Arizona to Texas
Checking out of the Downtown Clifton in Tuscon, I showed the guy on the desk our map and asked advice on whether we should take Highway 83 through the Santa Rita Foothills and Las Cienegas Conservation Area, or the 80 through a place called Tombstone which also sounded interesting. The recommendation was Tombstone.
Knowing what to expect from the heat today, we filled up the cooler bag with ice and water, and headed off on the short hour-and-a-half stint to a spookily named place. What we found was more than we expected.
Gunfight at the O.K. Corral
Unbeknown to us both, Tombstone was where the American Wild West’s most famous shootout happened back in 1881. It lasted just 30-seconds but ended up being the moment symbolising a frontier overrun by outlaws who took advantage of law enforcers too few of number to keep order.
It’s a small town, well preserved and surely the feature of many film sets. There are shootouts re-enacted multiple times a day, but the place to find out everything is the courthouse. It is all in there.
The part I found fascinating about Tombstone was the history of its short economic cycle. In 1877, a man named Ed Schieffelin searched the wilderness around here looking for gold and silver. A friend had said to him “The only rock you will find out there will be your own tombstone”. Ed found silver and his town was named.
At its peak, Tombstone was generating $170k a day (an equivalent of $4.5m now). it had everything from an opera house to a Chinese restaurant. It was a huge boom, and ultimately a victim of its own success, as the amount of silver pulled out of the ground helped crash the price and halted the good times. The price later recovered for a while, only for the mines to hit water. Pumps held back the inevitable for a few years, but when a fire took hold of the main pumping plant in 1886, coinciding with another price slump. It was all over.
Bisbee and Erie Street
One Saturday morning, months ago in London, while looking for an interesting set of roads to get us from Tucson to Marfa we happened across a place named Erie Street on Google Maps. Zooming in close to the border with Mexico the words ‘Abandoned Gas Station’ caught the eye and the little yellow man was dropped to see what was there. That’s how Bisbee ended up being a destination.
Bisbee is another old mining town, this one still digging copper from the ground. Touristy, but also a place people live and work so less Disneyfied than Tombstone. We drove through most of it heading for Erie Street, the last area remaining of an old town called Lowell.
Lowell was completely dug up by the mining company working this area, all that remains is this street. It is ghost town like. A group of locals have banded together forming the Lowell Americana Project, creating something close to an outdoor museum. The shops are dressed as they once would have been, vintage cars parked up look like they never move. It’s like stepping back in time.
Bisbee Breakfast Club
Sitting at the top end of Erie is the Bisbee Breakfast Club. Eggs over medium, bacon, gravy and biscuits bigger than a goal keepers fist – a real American breakfast. I didn’t walk out of here, I waddled and flopped back into the car.
A long road to Texas
This drive was long haul. It is over seven hours to Marfa in Texas from Bisbee, Arizona, and was already afternoon when we stopped looking around, finished taking photos and finally left.
We were so close to Mexico that Google Maps offered alternative routes over the border. We stuck to the US side across desolate roads until we reached El Paso. Here we joined Interstate 10 for a while before breaking off onto Highway 90 towards Marfa. Even the I-10 was quiet.
To say it was uneventful is a reflection on how much good stuff we have already seen. It seems now that everywhere we look is a great landscape, a cool looking town with water towers straight from a movie. Forgotten bits of America. People on Harleys without helmets, tunnels… and of course we are also doing all of it in a classic Porsche 911 – an event in itself. We shared the driving, cruising along until it became dark.
Not so dark desert highway
Along the 90, approaching Valentine, the sky started to light up in the most incredible way. We’d read about the Marfa lights phenomena. On a dark desert highway, in what feels like the middle of nowhere, they appeared. The road empty, car humming along at about 3,500 RPMs in sixth with a most spectacular extra-terrestrial display happening in front of the windshield. Welcome to Texas.