Daniel F. Smith in Arizona
My quest for a hat beginneth. First stop, the W. M. Brown Holster Company. This is a store that does all things leather, and that either has some very noisy animals around the back or has a small sideline in painful dentistry. There were no hats big enough for my head, and no evidence of tooth pulling. It turned out that the leather craftsman, Colin, was also a British ex-patriot. He vacationed in Arizona for several years before deciding to leave his career in carpentry and move out to Tombstone, where, apparently, his leather working skills were in great demand. The store is full of decorated reproduction and genuine western stuff. I was also privileged to learn about the difference between a quickdraw holster (invented in Hollywood, and not much use for riding) and a regular holster (as seen in the older western movies). I won't even mention the Italian connection.... For more information he pointed me to the writings of Marshall Trimble, which is apparently a good read.
|Holster store: this seemed a good place to start on my hat quest.||Colin: I asked him to pose in a rugged fashion. He didn't disappoint.|
Let us proceedeth onwards, mine destiny for headwear yet awaiteth me! Allen Street is what you might call the main drag in Tombstone. This would be reasonably fitting, as during the daytime there are horses and carriages moving slowing up and down the street, leaving behind exhaust that must be dragged away nightly. There is also the cast of extras. If you're ugly---and I don't mean just unattractive, but a genuinely, scream-inducingly ugly---then this is your town. Let me put it like this, although there were plenty of decent looking costumed extras, some of the faces could have sunk a thousand steamships. Genuine teeth or not, it certainly made me feel as if a gunfight might break out any minute. Later in the day several gunfights broke out. Luckily I wasn't near them because the law enforcement in the city just stood by and did nothing---can you believe it? There were even City (ahem) Licenses on display in the Birdcage Theater ("Hang in a prominent position over the bed"). I found a hat store and ducked inside. Apparently my head is a size 7-1/2 or slightly larger, and I even got a wide-brimmed cowboy hat. It was Made in USA, which might be Palm Springs Florida for all I know. I'm still getting it broken in.
|Big Nose Kate's Saloon: I didn't step inside, but the people stepping outside agreed that her nose was noticeably prominent.||Gold!: they were repasting the leaf on some of the buildings---presumably this is off-season.||O.K. Corral: this is the real place; complete with authentic transportation and gunfights daily at 2pm.|
Now with a hat in hand (or on head) I felt free to explore the interesting and arcane world of themed gift shops. Spittoons $20, fake guns $11, real guns $400, glass statues $50, giant cactus skeletons unmarked ("Could you gift wrap it please?"). One of the store attendants was called Darlene. She was originally from the Sacramento area and her sister lives in San Jose. She even related how one day a customer came in, explaining how she looked familiar and it turned out the customer lived on the same street as her sister. Darlene gave me some travel and sightseeing tips, the principal one being to spend more time here. She's right, of course: there is a lot to see and do in Arizona.
|San Jose: a little reminder of home.||Tombstone flora: one of the views from Tombstone.||Tombstone landscape: it's really quite a stark but beautiful area.|
After narrowly missing being caught in another gunfight I headed down to Bisbee. This small town has a strange topology, mostly because it was built inside a small valley. This in turn was because there was a huge and very old mining operation there. The Queen Mine extracted copper (and silver and gold, etc.) ore from the 1880s to the 1980s, and the town prides itself on its copper history. The surrounding rocks were deep red.
But there was a mine to visit, and I love peering into deep dark holes. Actually, it wasn't very deep: we went 1500 feet into the hillside straight across. The first thing I'll say is that when you go from 100 degrees to 50 degrees in 20 seconds, it feels like you're about to freeze. A family from east of Houston was sitting behind me on the mine car and I enjoyed listening to their drawling voices. We learned about carbide drill bits, wooden caging, compressed air and dynamite blasting patterns. All fun stuff, and I was relieved to get back out in to the warm again. (Ha! 100 degrees is merely warm?)
|Hole: one of the open-air mines in Bisbee.||Ore: it's easy to see why people settled to do mining in Bisbee; this is apparently low-grade ore.|
I headed over to route 666. Not the famous route 66 but its lesser-known sibling. This isn't a very exciting road, though the scenery of the mountains and plains was still breathtaking. One interesting thing did happen at the border checkpoint, but I didn't find out what until afterwards. I hadn't been particularly near Mexico, but INS seems to have an active interrogation system in place on the major highways inside Arizona. "Hello, how are you doing?", "Good, and you?". No response. "Are you the only person in this vehicle?" "Yes." "What's this in the back?" "That's my luggage." "What was your purpose for being here?" "I was being a tourist---on vacation." "Where are you heading to?" "Cochise, Tucson then the Grand Canyon", I replied. "Cochise, eh?" He smiled, wryly. Then he asked me the usual border crossing things about drugs ("No"), personal drugs ("Er, no" as I pondered whether caffeine and chocolate counted), alcohol ("No"), large sums of money ("Not any more!" with a cheerful smile---probably not a good move in retrospect, and I doubt that $200 counts as large anyway) and eventually he dismissed me with a "Well, you can get away with it this time: get out of here." They had probably heard about the rain coming on the radio. (It wasn't very wet.) I took his advice and left, though I'd have loved to take a picture and chatted, I didn't quite have the courage.
|Desert bloom: more of those common flowers, looking decidedly more moist.||Silver lining: every cloud has one.|
It turns out that the town of Cochise is a figment of my computer map's imagination. I found this out when I tried to go there---although there's a Cochise county or sorts, I couldn't find an actual town where the dot was. Oops. I wanted to find "The Thing". It is heavily advertised as being the Mystery of the Desert. My trusty guide book (the same "Vail" one) said it was a mystery why anyone would want to go to Cochise to visit it. Therefore, it was my solemn sworn duty to check out this really tacky tourist trap. I picked a direction at random on I-10 and found "The Thing" a few exits later---so much for Cochise. It totally lived up to my expectations, and I recommend that anyone who likes this kind of thing should go and see it. There were tour busses there, and I was treated to a lightning storm (though no sunset) on the way back to Tucson.
|Signpost: it seems that Mike decided to find the middle of nowhere, and build a steak house.||The Thing: I saw the thing. You can too.|
You'd have thought that a place like Arizona, being so close to Mexico, would have some high quality local Mexican restaurants. The founder of Green Valley's principle Mexican restaurant is from Fremont, California, and he heard about how there was a terrific opportunity for this style in southern Arizona. Just goes to show. But why oh why does everything here have to close at 8pm?
I will visit the Titan Missile Museum tomorrow. Just for good measure, TNT was showing Wargames on the television. How young Allie Sheedy and Matthew Broderick looked in 1983, and how tacky some of the hardware setups were. But however much liberty they took with the gizmos, you can't fault a riveting storyline. I spent a lot of the movie trying to track down the places mentioned on the computer map I've got, and correlating it with hours in transit. It's amazing how much closer places are when you've got film editing. I still couldn't find Goose Island in Oregon ("three miles away from a tactical target") and my map doesn't let me search on places on interest. Bah. I greatly enjoyed watching Sunnyvale, CA come up as area code 311, now that I actually know where most of these places are. As opposed to when I previously saw it and assumed that everywhere was an hour's drive away from Seattle. I think I saw a bit of the University of Washington in there too. Anyway, I get to find out how much of it was true to life in the morning. Yawn.
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