Driving through Arizona, reminds you of the glossy magazine, Arizona Highways. The state has done an admirable job of maintaining its signature roadways.
Enjoy the high desert scenery as you head south from Interstate 10 on Highway 80 toward Tombstone. The highway becomes Fremont Street as it passes through the town.
Here’s a suggestion — listening to a CD of classic western movie theme music will greatly enhance your enjoyment.
Allen Street, one block south of Fremont, is the quintessential 1880s western street that sets the standard for all you know about western towns from every western movie you have ever seen. The street is blocked off to vehicular traffic, except for an occasional stagecoach and a horse or two.
It would make sense if they just used this town to make the western movies, but they don’t. Old Tucson Studios, not too far away, is where more than 300 movies and TV programs were made back in the day.
Walk Allen Street. Almost all of the businesses are open to the public. The constant activity sets Tombstone apart from most historic ghost towns. You can visit the general store, a real estate company, trading posts, restaurants, clothing stores, a grocer, or a jewelry store, all similar to offerings in your own neighborhood but with the old-west facade.
The town also boasts period-perfect businesses such as The Bird Cage Theater, Big Nose Kate’s Saloon, the Boothill Graveyard, the Tombstone Epitaph newspaper and the Tombstone Bordello, which is now a bed and breakfast.
In the 1880s, silver was what drew men to Tombstone, but no longer. The silver is still there, but it doesn’t make economic sense to mine it today. So tourism is the main commodity now.
Virtually all of Tombstone’s fame comes from a gunfight that took place Oct. 26, 1881, in an alley behind the O.K. Corral, between Fremont Street and Allen Street. You are invited to enter from Allen Street and sit on bleachers to watch one of the daily re-enactments of the celebrated gunfight.
The actors aren’t great and their wimpy voices certainly lack the quality of the hearty heroes of the silver screen, but the applause tell you they are good enough.
It’s apparent that most of the audience grew up in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s — when western movies were at their peak. You can also tell by the smiles on the men’s faces they are living the dreams of their childhood.
The daughters, wives, moms and grandmas are a smiling too, because they are seeing their men enjoy a special fantasy and maybe they are too.
Historically, the gunfight had eight participants, four lawmen and four “outlaw” cowboys, although one cowboy ran away before the shooting started. All of the cowboys died, but the lawmen all lived. Three of the lawmen suffered bullet wounds, Morgan Earp, Virgil Earp and Doc Holliday. The only gunfighter not hurt was the legendary 33-year-old Wyatt Earp. He lived to be 80 years old before dying in Los Angeles in 1929.
The 30-second gunfight has been talked and written about for more than 133 years. It could be argued that it remains the single event keeping the town alive. Thanks to the perseverance of the residents, merchants, and marketers who are re-telling the story, the town lives up to its slogan: “the town too tough to die.”