The Wild Wild West

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The welcoming committee

The welcoming committee

We are staying in the general vicinity of Tucson for a while and made a short hop to the town of Benson for a little trip back to the wild wild West.  Benson was a railroad center for nearby mining towns and there is an Escapees campground there. After being members of Escapees for over two years, we finally stayed in one of their parks. And the SKP Saguaro Co-op (available only to members) is a great place to hang for awhile.

Everyone, and I mean everyone there is extremely friendly and welcoming.benson  003benson  005

But even though we were in the middle of the desert, it rained our entire first day. Part of a front that came in through California. Part two came through a couple of days later.  Time for a little nesting.benson  006benson  008

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But we of course had to go check out the famous town of Tombstone about a half an hour away. The O.K. Corral in Tombstone is the site of the famous gunfight between Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday and Tom and Frank McLaury and Bill Clanton, resulting in the death of the latter three.benson  039benson  027benson  015Three companies offer different re-enacments. The gunfight was not without controversy as two of the men killed may not have been armed. Read more about the gunfight and events leading to it here.

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benson  038benson  025Tombstone is still a cool little Western town, if a bit touristy.  But the main street is closed to vehicles and is lined with authentic buildings.   Main Street is also sprinkled with people in period dress to add to the ambiance.  benson  012benson  011

benson  040benson  033benson  036We had lunch at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon. Namesake Kate, one of the “shady ladies” became the common-law wife of one Doc Holliday. The saloon is all done up in old west kitsch.  Fun!

benson  037benson  013benson  046benson  048The most interesting site for me was the Boothill Cemetery, where over 250 people were buried. Most of them were the town’s first pioneers. The cemetery was neglected for many years and reclaimed by nature, but the main part has been beautifully restored by some of the town’s citizens.benson  047benson  051


Among the people buried here are outlaws and their victims including Tom and Frank McLaury and Bill Clanton of OK Corral fame. Causes of death include hangings, killed by Indians, shootings, poisonings, suicides, falling into mines as well as a few diseases and other natural causes.  While walking through the cemetery I was transported to the late 1800’s and marveled at the resilience of the people who lived here at that time.

benson  016benson  018Another fascinating place was the Bird Cage Theatre, a theatre, saloon, gambling hall, and brothel that opened during the mining boom of the 1880’s. The theatre was billed as one of the meanest and wildest places in Tombstone, and it’s said that 26 people were killed there during its eight years of operation.benson  021benson  022

The name referred to 14 “cages” or “cribs” that were suspended from the ceiling, 7 on each side of the gambling hall, where “shady ladies plied their trade”.   The “ladies of the night” would close the drapes on the cribs when entertaining their clients. And the “real ladies” of the town never entered or even walked on the street in front of the Bird Cage Theatre.

But the theatre also hosted shows by many famous entertainers of the time.

benson  020One interesting little poster made clear that prostitutes were expected to always walk on the shady side of the street, never the sunny side. Hence the term “shady ladies”.

The Bird Cage Theatre was sealed in 1889, when the town went bust after mines closed due to water seepage. What’s remarkable is that when new owners purchased it in 1934 and reopened it, they found that it was, for the most part, undisturbed. And it is still in its original condition with the addition of a number of artifacts from the town.benson  017

The theatre is said to be haunted, and there are ghost tours in the evening.  I’m glad I didn’t sign up for a ghost tour, because on my self-guided tour I felt a very heavy weight the moment I entered and it didn’t lift until I left.benson  010

benson  028Of course, we signed up for one of the gunfights – pretty hokey, but it was at the actual O.K. Corral and included displays of old artifacts including an antique hearse, and an interesting documentary narrated by Vincent Price with a cool old diorama of various boom and bust phases of the town.benson  029

One of these is unlike the others ...

One of these is unlike the others …

benson  043Also included was a copy of the Tombstone Epitaph that reported news of the trial that took place after the famous gunfight.  Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday were the defendants and testimony from the prosecution and defense is recorded in the paper. They were  declared not guilty and released.

benson  041benson  042The Tombstone Epitaph is the oldest newspaper in Arizona and its original building now houses various displays.  Old printing presses include the original one which was brought by ship around South America.  Displays also include lots of information about the history of the paper.  A cool old building and worth visiting.

During our week in Benson we also took time to research health care plans and submit our application.  And, ironically, during out health care planning, I caught a terrible cold, which lasted the rest of our week here. Ugh.

benson  057benson  056benson  058benson  059benson  060On the weekend, we headed to the 34th Cascabel Community Fair. Cascabel is “a rural community of about 200 ranchers, artists, farmers, ecologists and retirees.” Town residents Barbara Clark and her husband, David Blocker host the fair on their 83-acre property, where they live and operate a pottery business named Cascabel Clayworks.

The last five miles to the property are on an unpaved road, but it was quite a nice little fair, with live music, homemade soups served by the people who made them, and a nice variety of vendors.   Funds from the fair go toward the community center, the volunteer fire department and community garden. We got to tour the home that the hosts built here and we found a beautiful handmade gift for our soon to arrive grand-nephew!

Cascabel is also known for their Bird Sanctuary, which was offering tours in exchange for a small donation during the fair. Incredibly, the sanctuary houses over 700 exotic birds.  Most are given up by owners who didn’t realize what they signed up for when they bought an exotic bird or weren’t prepared to care for them for the 40-60 year lifespan that many of these birds have. The Oasis Sanctuary is the largest accredited parrot sanctuary in the U.S.benson  061

There are numerous aviaries and structures where the birds have room to roam throughout the 72-acre property. These birds live here for life.  The sanctuary doesn’t breed them or adopt them out as they believe that these animals should not be kept as pets.

It’s an amazing place tucked away in the middle of nowhere.  benson  083benson  068Towards the end of our stay in Benson, we visited the town of Bisbee, another old mining town.  Bisbee is very reminiscent of some of the mining towns in Colorado. Probably because Bisbee sits at an altitude of about a mile, just like Denver.benson  066benson  084

This very hilly town is known for the Bisbee 1000 Stair Climb, a 5K run that includes climbing 1,034 stairs and is referred to as “the most unique physical fitness challenge in the USA”.benson  067benson  069

Bisbee has lots of antique stores, galleries, restaurants and other quaint shops.  Our very short visit was not at all long enough to check out the many interesting Victorian and Art Deco buildings in town, including the former Copper Queen Mine, which closed in 1985.benson  082

benson  087Alongside Bisbee sits another former copper mine, the Lavender Pit Mine, which closed in 1974. Erie Street, what is left of the former adjacent mining town of Lowell, now incorporated into Bisbee, sits on the other side.benson  073

This street is a ghost town of sorts and the buildings seem to have been left just as they were. Several have antique motorcycles in their storefronts. One has antique gym equipment in the window and modern gym equipment barely visible behind the window, we couldn’t tell if it was still in use or not. But there was no one in sight inside or outside.benson  072

benson  071There are antique cars parked in the street, and a couple of other businesses looked as if they should be open but weren’t.

Erie Street was kind of eerie, a real time capsule.  Hector loves photographing old buildings so we spent a bit of time walking around the street.

benson  102On our way back from Bisbee we stopped in at the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area in the town of Sierra Vista. We had Angel with us and our plan was to take a short walk down to the San Pedro River.benson  103

benson  104We walked around a one-mile loop, Angel with her tail up the entire way, she is a fierce girl! The area is at the confluence of the Sonoran and the Chihuahuan Desert, and boasts over 350 species of bird, 80 species of mammals and 68 species of amphibians and reptiles. Another wild, wild West of sorts.  benson  100

benson  101Our walk to the river was lovely with lots of little birds flitting about, diverse plant life and mountains in the distance.  And we noticed many interesting looking trails in this subtly beautiful area.

benson  090benson  089Well, even though our exploring time in Benson was cut short due to my being sick, the rain, and planning for our health care plan (which we submitted by the deadline), we still enjoyed the area very much.benson  088

benson  091On the way back to Benson the last evening of our stay, we were graced by yet another beautiful desert sunset.

~ Brenda

22 thoughts on “The Wild Wild West

  1. Great entry! I enjoyed Tombstone more through your story and pictures than I did on my visit there years ago. And Bisbee looks cooler than I remember. Good job, you guys. You totally rock.

    • Hi, we do boondock once in a while, but are still learning. As far as dumping, the best resource I’ve found is the website There is also a Sanidumps app for mobile devices. We’ve used some public dumps (found through Sanidumps) some rest areas have them, and some gas stations. We’ve also used a dump in a Cabelas store, which is free if you are buying something in the store, but I’m not sure if all the stores have them. We’ve also used dumps in RV parks, public and private. Many will let you use their dump for a fee if you’re not staying there. The fee is usually $10. The longest we’ve gone without dumping is 10 days, but you really have to manage your water.
      Nina and Paul of the Wheeling It blog do a LOT of boon docking, and she has an entire menu full of great posts on this topic, many of which are reviews. This post is specifically about dumping
      Happy Trails,

  2. Brenda, I hope you are now feeling better . We also enjoyed our stop there at Tombstone and Bisbee even if the towns were covered with snow then and was cold.
    If you are still in that vicinity, Wildwater Draw is a good spot for the thousands of SandHills Cranes wintering there. Also if rock formations excites you a visit to Chiricahua Monument is another worthwhile visit.
    Wishing you and Hector a Merry Christmas and enjoy the holidays in the desert.
    -Steve and MonaLiza

    • Oh, my! I’m sure they look quite different in the snow. Thanks for recommending Wildwater Draw and Chiracahua Monument. We had a few down days because of my cold and missed getting out further. I’m pretty sure we’ll return though. We’re now in the area of Organ Pipe National Monument – beautiful and will spend Christmas here. I’m better and Hector is recuperating from the same cold, which he caught from me.
      Merry Christmas to you and Steve,

  3. Phew! You guys did SO MUCH! I think it took us 2 years to do all those outings. Great round-up as usual, with wonderful pics. If you decide to come back I second MonaLiza’s recommendation of Whitewater Draw for the Sandhill Cranes. You can even boondock there (3 day limit if I recall).


    • I’d love to boondock near the sandhill cranes – last year we saw them at Bosque del Apache in NM. I’m sure we’ll return to Benson – thanks for the recommendation.
      Merry Christmas to you and Paul,

  4. Fantastic. I agree with Jean Lewis. Visiting this area through your eyes is more impressive than my memory of the town of Bisbee. Maybe I’ll give it another try this year. Wonderful pics! Sending love to Angel. -Linda

  5. It definitely looks wild and wooly there! Loved the recount and the photos, and the sparrows!! Brenda, I sure hope you’re feeling better now. Let the Arizona heat warm you up. And Angel looks peaceful and happy, and I’m thankful.

    Sending you both warm wishes and big hugs for a beautiful holiday!

    Lots of love,

    • I’m feeling better and I’m thankful too that Angel is doing so well.
      Big hugs to you and have a Merry Christmas,

    • There is much more to see in this area, we only hit the tip of the iceberg. Hope you enjoy!
      Merry Christmas to you and John,

  6. You guys certainly know how to have fun!!! I never thought there was so much to do or see in that area! You know people are dying to get to Boothill.
    Love the colorful little towns and the great pics, of course.
    Angel looks vibrant and happy, which is wonderful.
    Have a great Christmas and hope to see you soon!

  7. Oh, my — what a chuckle we got from the photo of Hector and the (other) 4 badasses!!!! I thought of the children’s game song,”One of these things is not like the other; one of these things just doesn’t belong….”!!!!! : ) Good to see Angel on your outing, too — give her a bandana and she’d fit in the above referenced pix quite well! Merry Christmas, Friends Three! xoxo

    • I love that photo too! Thinking of Angel with a bandanna with the gunfighters put a smile on my face.
      Merry Christmas to all of you!

  8. Such interesting places to see. Love the Wild West. Hope you are feeling better soon Brenda and the healthcare costs don’t impact your travels substancially. I hear the increases are rather signifcant from last year for many people that can afford it. Merry Christmas and safe travels. Karen

    • I am feeling better. The insurance we had was part of Hector’s pension, which they supposedly subsidized, but it was very expensive. Changing over to the ACA is going to save us a lot of money.
      Merry Christmas to you and Mike, enjoy Texas,

  9. Hope you are now feeling well again Brenda. You two sure had a whirlwind trip in So. AZ. We have stayed at the Benson SKP resort in the past and are now at the Jojoba Hills SKP Resort in Aguanga, CA. Thanks for showing us Tombstone once again. We haven’t been since our motorcycling days several years ago. We would love to take a trip back to Bisbee as it seems to have changed much since our last visit. Merry Christmas to you and Hector. Have a blessed holiday and many grand adventures in 2015. 🙂

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