Tombstone, Bieber, Saguaro NP, El Guero Canelo
I’m your Huckleberry. Off Interstate 10 down Route 80 lies a city more legend than reality. If you haven’t seen the movie, go see it. Like all state roads, Route 80 rolls through small pockets of civilization unknown to the reason of the world. I was warned by the folks at the Arizona welcome center in Benson that Tombstone was a tourist trap, and that the people there were out there ‘looking for something.’ But after watching Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday, I couldn’t resist.
When you reach the city, you can see the rebuilt town with its shops, saloons, and hotels. Most old cities have burned down once or twice, and Tombstone is no different. Rolling through, you have to see the OK Corral, which has a reenactment going on throughout the day, with a shootout and all. Hollywood and folklore adds more to the story, but maybe we had to be there in 1881 to fully appreciate it.
My next stop was the Birdcage Theater, the only original building in Tombstone that hasn’t burned down in the past 136 years. The self guided tour is 10 bucks, but totally worth it. You’ll see the bar with bullets till in it, the stage, the cages, and the poker table Doc Holliday himself played at in the basement. The theater is in great condition, with only minimal upkeep to keep it close to its original
For dinner, I tried Big Nose Kate’s Saloon. The lady in the gift shop at the Birdcage said I had to try their Rueben, and I’m a sucker for Ruebens. And I wasn’t disappointed. The saloon is full of tourist, locals, and a TV that was playing ‘Tombstone.’ Met a man sitting at the bar, dressed in the cowboy garb and drinking non-alcoholic beer. He had a wife and family on the east coast, but moved to Tombstone ‘looking for something.’ He said he was going to go back to his family, but he wasn’t quite ready.
The bartender recommended I head over to Tombstone Brewery and try a flight. I ordered a flight, and like most microbreweries, it was quite delicious. A couple on a harley showed up, and we started talking. He recommended I head down to Bisbee if I was in the area. “it’s a fun town” Jack said “even if it’s full of hippies and gays.” He saw the couple on the other side of the bar with the ponytails and tie die and quickly remarked ‘Not that there’s anything wrong with that!’ in the most Seinfeld way possible. So Bisbee would be my next stop, heading further south than the original plan.
Continue down 80 and you’ll slowly see the terrain change, with rolling hills and more green. Of course, the sun was down, so i didn’t see any of this on my way to Bisbee. The city pops out of no nowhere, with small houses on the hillsides and the main town nestled in the valley. A mining town, Bisbee was the happening place in the early 20th century. But as time went on, it went the way as most southwestern cities went.
The town gives off the same vibe as Rehoboth or Little Five Points, the clash of the past and present create a fresh atmosphere, attracting the free spirits of both the young and old. Hippies, hipsters, artists and vagabonds fill the town, adding to the experience.
I booked a night at the Copper Queen Hotel, which you may have seen on ‘Ghost Hunters’ and ‘Ghost Adventures.’ They say it’s haunted, but I slept like a baby there. The Copper Queen was originally for investors and the rich, which is evident throughout the hotel. Even after over a century, the charm isn’t lost.
There’s a bar on the first floor, usually alive with music and travelers. If you want to see the nightlife, everyone will tell you to hit three spots: The Grand, St Elmo’s, and Room 4, the smallest bar in Arizona.
My first stop was The Grand. It’s usually known for it’s live music on the weekends, but the bartender informed me that he was an hour late and couldn’t get ahold of him. So I decided to keep walking.
Next was St. Elmo’s Bar, which holds the title of the oldest bar in Arizona. It’s busy, vibrant, and fast paced, with both locals and tourists sharing the bar. Live music fills the air, but so does the crowded floor. I was looking for something smaller, and a bit quieter.
Bisbee not only holds the title of the oldest bar in the state, but also the smallest. On the second floor in the Silver King Hotel, there’s a room with a bar and four stools in Room 4. After a night of live music and action, the quietest place to grab a margarita is in Room 4. It’s an intimate setting, seeing that the bar is the size of a late 18th century hotel room. But if you need a break from the live music and loud conversations, head to Room 4. Head there early, because they close before everyone else.
For a late night snack, it was suggested to me numerous times to head over to The Quarry. Like every other place open after 10PM in Bisbee, it is full of live music and a mix of tourists and locals. But the distinctive difference is the food. The grilled cheese with meatloaf was recommended, so I went for it. The live music was a hooligan with a lone guitar with a basedrum and and highhat. She brings out the sandwich, and it looks like something you would make in your parents kitchen when they were out. But the taste, it was phenomenal. Better than your mother’s meatloaf, and even better than your ex girlfriend’s grilled cheese. Every bite reminded you that the greasy sandwich would go straight to your ass, but it is worth it. The only regret is that I didn’t order two.
All the old ladies will tell you to head down to Lowell and get breakfast at the Bisbee Breakfast Club. There has been a few other BBCs opened in Tucson and Mesa, but they say Lowell’s is the best. You pass the old Copper Mine, and roll into Lowell, which is more of a ghost town than anything else. Route 80 runs left of the main street, which has the BBC, an ‘active’ motorcycle shop, and a Harley and Indian window display, and a mock up police station.
The BBC has that welcome diner feel most restaurants today fail to emulate. They’ll tell you no matter what you order, you need to get the biscuits. So, ti was the Chorizo, with a biscuit, and four cups of coffee. Why four? As delicious as it was, it will put you into a food coma, and the only way to combat the Z’s is to drink no less than three cups of coffee.
Saquaro National Park-
It’s pronounced ‘Sah-where-oh’ which I finally learned after leaving Arizona. Off I-10, it’s a small patch of land outside of Tucson. Saguaro National Park is named after the Saguaro Cacti, which the park is full of. I’m no Cacti guy, but the Saguaro is the Cactus we think of in TV and movies. You know, the ‘New Age Pastor’ Cactus, or the ‘whoah now, back off guy’ cactus, or the ‘hands up, don’t shoot’ cactus.
The park has a driving loop, where you can see and hike as much as you can. The temperature rose to 105, and the cacti were looking more and more…animated. It was time to get some horchata and a Sonora Dog.
El Guero Canelo-
My father told me on numerous occasions ‘If you’re ever in Tucson, you have to stop by El Guero Canelo’s and get a Sonora Dog. I’d fly to Tucson just for a hotdog, it’s worth the airfare.’ So dehydrated and sunburnt, i headed to El Guero Canelo’s.
The first think you notice is that most of the people there are, well, not really tourists. The second thing is that you’re speaking the wrong language. And the third? Well, you wonder what exactly to order. But since the Sonora Dog was recommended, and I’m a sucker for Horchata, thats what I went with. The buns are made on site, and taste like nothing you’d find in a grocery store. Light as a croissant, but full of taste. The Hot dog was wrapped in bacon, but in order to eat it, you needed to go through diced tomatoes, onions, and light dressing, which buries the bacon wrapped hot dog and homemade bun. All the ingredients by themselves are fresh and delicious, but the combination makes it, well, in the words of my father ‘worth the airfare.’