Truckin' Down to Tucson
Last year we used MapQuest to find the shortest route to Tucson and found the halfway point to be around Truth or Consequences, NM. We decided to stop there for the night and find out about this oddly named town. Formerly known as Hot Springs, it gets its curious name from the 1950s television show, Truth or Consequences, that offered to film an episode in some little town far from Hollywood, if that town would change its name to match the show's. Hot Springs, New Mexico agreed to the deal hoping for an economic boost from the tourism. The town is has a population of about 8000 and didnʼt really look like the tourists were arriving in droves, but perhaps summer is a better time to visit due to its location on the Rio Grande between Elephant Butte Reservoir and Caballo Lake. But, in the old part of town, there are more than ten spots for soaking in the hot springs. The most economical ($8 each included a towel and a bottle of water during the 30-minute soak) is the Indian Hot Springs, which has free-flowing water with a pebble bottom.
This year we didnʼt take the more direct route, but decided to take 2 days for the drive. We thought it would be a lark to visit Roswell, NM. Roswell didnʼt disappoint and in fact was much larger (population 50K) and cleaner than I thought it would be. The town is out to prove that it has more to offer than little green men. The Roswell Museum and Art Center as well as the Historical Museum show the areaʼs timeline from prehistoric geology, to the trading post start along the Goodnight-Loving Trail to the western contemporary art legacy. But little green men were what I wanted to see. They were everywhere, in front of stores and restaurants, on top of buildings and around many corners. The UFO Museum and research center is as cheesy as it gets, but I believe they are serious in their mission to inform the public about what has become known as the "The Roswell UFO Incident". On July 8, 1947, an extra-terrestrial spacecraft and its alien occupants allegedly crash-landed near Roswell. Since the late 1970s the incident has been the subject of intense controversy and of conspiracy theories as to the true nature of the object that crashed. The Army maintains that what was recovered was debris from an experimental high-altitude surveillance balloon carrying crash dummies. However, many UFO proponents maintain that an alien craft was found and its occupants were captured, and that the military then engaged in a cover up. A visit to the museum may or may not make a believer out of you.
Our second planned stop was Bisbee, AZ, but on the way we noticed signs for White Sands National Monument and decided to do a drive through. White Sands is 275 miles of gypsum sand with geological features that are compared to Mars. There are range-led walks in the park, but we only stopped at the visitor center for maps and to watch a short film about the movement of the dunes and the plants and animals that manage to live there. We drove the 17 mile loop through the park, stopping once to wiggle our toes in the cold, soft sand.
We arrived in the copper mining town of Bisbee by mid-afternoon and checked into our downtown hotel, the Bisbee Grand Hotel. Billed as a Bed and Breakfast Inn of Victorian Elegance, it lived up to its name. Originally constructed in 1906 for copper mining executives, it was renovated and restored in1986 to Old West Victorian Style. Floors were raised to install indoor plumbing and antiques and family heirlooms were used to decorate the 12 unique suites. The hotel is located above the Grand Saloon, but our king-bed room was quiet and peaceful. We had time to explore before dinner so we started walking uphill. The whole town is on a mountainside and has stairs to reach homes and businesses located up the side of the mountain. There is a stair-climbing race in October called the Bisbee 1000 where racers run up, you guessed it, 1000 stairs. After getting to the top of the town we started back down, passing the art deco courthouse and many antique shops until we got to the old town. The Copper Queen is another very grand Victorian Inn and there are several breweries operating in Bisbee. Named for the man who developed the means of getting the copper out of the rock, the Lavender Pit Copper Mine, is just below the town. Bisbee is also known for its ghosts and I wanted to take a ghost walk, but they are only led on weekends and I didnʼt see any on my own.
In the morning, we were served a full breakfast in the upstairs foyer of the Grand. When the weather is mild, the veranda is used for extra seating. We had heard that the hiking in and around Bisbee was a ʻmust doʼ so we checked with the visitor center for hiking trail maps only to find out the hiking is more around than in Bisbee. We did walk up OK Street to the ʻBʼ hill, but it wasn't a hiking trail and we ended up following some deer into town when we lost our way coming back down.
After leaving Bisbee, we had one more stop, Tombstone, AZ. Known as the town too tough to die, Tombstone was one of the last wide-open frontier boomtowns in the American Old West.
From about 1877 to 1890, the town's mines produced approximately $85 million in silver bullion, but in the mid-1880s, the silver mines penetrated the water table and eventually mining operations were unable to continue. They struck water and used pumps for years to keep the mines clear of water, but there was an explosion in one of the pumps and the water got ahead of it, it sank and they never tried again. Its economy today is based on tourism. And by tourism, I mean the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. For a $12 ticket, you get admitted to the 5 town museums, watch a Historama narrated by the late Vincent Price, see a copy of the October 26, 1881 Tombstone Epitaph and watch a thrilling reenactment of the famous gunfight. For an extra charge, stagecoach tours are also offered. It really was fun. Everyone who works in the 5-block old town dresses in period costumes and stays in character for most of the time. Before the gunfight show someone asked how long the reenactment would last, he was told it was a 45 minute show, but the actually gunfight was only about 30 seconds. Since no one would pay to see a 30 second show, they padded it out and even added a female character that had no historical basis.