Until recently, I haven’t spent much time in the west, and I’ve got to say, ghost towns are wild. Imagine that you create an entire town, and thousands of people live and work at the mine and associated businesses. Then, one day, the mine runs dry, and everyone leaves. Boom. Ghost town. There are a lot of ghost towns in the southwest, even those that don’t officially call themselves one yet, but none are more famous than Tombstone.
Tombstone, Arizona is way down in southeast Arizona and is home to some of our favorite wild west cowboy stories. The O.K. Corral, Wyatt Earp, the bullet-riddled Bird Cage Theatre ... outlaws, gunfights, gallows, and the infamous Boothill Cemetery are all here. Even if you're not a history or western fan, chances are you've heard of a few of those.
On my way to Tombstone, I passed many small towns with nary a sign of life in them. It seems like out in the west there are lots of little towns just barely hanging on. People prefer being close to big city amenities, I guess. But, it's good to see some of these old towns, like Tombstone and Jerome (about four hours north) preserved.
When Tombstone was founded in the 1800s, there were a lot of people moving there for silver mine jobs, and many cowboys (also known as traveling hands) came too. These cowboys tended to be nomadic gamblers, drinkers and sometimes thieves – my brothers could have fit right in – kidding! What set the time apart was that they argued with guns. That’s how the infamous fight between “the law” and the gunslingers at the O.K. Corral took place.
Someone really savvy at marketing has taken over Tombstone. It's like a TV set, or I imagine, the Disney-like version of a ghost town now. Everything has been commercialized and tourist-ified, and that takes some of the fun out of it. Though I guess it’s a matter of perspective. Many tourists like having kitschy stuff to do with their kids, and Tombstone provides it in spades. Regardless of your preference, it’s a famous old town filled with history and beautiful old buildings and spectacular surroundings. Plus, the drive is pretty, just watch out for the outlaws (just kidding).
Speaking of outlaws, many of those cowboys ended up in the old Boothill Graveyard, which is still there, and like everything in Tombstone, you can see it for a fee. The stones are simple “tombstone” style grave markers with a stack of rocks mounded on top. It was called Boothill because many of the people buried there died violently “with their boots on.” It was restored, and a few original graves remain, like this popular one: “Here lies Lester Moore, Four Slugs from a 44, No Les, No More.”
I went to Tombstone at Christmas Day, and, for me, it was the best day because nobody was there except the ghosts. Everything was closed, and tumbleweeds blew past unencumbered, just like they should. Yeehaw.