The former silver boomtown of Tombstone is a Mecca for fans of the frontier West. Yes, Deadwood has its supporters (and its own critically acclaimed HBO series), but Deadwood is way up in South Dakota, further north than Portland, Maine, and Toronto, Canada. It's no match for the sun-bleached, cactus-studded, Apache-infested setting that surrounds (or -- sorry Apaches -- surrounded) Tombstone. Also unlike Deadwood, Tombstone is easy to reach by car, its approaches unhindered by Winnebago-clogging switchbacks and off-season blizzards.
If your expectations of the Wild West were formed by watching a screen -- that is, if you're currently alive -- Tombstone satisfies.
Not everyone, however, is happy with it. In recent years, certain authorities have criticized the authenticity of Tombstone, but most tourists don't want the REAL Wild West. That was a scary, dirty, harsh place, closer in spirit to modern-day Camden, New Jersey, than to any attraction with stagecoaches and postcards.
If you want authentic frontier West flavor, travel to the opposite corner of Arizona and visit Oatman. You'll probably wish that you were back here.
One flaw in Tombstone's facade is common to most Wild West attractions: the re-enactors are way too old. Walking around Tombstone, taking in the middle-aged (or even active-senior) gunslingers and painted ladies, leaves one with a silvery Roy Rogers view of the West. In fact, one of the reasons why the people of Tombstone killed each other so impetuously is that a lot of them were teenagers. We doubt, however, that Tombstone will be hiring 15-year-old bordello historical interpreters any time soon.
On the day that we visited, Tombstone seemed to have attracted every black-leather-clad biker-type and Germans within 500 miles. We are told it also attracts people who want to see ghosts (The violent deaths here provide a plasma-load of potential spooks.).
Most of Tombstone is a normal town, with normal people living in it. A six-square-block area has been sectioned off and returned to a version of the 1880s, with plenty of historical hybrids (There was no "Home of the Buffalo Burger" in the 1880s). But the town offers plenty to keep visitors occupied.
We've reviewed some of the more Tombstone-y attractions here, but there's even more to see. The World's Largest Rosebush (Something for the ladies! See, it's not all whores and graves and ghosts.), the Courthouse museum and hanging yard, the Tombstone Rattlesnake Exhibit -- they all escaped our careful scrutiny on this trip, but we'll be back....
- Boot Hill - The authentic Boot Hill Cemetery is an appropriate place to begin or end a visit to Tombstone.
- O.K. Corral - While the human performers are still home sleeping, animated mannequins provide a "living dead" re-enactment of the famous gun battle.
- Historama - An overview of Tombstone history, narrated by Vincent Price! Multimedia done the old fashioned way -- and we wouldn't have it any other way.
- The Good Enough Mine - Silver Mine attraction opened in 2007.
- Bird Cage Theater Museum - Perfectly preserved whoring and party hub of 19th century Tombstone, and home to ghosts and a diminutive Merman.