USA, AZ: Tombstone - To Boothill and Back RV TripHitting the road in an American camper van (a Recreational Vehicle or RV) is the way to see the great outdoors of the USA. With two weeks to head into southern California and the well-known cowboy town of Tombstone in Arizona is what western dreams are made of.
AUTHOR & PHOTOGRAPHER: ©Shane Boocock 2012
After an hour or so sorting out our RV paperwork and stowing our gear, Mark, my other writing buddy on this trip pulled our 25ft RV onto Interstate 15 on the outskirts of Los Angeles and headed south to the town of Temecula. Not wanting to drive a full day we spent an hour grocery shopping and in a little over two hours arrived at our campsite at Skinner Lake, about 10 miles outside Temecula.
For most travellers starting off on an RV trip (known as recreational vehicles in the USA), getting things set up correctly on the first night is important. Remember to give yourselves enough time to erect the awnings, hook-up water and electricity, make the beds and sort out your pots, pans and cutlery. Most importantly arrive in daylight and then relax a little while preparing dinner.
Temecula is a pretty tourist town with some popular restaurants and cafes, art galleries, wine tasting outlets and an assortment of gift shops all along Main Street. In this part of Southern California, vineyards feature heavily so it isn’t surprising that the town and this region are popular with day visitors.
After lunch in Temecula the next day we journeyed across the Vallecito Mountains to the luxury of the Springs at Borrego RV Resort for a night. The resort is located in a long valley surround by high mountains . . . a place that was already 30c degrees in the shade and it was only late April.
From Borrego Springs we drove east skirting the Salton Sea, 235 ft below sea level making our way into Arizona via Yuma – home of the Yuma Territorial Prison and the Yuma County Jail. On a map of Arizona we spotted a primitive campsite called Painted Rock Petroglyphs Campground about 100 miles past the state line and 12 miles north of the I-10 in the Painted Rock Mountains.
Thinking the campground might be full we were a tad surprised to find the only neighbours were hundreds of gophers, a few turkey vultures spiralling overhead and the odd howl of a coyote and no one else parked up in the remaining 59 campsites. One of the pleasant surprises in our campground was to find it was also home to a huge range of petroglyphs that archaeologists estimate were carved somewhere between 300 BC and AD 1450.
The main reason for our trip was to visit Tombstone. Silver is what brought people to this part of Arizona, which didn’t get statehood until 1912 – exactly 100 years ago. Life would have been hard, but out of it grew a prosperous mining town, the fastest growing city between St. Louis and San Francisco in 1880.
The following day we arrived in Apache and Geronimo territory and settled into the town made famous by Wyatt Earp, his brothers and Doc Holliday. The fact that much of Tombstone is not original does little to discourage tourists from visiting the Birdcage Theatre, Boothill and the Crystal Palace Saloon and to watch one of the many mock gunfights take place on stage sets daily. Only one adobe wall still exists at the OK Corral but that really isn’t the point . . . the dust still hasn’t settled since October 26, 1881 when the ‘Gunfight at the OK Corral,’ lasting all of 32 seconds went down in the annuals of western cowboy history.
‘What happens in Tombstone stays in Boothill.’ It’s true that in the 1880s many cowboys tried to make their mark in Tombstone and ended up in Boothill . . . Lester More was one of them. His grave marker reads: “Here lies Lester More, four slugs, no less no more.” The graveyard opened in 1878 and closed in 1884. It has over 250 bodies buried there including the Clanton’s and McLaury’s killed in the Gunfight at the OK Corral.
Our first morning at Tanque Verde Ranch, east of Tucson I mounted ‘Skipper’ – a very handsome and responsive quarter horse – but with a habit of eating anything, and I mean anything he could find enroute. We left at 8am and in 30 minutes our group were eating a fully cooked breakfast chuck-wagon style near an old ruined homestead. Also seeking breakfast was a large rattlesnake that slid under the floor of the homestead before any of the wranglers could catch it. We then remounted and carried on for another three hours into the spectacular saguaro cactus covered desert foothills. Even though it was nudging about 32c by midday the trip was one of the best horse rides I’ve taken in the last 20 years.
After two days at the ranch we drove into the Sonora Desert for a night under the stars. We arrived late in the afternoon at Gilbert Ray State Campground to a setting sun giving us enough time to barbeque steaks and then sit back and watch a full moon rise above the desert foothills. There is something magical about spending a night in a desert environment. Edward Abbey wrote a book back in the 1960s about spending a season being a ranger in Arches National Park, Utah, called Desert Solitaire. It aptly describes what it was like to live alone in the desert. If you can find a copy grab it have a good read, then you’ll understand what I’m going on about.
One of the highlights of visiting the Sonora Desert is the chance to experience a world-renowned zoo, botanical garden and a natural history museum all rolled into one. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is home to more than 300 animal species and 1200 different kinds of plants, in addition to a world class mineral collection and other amazing wonders of the desert. For the last 60 years this amazing place has educated millions of people with raptor free flights, live animal presentations, cactus gardens and other plant and animal exhibits – if you are visiting southern Arizona anytime soon, this is a not to be missed attraction.
On our last night we pulled the RV into the award-winning Pirate Cove Resort on the Colorado River. With a free afternoon we hired a pontoon river boat and loaded it with a cooler chest full of beer and wine, two fishing rods, bait and snacks for four hours of fun under the California sun. There are five dams on the Colorado River, The Glen Canyon, Hoover Dam, Davis Dam, Parker Dam and Imperial Dam. Each section of the river is different and this portion was no exception with soaring red rock cliffs and narrow canyons. The resort is just outside the town of Needles besides a portion of old Route 66 where we learned some of cult movie Easy Rider was filmed with Peter Honda and Dennis Hopper.
After 12 days on the road we both arrived back in Los Angeles with our El Monte RV still in one piece with an additional 1689 miles on the speedometer . . . the trail to Tombstone had been fulfilled.
Oh and if you’re wondering what happened to Wyatt Earp? On January 13, 1929 he died in Los Angeles at the age of 80. He was cremated and his ashes were kept for a time by his wife Josephine; she buried them in her family plot at the Hills of Eternity, a Jewish cemetery in Coloma, California, near San Francisco (Josie's family were Jewish). His enduring legacies are as frontiersman, lawman, gambler and prospector and a post office near his Mojave Desert mining claims along the Colorado River on Route 62 which bear the name, "Earp, California 92242."
T:+1 951 491 6085
The Springs at Borrego RV Resort, California
T: +1 760 767 0004
Sonora Desert Museum, Arizona
T: +1 520 883 2702
Tanque Verde Ranch, Tucson, Arizona
T: +1 800 234 3833
Stampede RV Park, Tombstone, Arizona
T: +1 520 457 3738
Pirate Cove Resort, CA
T: +1 760 326 9000
El Monte RV
T: +1 888 337 2214
Arizona Office of Tourism
Tombstone, Cochise County, Arizona
Some Helpful hints: most RV companies like El Monte, who we’ve used for the past seven years offer a shuttle service between your hotel and their depots but book it in advance. After filling out the appropriate forms they’ll teach you all the tricks of how to operate an RV including the internal gadgets such as heaters, generators and power slide-outs as well as how to attach the external hook-ups: town water supply and electricity – believe us it’s easy. Three items they don’t usually supply as part of the regular kit is a good road map or GPS navigator, a coffee maker and toaster – so remember to ask for them. By the time you’re ready to depart it will be mid-day so plan on a short first day, two to three hour drive and have a pre-planned route (using your new Rand McNally Atlas) to your pre-planned campsite. Allow time to buy your supplies and food enroute. Finally, remember to set your seat and mirrors before you leave the depot.
Breaking Camp in an RV after the first few days is a routine that you’ll soon get used to. We always start on the exterior first. It’s important to unhook the town water supply hose and electricity cable (people have been known to drive off with them still attached). Next carefully retract and stow the awning securely (remembering to close the side door first – which on our second day we forgot to do. BOOM, BANG). With the engine running retract the slide-out lounge. Then turn off your water supply pump, close the bathroom door securely and remember to close windows and roof hatches. The last job is to stow anything left on bench tops as they tend to become flying objects on the first bend in the road.
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