I am seen here geeking out with a group of kindly cosplayers
I let my nerdier side take over and I took the time to visit a few of the museums in the area and shop around. Unlike at Disney, which often samples and reproduces versions of real places and their culture, I was being exposed, in some ways, to the actual culture of a time in Tombstone’s history. I couldn’t resist the impulse and switch to my boots, picked up a few things–a sarape, badge, and hat– along with some souvenirs and walked around town channeling badasses like Jaime Foxx in D’Jango Unchained or young Clint Eastwood in The Man With No Name. I got to watch a campy daytime theatre production of old western life in what was called “Old Tombstone” and went on a trolley tour where our velvet-voiced guide pointed out the various historical landmarks and points of interest. I also chatted with lots of people who lived in the city to try to get a sense of who they were and what the town had become. One woman who ran the museum talked about how she had spent her entire life in Tombstone and didn’t have “itchy feet” as she said I did. Her only fear it seemed was a reasonable one: She didn’t want to become like her mother. Another encounter involved a cute and industrious couple that gave up their fast lives in finance in the heart of Chicago to move for a slower, yet more fulfilling life in Tombstone. I could feel that the people who stayed in a town so ominously named, while few, were bursting with love, life, and pride for the place they lived.
Old Tombstone has old buildings and shops built in the style prominent at Tombstone’s founding. You can watch a “shootout” as well as pay mini-golf.
Other than the various shops, museums, landmarks, and restaurants I saw in Tombstone, another curious feature of the town (or perhaps the region) was the presence of well-armed, paramilitary border patrol agents. More than once, I saw these agents moving about town, eyes shielded by chrome, polarized aviator glasses; bodies bursting at the seams with equipment like a can of biscuits. On the way into the town, there was a heavily outfitted checkpoint, the likes of which I had heard of yet hadn’t seen before. There were a number of official-looking SUVs, radar guns, and barbed wire along with a few guardsmen sheepishly going about their patrol. I also realized that, like alcohol checkpoints, this setup was likely mobile and in some ways, effective. Perhaps these officers were welcome in Tombstone, natives even who were just going about their day, doing their jobs. I could rationalize the immigration officers being in town, but something still unsettled me about this.
Despite the jovial atmosphere, the presence of border agents in Tombstone, eating brisket like the rest of us, on soil that had once been used by Native Americans, smacked of the same racial and greedy thrust that led to their systematic eradication. Then, cowboys and injuns would effectively battle it out for the land, ore, and other resources justified at some level by the wretched and repugnant concept of race science. Now, the descendants of the victors in that war fought to keep what their ancestors had taken by force–on one side the Orwellian-named ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and on the other, the invading hordes of brown “coyotes”, “jihadist” and “aliens”. In the shadow of 9/11 and the advent of the misguided, endless“War on Terror”, I had realized, changed so many things in so many subtle, frightening ways. The “land of freedom” had grown increasingly paranoid it seemed, so too had the “Wild West”.
As I packed up to return to Phoenix, I considered going to the Saguaro National Park, but I was once again losing the sun and the sky had become bitter, grey, and overcast. As much as I wanted to end my day riding off into the sunset, like the heroes in the old Westerns, I’d have to be content just simply riding off.
I didn’t have a particular goal for my last day in Arizona. It was a sorta grab-all day for things I had missed, like the saguaro cactus, the Frank Lloyd Wright residence in nearby Scottsdale and otherwise touristy things (botanical gardens and contemporary art centers and such). I would have done those things too if I didn’t sleep in again (they’re top of my last day in Arizona list for next time). Instead, I chose to do something which had really wanted to do but the perfect weather had prevented: capture a time-lapse in Arizona. Phoenix, by default, would be where I got it.
Arizonans don’t like Phoenix, or perhaps what it represents: The city. Driving through the city, I personally found Phoenix to be a perfectly fine, if not somewhat visually utilitarian city. Many of the homes were built in the Spanish or Adobe styles, with some blending elements of both. The adherence to style and color was impressive if not somewhat oppressive in how well it’s done. Coming from a city like New Orleans that’s built on a marshy-crescent and utilizes conflicting cardinal directions as well as confusing nomenclature for its streets, I appreciated the grid-style, “vulcanesque” sensibilities inherent in Phoenix’s city planning. Leaving the business district and inner portions of the city in the suburbs, this “monochromatic” impulse pays off in that if you get high enough, you can see that some areas are designed in shapes–grand circles, crosses, and even ripples. Sometimes things are more than what they seem. Perspective is everything. I’m sure Wright, with his iconic sense of style, understanding of spirit and form in architecture, understood and accepted this about Phoenix, his final resting place.
To get my time-lapse, I headed to South Mountain, a group of mountains, unsurprisingly, south of Phoenix that are reported to have great views of the city. When I got there, I had planned to take the hike to the top to get the view from the summit but came to the realization that the hike would be overly strenuous for the reward of a good view of Phoenix. Apparently, I could get as decent a view with a brisk hike up one of the smaller foothills the park attendant recommended. This was also convenient because I had (drum-roll) saguaro cacti spread about it. It was a complete win. Being closer to the city, the foothills seemed more attended than anything I had seen the entire week. There were families, a bridal party taking their wedding pictures, pickup soccer games, and various couples enjoying the view. There was also graffiti and surprisingly trash, which I found both visually interesting but ultimately depressing. None of that was going to stop me from getting my view of Phoenix though, shitty people aside.