Monday 3 November:
If I thought yesterday’s 7:30am start was a bit early imagine my joy today to be back in the Space Age restaurant for breakfast before 6am. We were on the road by 7am. We had anticipated riding with the main group today, but as we pulled up they were just off for breakfast, so we once again went it alone.
We got back out onto the I8, which continued to impress as it passed through the Sonoran Desert National Monument. The Sonoran Desert covers large parts of the Southwestern United States and Northwestern Mexico and is the most biologically diverse of the North American deserts. The National Monument contains over 487,000 acres of it and was only created in January 2001 – these National Parks and Monuments aren’t as old as I’d assumed!
The park is especially known for its extensive saguaro cactus forest – the type of cactus that will be familiar from ever western you’ve ever seen. The views were stunning, but sadly they were also very difficult to see because at this unearthly hour the sun was very low and very bright in the clear blue sky.
It was also pretty cold, so after 30 or so miles we pulled into a stopping point to have a warm and don sunglasses. Even as we were stopped the sun began to gain heat, but it never became exactly warm for the whole ride.
We took the I8 into Casa Grande, where we stopped for a coffee. Cafes were not immediately apparent as we drove through the edge of the town, but we were pointed in the direction of the Cook E Jar bakery and cafe, which was very good. It was still only 8:45am.
Sadly, not all interstates are like the I8: shortly after Casa Grande we joined the I10, heading South east between Ironwood Forest National Monument, Saguaro National Park and Tucson Mountain Park to the west and Santa Catalina Natural Area to the east.
Despite all of the parks, the I10 was much more like the featureless slab of concrete that I expected. There were stretches of dual carriageway and even the odd bit of good view, but nothing anywhere near the same league as the I8.
Staying on the I10 we passed through Tucson, the second largest populated city in Arizona behind Phoenix with a population of over 520,000 in 2010. Here the road became 10 lanes wide in places.
Not too long after Tucson we left the I10 for route 82, and once again the scenery was spectacular as the road passed through Coronado National Forest and Las Cienegas National Conservation Area. The roads were often long and straight, but stretched out ahead in undulating ribbons of tarmac they looked spectacular.
Before long we headed into Tombstone. It was still only about 12:30, but I have to say that I was glad to see it – after yesterday’s long day I was starting to flag. This is only day 3, should I be worried?
We had booked into the Trail Riders Inn, where the rest of the Hadrian V-Twin group were staying, although it would be some hours before they arrived. This turned out to be a fantastic, original looking motel run, oddly enough, by a couple who came from Worcester – they came for one day to visit Boot Hill and ended up buying a motel!
I’d been really looking forward to visiting Tombstone, the legendary setting of the Gunfight at the OK Corral in 1881, where Wyatt Earp and his brothers had a shoot out with Ike Clanton and his gang, The Cowboys – I even watched the film Tombstone again just before we set off on holiday in preparation.
The town was founded in 1879. It was one of the last frontier boomtowns in the American Old West, prospering from 1877 to 1890 with its population growing to around 14,000. The population in 2010 was 1,380.
Because we arrived so early we had time to do the tourist thing: some shopping and sightseeing.
As we stood about in Allen Street, Sharon spotted some suspicious looking characters loitering on the boardwalk. They moved out into the street, walking slowly but purposefully down the road, revealing themselves to be Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan Earp, accompanied by Doc Holliday.
We followed them down the road, lined with the same buildings that were there when the genuine lawmen walked down the street. We passed Campbell and Hatch’s Saloon, now a tourist shop, where Morgan Earp was killed on March 18th 1882, and on to the OK Corral, where they obliging loitered outside whilst we went in and bought tickets for the 2pm live re-enactment of the legendary gunfight, which actually took place in a lot behind the OK Corral next to C.S. Fly’s Boarding House and Photo Studio on Fremont Street.
The re-enactment was well worthwhile – entertaining and educational. Although they do this several times a day, the actors were good and injected some humour into the show. Afterwards it was also interesting to walk around the buildings, which have been preserved, including the original gunfight site.
Tombstone was also a delight for eating and drinking after Gila Bend. We didn’t engage in any afternoon drinking, so I was glad to get a pint when we ventured out in the evening. We started at the Crystal Palace, where there was a large table of serious looking men in the bar, all dressed smartly in the western style with natty waistcoats and bootlace ties. One came over to speak to us and it turned out that he was the District Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Arizona Freemasons. He offered to provide us with a tour of the lodge, but couldn’t do it there and then as they were just off on some important Masonic business, so we had to decline.
In addition to Freemasons, they also have a wide selection of beers. The one I chose was better than I could possibly have hoped for: a milk stout from the Left Hand Brewing Company in Colorado; it was not unlike the sublime Gloucester Brewery Vanilla Porter. My pint barely touched the sides.
We then headed across the street to the Longhorn restaurant where the beer came in bottles and was nowhere near as good, but the women were tempted by the margaritas. The food was good though: I finally got some Southern Fried Chicken which I’d been fancying since we arrived in the US.
Most of our party then decided that it was time for bed, despite it being only 8pm. Paul and I decided that a last drink was in order, so headed to Big Nose Kate’s Saloon, where you don’t just get a large beer, you get a “big ass beer”. Kate was most affronted by the name of this bar, but apparently Big Nose Kate was the name of Doc Holliday’s girlfriend. The odd thing is that, in addition to the fact that it is bit rude to call a lady Big Nose, in pictures Kate does not seem to have a particularly big nose.
And so to bed. Another quite long day’s ride tomorrow, but unlike yesterday we will just crack on rather than spend half a day in the national park, so it shouldn’t be too late.
Miles today: 220
Total miles: 752