Wednesday, June 23, 1993...
Made excellent time across New Mexico, but Arizona was another story. From the Texas-New Mexico border, I drove almost clear across the state before stopping at the old railroad town of Steins, NM, which died in 1959 after the trains no longer stopped. I'd been here five years ago and nothing was open; now there's a store on the grounds run by the owners, who offer tours of the remaining buildings for $1.50 and let you wander the grounds for free. The town's population peaked at about 1,350, though many of the buildings were destroyed when the Interstate cut through. The old town cemetery is across the Interstate.
Former US 80 veers south from the Interstate at Exit 5, the appropriately-named town of Road Forks, New Mexico. Though the Interstate enters Arizona five miles later, US 80 takes about forty miles to cross the border, heading almost due south towards Mexico. A railroad used to parallel the road, but the tracks (and even the bridges) are long gone, leaving only the graded bed. The first Arizona town of consequence is the border town of Douglas; 80 then parallels the border, less than a mile away, before turning north to Bisbee.
Bisbee's an old mining town that's making an apparently successful conversion into a tourist town -- the Lavender Pit mine, its economic base for decades, is now closed, and its downtown turned into a typical mining-town tourist theme park with hotels, restaurants and shops. The most distinctive of these is the One Book Bookshop, owned by a man now in his late seventies who carries only copies of his own memoirs about growing up in Arizona during the 1920s! He's sold over 15,000 of them and now charges $19.95/copy, so he's got one helluva gimmick going... In fact the success of his first title led him to self-publish two more, with a third on the way -- they're sold from a room at the back of the store labeled the Other Book Bookshop. The walls of both rooms are papered with envelopes sent in from around the country as people learn of his publishing feat and order copies of the book.
I continued to Tombstone, a unique combination of the Old West and an Old West theme park. Tombstone was the.scene of the 1881 "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral." The Corral's still there, with statues to show the positions of the gunfighters at the time the shooting began. The nearby Bird Cage Theatre preserves a legendary bar/casino/bordello, complete with more than 100 bullet holes. The O.K. Corral victims are buried at the Boot Hill Cemetery, just northwest of town along 80; they're joined by George Johnson ("Hanged by Mistake"), Lester Moore ("Here lies Lester Moore/Four slugs from a .44/No Les no more"), John Heath ("Taken from County Jail & lynched by Bisbee Mob in Tombstone Feb. 22, 1884"), and Glenn Will ("His Ashes Arrived Collect on Delivery").
Continued along old 80 toward Tucson. 80 branches off as Business Route 10 to the southwest of town, passing through a stretch of ancient motels before rejoining the Interstate; it later branches off again through the downtown district. I detoured west to Tucson Mountain Park, home of the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum. The museum contains more than 200 species of animals and over 1,200 plant species, all displayed in more or less their natural environments. Highlights include a 140-species cactus garden, a walkthrough hummingbird aviary, and habitats displaying birds, reptiles, and small cats.
As I left the park at 5:30, the radio gave the local Tucson temperature at 105 degrees. Outside the park, the first structure on the left was occupied by a man calling himself Geronimo III, who claims to be the grandson of the famed Apache chief. He was sitting outside a small structure, willing to be photographed by anyone who drove in and paid $3.00. I passed.
Further west, 80 branches off once again, this time as State Route 84. The sun began to set directly in my face, which was a major problem. Stopped for the night in Gila Bend, a wide spot in the road two hours east of Yuma...
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