RV Trip 3.9 Bisbee – Tombstone – Sonoita/Elgin – January 8-13, 2018

This blog is focused on lots of history mixed in with some wineries and breweries that we visited. 80% of Arizona’s wine is produced in this area which makes for lots of winery visits for us. When we left the Fort Willcox RV Park we did some shopping and then went to Coronado Vineyards just outside of town as we heard they had really good Tapas. Their wines were much more reasonably priced so after completing our tasting and buying some bottles we bought a bottle for lunch and had 3 different tapas dishes that were all excellent. We had Shrimps wrapped in Smoked Jalapeno Bacon, Dates filled with cheese wrapped in the same bacon (amazing, nice and spicy), and some Pistachio Crusted Chicken satays, all with amazing sauces to go with them (are you hungry yet?).

After lunch we headed to Bisbee which was known for its copper mine that you can tour underground but now has become a historic and arts based community for tourism. We had booked in at the Queen Mine RV Park which is literally on the edge of a hill overlooking the old open pit mine. On one hand it looks like they permanently scarred the hills but on the other side the colours of the rock tailings are interesting to look at. The RV Park was right beside the Queen Mine tour location so the next morning we just walked over and did the underground mine tour. They suit you up in a helmet, a light, and a vest and then you take a small track train 1500’ in to the mine. The tunnel shaft is very narrow as you’ll see from the photos. They stop at 150’ in to the tunnel to let anyone who is getting claustrophobic back out but no one on our tour bailed out (someone did on the next tour).

Our mine guide was a miner for 12 years in this mine so he was very knowledgeable and relayed lots of interesting stories. In this area they used both open pit mines and underground mines because there was such a large deposit of Malachite and Azurite which they could refine down to copper. Mining started in this area in 1880 and the open pit mine operated up until 1985 when it closed. The Bisbee mines produced 8 Billion pounds of copper during their production which is really amazing since it took 100 pounds of ore to get 1 pound of copper! In the early days each miner would go underground for 12 hours and they would be allocated 3 candles for light to work by. They used mules to haul the ore out of the mine until the advent of electricity and train cars in the mine. Our guide worked in the late 50’s early 60’s and at that time they would work in pairs and they would drill the holes in to a wall and then setup the blasting to occur at the end of their shift. The blasts were time gapped and done in a rotating fashion to break off the wall sections. If one of the blasts didn’t go off they called that a missed hole and that would delay their work the next day while they tried to remove the dead cap. They didn’t want a “missed hole” since that impacted any bonuses the miner might get. He showed us the various stages of drill types and how they spaced out the blasting lines. After they blasted out an area they used wooden framed stacking structures and used the waste ore to fill those in to support the mine as they progressed. In the elevator room at 1500’ in we also got to see the two hole outhouse cart;-)

The underground mine tour was 1 hour and 45 minutes and then when we returned to the surface we went through the exhibit hall to see the displays. We watched a 30 minute video that explained how they mine, concentrate, smelt, and refine copper (the photo is not so good). The copper processing was all done in Douglas Arizona to the south. The examples of Malachite and Azurite were quite interesting to see as well as the quartz crystals and Desert Roses. The old photographs showed the mules hauling the ore cars and also the candle lanterns they used for mining pre electricity. The guide commented that the mules were only allowed to stay underground for 7 weeks and then they were retired as their eye pupils had trouble adapting back to above ground light!

After the Queen Mine we walked in to old Bisbee and our first stop was the Old Bisbee Brewing Company where we started off with a sampler tray of their 7 different beers. My favourite was the Mayan Stout (done using Maya Nut which has notes of coffee and chocolate) and Sharon’s favourite was the Salut which was a beer made from Champagne yeasts and extracts of peach and elderberry flowers. After that we wandered around the old section of town and up one of the many hills to Contessa’s Cantina for a Mexican lunch. On the way back down we saw some of the stair sets where they have their local Iron Man competition, you must climb 1000 steps around town. We went in to several art shops to look around, no purchases today.

The next morning the sun was shining so we could get some nice pictures of the town and of the open pit mine with the many colours of rocks. In addition we’ve seen lots of Border Security vehicles but we had never seen them actually doing anything. If you look closely on the road up to Bisbee you will see they have a car pulled over and they were searching it top to bottom and even made the driver take off some of his clothes!

Our next stop was a short drive away to Tombstone, the location for the famous shoot out at the O.K. Corral on October 26 1881. We wandered around the old town a bit and then stopped at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon for lunch. Big Nose Kate was believed to be the first prostitute in Tombstone and she was also Doc Holliday’s girlfriend. Also the Clanton’s and the McLaury’s stayed at Kate’s hotel the night before the famous shoot out. The drinks and the lunch were really good and they had live entertainment. The Men’s bathroom was very unique and the posters on the walls were fun to peruse.

After lunch we went to the Tombstone Courthouse which is now a State Park Museum. We decided to purchase the Arizona SP Annual pass ($75) so we could use that for entries to the parks. We just covered the first floor on this day knowing we could come back the next day to see the second floor. The two story Victorian courthouse was built in 1882 in the shape of a Roman Cross and housed the Cochise County offices including the jail, the courthouse, and the gallows in the courtyard. It served as the county seat from 1882 until 1929 when the seat was moved to Bisbee and then the courthouse became a Historical SP in 1959. The first room had a lot of the history of Arizona and the Tombstone area including these key elements:

  • Arizona became part of the US between 1848-1855 when the Gadsen purchase finished (it was part of Mexico before)
  • 1861-1865 the American Civil war began and the Apaches in Arizona started battling the settlers and the troops
  • 1872 Chief Cochise made peace with General Howard and a reservation was created in the Dragoon and Chiricahua Mountains
  • 1874 Cochise died and the remaining Apaches were moved to Florida in 1876. Chief Geronimo and others escaped and continued the battles in Arizona and Mexico.
  • 1878 Ed Schieffielin came in with Army troops and then he discovered a rich silver lode called “The Lucky Cuss” which eventually became the town of Tombstone in 1879. It got the name because people told Ed all he’d find there was his own tombstone.

In the next room we learned all about the fight at the O.K. Corral. There still seems to be some conjecture on exactly what happened on October 26, 1881. The gun fight was between 4 supposed good guys “the Lawmen” and 3 supposed bad guys “the Cowboys”. The good guys included Police Chief Virgil Earp and his brothers Wyatt and Morgan and Doc Holliday (who were all deputized). The bad guys included Frank and Tom McLaury, and Billy Clanton (with his brother Ike hiding in Fly’s boarding house). In the shoot-out 30 shots were fired in 30 seconds and all 3 of the bad guys were killed and Morgan, Virgil and Doc were all wounded with Wyatt being the only person uninjured. The actual fight was not in the O.K. Corral but instead was along Fremont street and in the 18’ lot beside C.S. Fly’s Boarding House and Photo Studio. The showdown was over the control of Tombstone and the Mclaury’s had been threatening to kill the Earp’s for some time. The other famous photo covered in this room was of Josephine Sarah Marcus Earp (possibly). Sheriff John Behan had C.S. Fly take a nude photo of her because he was engaged to her but then she took up with Wyatt Earp and became his 3rd wife. The photo was never published until after Behan died and his family published it in 1914. It became a famous photo during World War I when it was used by the American Soldiers as their favourite pin-up.

We then went outside to the Gallows area and it was interesting to see that they actually sent out invitations to the hangings. In all 7 men were hung at this gallows from 1884 to 1900. In the final room we saw some of the silver mining history from when Ed Schieffielin found the initial lode and how they analyzed the ore for silver content. We also learned about the boom to bust sequence for the town of Tombstone. The mines eventually closed in 1909 as they could no longer pump out the water that was flooding the mine. After the museum we went to the Tombstone RV Park just outside of town where we had booked in for two nights.

The RV park had a free shuttle to town so the next morning we went back in to Tombstone with our first stop being the O. K. Corral where they have artifacts, a live re-enactment of the shoot-out, and a Historama/Movie of Tombstone. Your ticket also gave you entrance to the Tombstone Epitaph newspaper which we went to later in the day. The artifacts included a hearse, info about how the embalmed the deceased in their homes with ice under a special table, saddles and buggies from various time periods, and also a Cowboy bathtub;-)

We had an 11 o’clock ticket for the re-enactment so we went to the back corner of the property to see the show. They had 7 actors playing the roles and they had some build up scenes before having the actual 30 second shoot-out. It was well done and you could take photos with the good guys after the show;-)

The next area we went through was C.S. Fly’s Photo Studio where they had some of his original camera equipment and some of the amazing photo’s he took. There was also a replica of Fly’s Boarding House room where Doc Holliday was staying and his girlfriend Big Nose Kate who witnessed the actual shoot-out.

The next area we saw was a replica of a Crib. These small buildings or tents were used by the ladies of the night. They would rent out the building and use it from sunset to sunrise to earn their living. They could make up to $30/night versus the miner who was doing 12 hour shifts for $3/day. However the life often led to alcoholism, drug addiction, and disease and their lives usually ended with violence or suicide.

After the Crib we had tickets to see the 24 minute multimedia show called Historama. The narrator was Vincent Price and it was a combination of movie/photo footage and a large scale model of the town and mountain with various lighting methods to correspond with what Vincent was describing. It went through Geronimo’s Apaches, the Tombstone Silver boom, the great fires in the town, of course the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, and how Morgan Earp was assassinated in 1882. They had lots of old movie posters showing the productions that had dealt with the famous gunfight. We’ll have to watch these movies over again now that we’ve been to the town!

Our next stop was the Crystal Palace Saloon for lunch and a drink. The waitress told me that they had the Rye Whisky that Doc Holliday used to drink, Old Overholt, so of course I had to have a shot from the behind the bar;-)

The last location to see with our O.K. Corral package was The Tombstone Epitaph museum where one of the local newspapers was published. There was a movie to show how the news pages were put together with the lettering plates and in turn how they would print the actual pages. It was very cool to learn about how images in the newspapers progressed from drawings to dot images of photos.

Next we returned and finished the Courthouse SP Museum second floor where we learned about the history of the building itself and also saw the law offices and courtroom for Tombstone. Right down the street was the Tombstone Brewing company so we also dropped in there to try their unique style of IPA’s. Sharon sampled a Fruit Salad Sour beer but she didn’t like it. The funny thing was that the Manager running the bar was actually originally from Kitchener but had moved to Tombstone as an actor 20 years before and was now managing the brewery. He said he missed Labatt’s Blue but I couldn’t understand why when they had such great beers here!

Our last stop in Tombstone was the Bird Cage Theatre which is Tombstone’s only historic landmark still in its original state (and I mean really original with the dust from 1880;-) ). It was the most famous Honky –Tonk in America from 1881 to 1889. The New York Times referred to it in 1882 as the wildest, wickedest, night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast. This lusty-den of iniquity was open 24 hours a day for 9 straight years. It was the site of 16 gunfights and there are 140 bullet holes in the walls and ceilings. The front area was the bar and has a poster of Fatima which is a 9 foot high poster with 6 bullet holes. The story goes that drunken men would turn around from the bar and think Fatima was coming after them so they would shoot the poster. Next you pass into the casino and dance hall room that contained 14 bird cage crib compartments (thus the name of the theatre) suspended from the ceiling. These cribs could be rented by the men for $25 per night and the ladies of the night would visit the cribs. On the stage in the dance hall they would have shows from Can-Can Dancers, risqué performances for men, and national headliners like Eddie Foy, Lotta Cradtree, and the human fly dancers with magnets in their shoes to stick to the ceiling that had steel plates above. In the hall there were weird and interesting artifacts like the Merman! The hearse in the backstage area was called The Black Moriah and is trimmed in 24K gold and silver and was the most valuable antique on the premises. The root cellar area was famous for the longest poker game in western history which ran for 8 years, 5 months, and 3 days. The players had to buy a minimum of $1,000 in chips to enter the game. We also saw the wine cellar that was under the main hall room floor. The entry for the Bird Cage was $12 per person which was really overpriced for what you got to see, especially in comparison to the other museums we had been in, but we still found it interesting. After the Bird Cage we called our shuttle to pick us up and returned to the Tombstone RV Park (note the sign for site 41).

On the day we left Tombstone we were heading 22 miles away to the Mountain View RV Park but before going there we decided to do a winery and brewery tour through Sonoita and Elgin. People we had met earlier had told us about some really good wineries for dry red wine and one brewery to visit. The drive around the loop was very pretty as it was a rural desert type area intermixed with mountains. We visited Don Cabezas WineWorks, Lightning Ridge Cellars, Copper Hop Ranch Micro Brewery, and Kief-Joshua Vineyard. We bought product at all 4 locations but the favourite would have been Lightning Ridge for their Montepulciano. The funny thing was that all three of the wineries had their dogs wandering around in the tasting room. The Micro Brewery was funny because he had just printed up a new tasting sheet and he had one called “Faceplant IBM”! I said to him that was a unique name and I’d like to sample that one and he explained that he used to work for IBM and he was thinking of that when he typed the sheet up and instead of putting IPA he put IBM!!! I thought Tom and Paul would enjoy that story. His stout and the IPA were both quite good. The last shot in this blog is a photo of my current collection of beers in the RV. I haven’t tried all these beers yet but I would say my favourite so far would be the Tombstone IPA.



  • We were in Tombstone in May of 2012, and we had a glass of wine at “Big Nose Kate’s Saloon”. Your pics and notes sure brought back memories of our trip. We had to get out our albums and look once again at our pictures. As we’re sitting looking out our window here in Vernon, BC (at all the snow), I wish we were back down south. However, downhill skiing has our interest until spring.
    Enjoy your trip,
    John & Esther Barker

    Liked by 1 person

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