out at the O.K. Corral, where Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday, and members of a loosely organized gang of outlaws called “The Cowboys”, quick-drew their way onto the pages of the Wild West Mythos.
Capitalizing on this larger than life story and the beautiful desert surrounding it, Tombstone has survived as a must-see tourist stop for those wanting to get a taste of the old west. The main strip that houses most of the action is called Allen St. and it is lined with Shops, Restaurants and Saloons straight out of a Western; actually you may have seen Allen St. in your favorite cowboy movie, as it is often used by such films as a set location.
(Allen St. Tombstone, AZ)
You, in fact, will probably feel like you are on set for one of these westerns when you visit.
Allen St. has various interactive shows and a slew of actors walking around in full period costume; from cowboys, to lawmen, to saloon girls, to proper victorian ladies – it’s like tumbling into a three-block-long time machine.
So when I decided I just had to do something fun on Saturday night to celebrate the cool weather and get out of the house, imagine my delight to find out Tombstone was hosting a special series of events called Tombstone at Twilight. These events have a different theme every month and hi-light the evening and nightlife of Allen St. by including special activities and by having shops and restaurants keep their doors open later.
July’s theme was “Gearing up for Steampunk”, so I knew I had approximately two hours to get a costume ready and get down there.
For those of you who do not know what Steampunk is, it is actually fairly hard to define and there is much debate within the community of people who love Steampunk, on what exactly Steampunk is or isn’t, but for simplicity and brevity it is widely agreed upon that the basic tenets are an imagining of a victorian world where the envisioned future of scientific gadgetry powered by steam and Tesla style electricity are realized; sort of a Jules Verne inspired utopia of invention. You can read a bit more about Steampunk on Wikipedia
The Wild West Flavor of this Genre Features an aesthetic that looks a lot like this:
(Wild West Con, Old Tucson Studios)
When I got to Tombstone the fun included a costume contest, in which participants pinned a number to their costume and had to meander about Allen St. so secret judges could scope out their costumes; making for some great people watching along the boardwalk.
The shops and restaurants offered some fantastic fair for the eyes and tastebuds and among some of the places open were the historic Birdcage Theatre, Big Nosed Kate’s Saloon, Silver Strike Winery, Tombstone Oil & Vinegar Co., and the Crystal Palace.
I also ran into a poker dealing Steampunk Wyatt Earp who was providing free poker games to tourists and locals alike. He was accompanied by a lovely victorian lady in green and we got to chatting. I found out that this was the first Steampunk event of this kind being held, although numerous Steampunk and reenactment clubs often came down to Tombstone to participate in some of their larger events like the popular ‘Helldorado Days’ in October.
(‘Doc Holiday’ and ‘Wyatt Earp’ playing poker at ‘Gearing up for Steampunk’ Tombstone, AZ) (‘Wyatt Earp and Victorian Lady at ‘Gearing up for Steampunk’)
Jenna, the lovely lady’s name, was a costume designer and proprietor of ‘Ravenna Old and New West Vestures’, a clothing company for those who fancy the frontier look. She also had experience working as a wrangler on a ranch just outside of Tombstone. Having lived in town for going on three years she had a lot of interesting information about the tourist business in the area and a lot of the events and shows that are put on. One thing I found surprising was that most of the actors you see are all volunteers. These are people who simply love the old west and get dressed in costume and come down and perform for the sheer pleasure of celebrating and being a part of Arizona’s rich history. I was able to witness the fun and passion these denizens have when we suddenly heard shots ring out and were turned into the sidewalk spectators of a deadly confrontation between a group of ‘gunfighters’. Standing there surrounded by the crowd as we watched the show unfold I truly felt like I was living history and seeing a piece of the Wild West come to life.
“People come from all over the world to Tombstone”, said Jenna, “We see a lot of people from Germany.” She went on to say that Germans are so interested in the American West’s past that there is even a town in Germany that is a complete recreation of an American frontier town and is set up as a destination theme park. “Sometimes it seems like the German’s love our western history even more than we do”, she remarked.
Fascinated by this I decided to do a little research and found out that the German’s love the Wild West Mythos so much that they don’t have just one town like this, but they actually have several throughout the country.
There are also Western Clubs everywhere in which people dress up in full period costume and go on outings and generally socialize and have a good time pretending to be part of a different time and place, it reminds me of Steampunk and of Tombstone; no wonder they make it a point to come visit.
As the sky dimmed and the announcements were made for the costume contest’s winners the crowds began to thin out and those remaining dipped into one of the many saloons to wind down the evening or, as in the case of the Crystal Palace’s live band entertainment, get the evening started. I grabbed a bite to eat at the Crystal, listened to the band for a bit and then said my goodbyes as I headed back home.
Driving back I could still see the lightning dancing across the sky and found myself thinking about what a joy it was to be so close to such an interesting and enjoyable way to experience the great mystique of a time in America’s history so often fictionalized, glorified, and explored in our stories and films. There is something about the frontier life with all its dangers, wide open spaces, and rugged individualism that embodies so much of the American Dream that it reaches out even across the sea. Tombstone is known as the ‘Town too Tough to Die’ and as long as the worlds fascination with the American Wild West holds, I don’t think it ever will.
If you would like to visit a place where you can escape into another time and learn about the fascinating history of the Southwest, or if you want to see what is new and exciting in the world of Steampunk, or if you simply want to take in a little “friendly fire” and a good show from the boardwalk, Tombstone offers all that plus good food, drinks, and shopping.
It is a great choice for a quick day trip during your Tucson stay and a lot shorter than a flight from Berlin!
– Brisa Oldfather
Signature Vacation Rentals – Tucson, AZ
Interested in Learning more? Follow the links for some further exploring: