Thursday, October 31, 2013

"The Town Too Tough to Die"

Benson, AZ                      (Click on Pictures to Enlarge)

......well that would be Tombstone, AZ, of course.

We visited Tombstone on Tuesday and Wednesday and learned a lot about western history, and had a great time to boot!  For those not familiar with Tombstone, probably the most famous (or infamous) event occurred here on October 26, 1881.  That was the gunfight at the OK Corral.

First, a bit of factual history about Tombstone.  The town was founded in 1877 by Ed Schieffelin, a prospector who found a rich vein of silver.  Because the Arizona Territory was such a harsh environment at that time, soldiers at nearby Camp Huachuca (later became Ft. Huachuca) told Schieffelin that the only thing he would find in this area was his own tombstone.  The name stuck with Schieffelin and the town became known as Tombstone.

In 1879 a town site was laid out in the area previously known as Goose Flats.  With word of the silver strike, people flocked to the region.  By the mid-1880's the population had grown to around 7500 people. (Keep in mind that only white males over the age of 21 were counted in the census of the day.)  Total population estimates range from 15,000 to 20,000 persons.  At one time, Tombstone was the fastest growing town between St. Louis and San Francisco.  That fact alone was a shocker to us.

Tombstone was quite a town.  It had over 100 saloons during the mining days.  It had a huge "red light" district where prostitution was legal at that time (and taxed, I might add). It had one of the first swimming pools in the southwest which is still used today. The Tombstone Epitaph was the town's first newspaper and is still in publication today.

One of the measures of a town's "sophistication" in the early days was the presence of a theater.  Tombstone had two notable theaters. The first was Schieffelin Hall built in June, 1881 by Ed Schielffelin's brother Al.  This is where the respectable people in town attended the theater. At the time, it was the largest adobe structure in the southwest.

The other theater was the Bird Cage. It opened on December 25, 1881 and also contained a saloon, gambling hall, and brothel.  It was open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  The Bird Cage closed in 1889. It survived one of the fires which destroyed many of the wooden structures in Tombstone because of the adobe building material.  The unique thing about the Bird Cage is that it today is a very accurate look back into Tombstone's history because once it closed in 1889 nothing was disturbed prior to 1934 when new owners purchased the property and opened it as a tourist stop.

Today much of Tombstone has been re-built (because of the two fires in 1881 and 1882) to portray the Tombstone of the era.  A good place to get oriented is the building which today houses the Visitor Center. This building was originally the site of a bank.

After picking up a few brochures we decided to take an "overview" tour on the trolley.  This tour was pretty informative, but we learned by the end of our second day that "true history" is sometimes a bit slanted depending upon who is giving the talk.  If you really would like to learn as much as possible in a short period of time, we would advise you to take one of Dr. Jay's Tombstone Walking Tours.  We took the 2-hour tour and he was excellent.  This is the "slow" time in Tombstone (before all of the snowbirds start to arrive for the winter) and we were the only two taking the tour on Tuesday afternoon.

One of the best museums in Tombstone is located in the old Cochise County Courthouse.  The courthouse was built in 1882 at a cost of approximately $45,000.  It remained the courthouse until 1929 when the county seat was moved to Bisbee, a significant copper mining town. Today, the former Courthouse is administered by the Arizona State Parks.

Seven people were hanged during the Courthouse's tenure in town. These are the reconstructed gallows at the rear of the Courthouse.

Here's a look at the court room located upstairs in the Courthouse.

The Tombstone City Hall was built in 1882. It is located on Fremont Street (today's Hwy. 80).

One street over is Allen Street. This is the area closed to vehicular traffic and attempts to recreate the "feeling" of the 1880s.

This is also the street to take a tour of the town in a stagecoach.

We ate lunch on Wednesday at Big Nose Kate's Saloon. Big Nose Kate was the "girlfriend" of Doc Holliday. This place was pretty interesting and you could really get a sense of what it must have been like on a bustling day back in the Old West.  There is live music and the food is really pretty good. The bar is as is would have been back in the 1880's with the addition, however, of bar stools for today's population.

Lots of fun things to see in Big Nose Kate's.

Of course, a trip to Tombstone wouldn't be complete without learning about the shootout at the OK Corral. Let me just say that Hollywood movies have greatly distorted the factual account of the shootout. The shootout took place in the alley off of Fremont Street leading into the area of the OK Corral.  It was a gunfight between Wyatt, Morgan, and Virgil Earp and Doc Holliday against Billy and Ike Clanton and Frank and Tom McLaury. The fight lasted 30 seconds and between 25-30 bullets were fired.  In the end, Billy Clanton and Frank and Tom McLaury lie dead in the street. Morgan and Virgil Earp were wounded and Doc Holliday received a minor injury.  Only Wyatt Earp was uninjured.

The three casualties were buried nearby in Boot Hill Graveyard.  The cemetery was opened in 1879 and used until 1884 when the new city cemetery was opened on the west end of  Allen Street.

Some of the headstones are amusing, some sad.  Many graves are only marked as "unknown". 

The visit to Tombstone was very enjoyable.  Let me warn in advance that the "touristy" attractions can become expensive.  We did a few things, but left several others for another visit.  For those interested, here are the current ticket prices as of this blog writing.  (Each ticket price is listed as per person.)  Listed in order of best value for the money.    (MY OPINION ONLY HERE.)

Dr. Jay's Tombstone Walking Tour (2 hour)     $25
Cochise County Court House Museum      $5
OK Corral/Historama Combination Ticket   $10
Combination Trolley Tour and Helldorado Town  $10
Trolley Tour    $7

Thanks for stopping by to take a look!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Saguaro SKP Co-Op in Benson, AZ

Benson, AZ

On Friday we left Yuma and headed east on Interstate 8 moving ever closer to our "wintering over" location.  Because there is still an SKP Co-Op in this part of AZ we decided to investigate.  We jumped on Interstate 10, headed thru Tucson and arrived at the Saguaro SKP Co-Op in Benson, AZ just  after 2 PM.

All guests are escorted to their sites via the office.  This is done for several reasons. First, to aid a guest not familiar with the Co-Op layout and more importantly to make certain that the guest parks in the appropriate spot on the site.

In SKP Co-Ops there are normally two types of sites available to a "non-member" of the Co-Op. Either a regular FHU site or a dry camping site. The latter would normally be used by travelers just wishing to stay for a day or two, or could be used if the leased lots were full.

300 Series Sites
This Co-Op has two additional offerings, however. One section (700s) can be rented for up to 6 months at a time. The lots are unimproved, but have FHUs.  The second offering (300s) can be rented for up to 1 year and have a small shed in addition to FHUs.  Renters on both of these sites can come and go as they please within their period of rental.

All of the roads within the Co-Op are paved, very wide, and in very nice condition.

Another difference in this Co-Op from the ones we've visited thus far are the allowance of "casitas".  These can be up to 288 sq. ft. with an additional 200 sq. ft. under a patio.  The units are allowed to have water, electric, and sewer inside, but residents are not allowed to "live" in these units and there must be an RV on site for living. (This is due to the type of local zoning requirements for the type of park.) 

Some of the casita owners are quite creative with their designs.  There are many different buildings in the park.

Here's a front and rear shot of one of my favorite casitas.  It truly embodies the "look" of the southwest.

The park has a central clubhouse where meetings and activities take place.

Some of the spaces inside include a general meeting and dining area, a room for playing billiards, a puzzle room, a library containing books and videos, and a stage for shows.

The park also has a very nice (and very clean) laundry room.

Also, for those interested in woodworking, a small shop is open to anyone visiting the park.  The maintenance shed has a wealth of tools (rakes, shovels, etc.) which may be used by anyone.  Just sign them out.

Aside from the "improved" lots with casitas already on them, there are a few totally unimproved lots which are still available to those who would like to design and build their own structures.

If not interested in building a casita, you can just build a small shed to store a few items.

I'm spending a bit more blog space on describing and showing different facilities at this park because we're actually thinking about adding our name to the "waiting list" here.  We like the infrastructure of the park, but we really like the friendly people. We met a couple, Betssy and Tom, a few months ago at the Sutherlin, OR SKP Co-Op who told us that they have a leased lot here in Benson and that they would be back for the winter months.  When we checked in on Friday, we were a bit saddened to find out that they weren't here.  Well, guess who showed up on Saturday!  They are  a super nice couple and Betssy was on the "welcome" committee in Sutherlin and the first person we met there.

The Co-Op is at an elevation of approximately 3700' and is cooler in the summers than some of the valley areas nearby.  The views of the surrounding mountain ranges and desert landscape is "growing" on us easterners.

This view of the mountains from inside the park is looking back toward the entrance.

Even the various types of desert plants are beginning to look good to us.

Lastly, here's a picture of the park in relation to the desert and mountains as seen from the area of the water storage tank above and to the rear of the Saguaro Co-Op.

The Saguaro Co-Op is not our place for "wintering over" this year, however. Mainly because we've already made reservations for Nov. 1st thru Feb. 1st, and also because during the winter months the Co-Op will be full with leaseholders and it would be a bit tough to get a FHU site for any length of time. We'll be moving at the end of the week to that location.  Stay tuned!

Thanks again for stopping by to take a look.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Yuma Territorial Prison

Yuma, AZ

On Tuesday we visited the Yuma Territorial Prison.  Actually, it hasn't been a prison for many years, but is now part of the Arizona State Parks system.

The prison first accepted prisoners on July 1, 1876 and for the next 33 years 3069 prisoners (including 29 women) were held at this location.  The prison ceased to be a prison on September 15, 1909 when the last prisoners were transferred to a facility at Florence, Arizona.

The facility was neglected in the years to follow and much of the original facility was either altered to create a new bridge (to cross the Colorado River), or structures and equipment were vandalized or stolen, and the facility fell into disrepair.

Fortunately, a model is on exhibit to help visitors visualize what the prison looked like in use.

An excerpt from the Arizona State Parks website:

From the date of closure, the prison’s facilities have been occupied and used by various groups. After Yuma High School burned, the High School Board rented four structures and used them from 1910 until 1914. The school athletic teams became known as “The Criminals”. The County Hospital utilized the facilities from 1914 until 1923. In 1924, the Southern Pacific Railroad demolished the western one-third of Prison Hill to make way for the new tracks. The Veterans of Foreign Wars leased the guard’s quarters in 1931 and used it as their clubhouse until 1960. Hobos, riding the trains in the 1920’s and 1930’s, stayed in the cells, and homeless families during the Great Depression lived in the cells.

The museum has a display which speaks about the occupation of the facility by the Yuma High School from 1910-1914 and also details how the school's mascot "the Criminals" came into being. The school's football team was playing a game against a Phoenix team, which was highly favored to win, in the early years and the opposing team began calling the Yuma team criminals.  After Yuma won the game, they embraced the name (shortened it to the "Crims") and fashioned a mascot using the face of a "hardened criminal".

The museum details the first day of a new prisoner's life at the prison.  Some of those details included being photographed for their "mug" shot. The prison used a mirror placed at an angle to the prisoner so that a frontal and profile could be taken with the same photograph.  Of course, Karen and I had to take the opportunity to see what we'd look like as prisoners in the late 1800s.

 Actually, I somewhat resemble some of the criminals in the period.

Karen has way too much hair to be a prisoner.

Actually, prisoners were sent to the barber when they first arrived.

Although much of the original prison is gone today, several structures survive and give the visitor a feeling for the institution  back in the late 1800s.  The first is the main guard tower.  The tower was actually located outside the wall of the prison, but had a catwalk over to the wall which surrounds the prison. The area atop the prison walls were 5 feet in width and allowed the guards to move quickly between the corner stations.

The only entrance from the outside was thru the main entrance, or sally port.  The sally port entrance was large enough so that a wagon could be pulled between two iron gates, then searched, before allowing entrance or exit.

Today, once past the sally port, the visitor comes to the museum.  In the days of the prison, the museum now occupies a structure which was the mess hall for the prisoners.

There were a wealth of interesting displays in the museum which detailed the various offenders which were sent to the Yuma Territorial Prison. Offenders included everything from adulterers to bank robbers, forgers to murderers.


Once exploration of the museum is complete, the next area to visit is the actual cell blocks which housed the prisoners.

A view into each individual cell really "brings home" the point of how miserable it must have been to be imprisoned in this part of the country in the summer.  Each cell holds 6 prisoners with one shelf (along the back wall) used to house property and a single pot in the middle of the floor used as a toilet.

Originally, the bunks were made of wood, but due to bug infestation, metal replaced them.

Courtesy: AZ State Parks website

Unruly prisoners, or those who broke the prison rules, were sent to the "dark cell".  This was a single cell carved into the rocky hillside which housed up to 14 prisoners at one time. There was no toilet, only a grate on the floor.  Prisoners were fed bread and water once a day while inside. They were chained to the wall or a point in the center of the floor. Punishment usually ran from a few days to a week or two, but one man actually spent 120 days in the dark cell.

Moving away from the prison, a bridge known as the "Ocean to Ocean Highway Bridge" was completed in 1915. At first, I'm thinking ocean to ocean?  Then I learned that before the completion of this single-lane bridge it was necessary for vehicular traffic to divert 1200 miles to cross the Colorado River. This route followed the Old Spanish Trail which ran from St. Augustine, FL to Los Angeles, CA. The creation of the bridge and the bridge used by the railroad caused part of the Yuma Territorial Prison to be destroyed.

Now for something TOTALLY off topic for today's blog.  We visited the local Sam's Club in Yuma and we've decided that we really are in the Southwest (where, btw, it gets really hot in the summer) and saw the first canopied parking spaces we'd ever seen at a Sam's Club.  The top of the canopies have solar panels installed to take advantage of the "free" energy which is in abundance here.

Thanks for stopping by to take a look!