Weekends in Arizona: The Kartchner Caverns & Tombstone

The more time I spend here, the more I’m learning about the diversity of Arizona and just how much there is to do here. As I’m only here for a semester, I’m trying to fit as much of this fascinating state in as I can, so I can be sure that I truly experienced the real Arizona.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Last weekend I got a taste of two of the many faces of Arizona. Tombstone portrays perfectly what life was like in the Wild West, being one of the best preserved western towns in the nation. On the other side, we had the Kartchner Caverns, displaying just a snippet of Arizona’s natural beauty with its famous limestone caves. Both these destinations are also just a little outside from Tucson, in the southeast of the state. We hired a car for relatively cheap (only $14 each) and headed out last Saturday, to see what all of the fuss was about.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

First stop was the Kartchner Caverns. In order preserve its natural beauty, visitors are restricted from bringing anything into the caves. This unfortunately means no pictures (!), but does also mean that you’ll have to visit in order to gain even a glimpse of this fascinating area. The caves were made a national park in the 90’s, and before that were kept relatively secret, being known only to a select few. Thankfully, nearly everyone can now enjoy the caves, and they still remain unspoiled. The delicate limestone formations are the reason behind these strict regulations. Although these can be a slight nuisance, it does mean that you can fully appreciate your surroundings without distractions, such as taking photos or using your phone. The caves are also eerily quiet and dimly lit, again for protection. However, this adds to the ambience of the place, and makes you feel almost as if YOU are the first discovers. We were all amazed at the power dripping water can have. It was this simple, natural act of water seeping through the hills and dripping, that over time formed some spectacular formations. The main attraction, Kubla Kahn, stands taller than a 5-storey building! When the water drips it leaves sediments that gradually build and form natural works of art. You still notice the moisture even today, it being a living cave. The rocks are shiny and slippery, and the air has a humidity that you’ll fail to find anywhere else in this arid region. To enter the caves, you have to go on one of their tours. These are relatively inexpensive at $23, and last for around an hour. You also get a lot of information from the park ranger giving the tour – definitely worth the price!

KODAK Digital Still Camera

Next, we drove the 30 minutes (ish) to Tombstone. Some of you may have already heard of Tombstone; it is one of the more famous Wild West towns in North America, and is the site of many iconic gun-fights. In order to preserve this rich culture, most of major buildings are listed, meaning that few alterations can be made. This is perfect for visitors like us, as it means we get a glimpse into what life back then looked like. Most of the inhabitants/workers also play on their Western heritage too, donning cowboy attire and thick accents. Every effort is gone to, in order to transport you back to the Wild West of Tombstone. We spent a few hours wondering around admiring the architecture, stopped off for lunch at the famous Big Nose Kate’s Saloon (another listed building), and then paid $6 for a fake gun-fight, which also told of the history of Tombstone. Whilst some may argue that the town accommodates too much for its tourists, exaggerating certain aspects of the old lifestyle for example, I would respond that it is all just a bit of fun not to be taken too seriously. Yes, it is clear that some parts of the town and people have been fabricated for tourist amusement. However, this does not take away from the uniqueness of Tombstone, which you unfortunately cannot find in many places in the U.S. today. The town is relaxed, homely, and welcoming, and definitely makes for an enjoyable day out.

KODAK Digital Still Camera

On our way out of Tombstone and back towards Tucson, we stopped at the famous Boot-Hill Graveyard. It is a graveyard for people that mainly died in the late 1800’s in Tombstone. Because of the time period, many of the graves had engravings which we wouldn’t see today. For example, a lot were unnamed. Others had details of the horrific ways they died, such as lynching, suicide, or murder. The graves that stood out for me, were the ones reading ‘one Chinese’ or ‘two Chinese’. We definitely wouldn’t get that kind of disrespectful labelling in a modern day graveyard!

KODAK Digital Still Camera

My visit to two of Arizona’s most popular sites, definitely gave me a glimpse into how diverse the state can be. Arizona is typically known for its desert region, and of course the Grand Canyon. However, I am learning that there is so much more to it than that. The natural wonders show the further beauty of the area, whilst the diverse towns display a piece of history vital to the identity not only of Arizona, but the whole of U.S.A. I can’t wait to further explore the state, and find out what else it has to offer me!

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