Before we took in the gunfights, saloons and stagecoaches in Tombstone and the elegant, historic buildings in Bisbee, we stopped by Kartchner Caverns. Discovered in 1974 by two college students and kept a secret for 14 years until they and the Kartchner family who owned the land figured out a way to preserve and protect the caverns, this Arizona state park opened to the public in 1999. Cameras aren't allowed inside the caverns, but National Geographic made a video that showcases the astounding stalactites, stalacmites, and other cave formations. This is a living cave, meaning that mineral-containing water continues to create the formations. Walking along pathways deep under the surface and listening to the park ranger explain the history and preservation of the caverns gave us a glimpse into the past.
We squinted as our eyes adjusted from the dark of the caverns to the bright sunlight, and rode 30 minutes to Tombstone, familiar from numerous western movies and once home to Wyatt Earp and his brothers.
Big Nose Kate's Saloon was hopping with live music, a birthday celebration, and locals dressed in period costumes. We wandered up and down the main street, looking into stores and watching for the next scheduled gunfight.
Another 30 minute ride into the Mule Mountains took us into Bisbee, an important mining town founded in 1880.
In the early 1920's Bisbee had 20,000 residents and was the largest town between St. Louis and San Francisco. Gold, silver, lead, zinc and more than 8 billion pounds of copper were mined here, making Bisbee a rich and cultured community. The Copper Queen Hotel was built in 1898 as a luxurious destination for wealthy investors. We admired the original furnishings in the lobby and sat on the porch to enjoy the late afternoon sunshine.
Mining originally took place underground, and in the 1950's a large open-pit copper mine known as the Lavender Pit started operation. The mine closed in the 1970's and today the 300 acre, 950' deep pit is a tourist destination.
We completed the day's loop by riding west to Sierra Vista.