First of all Mount Lemmon looks nothing like a lemon. It is in fact the highest mountain in the Santa Catalina Mountains just north of Tucson, Arizona. Standing at some 9000ft the peak is named after a botanist with the unfortunate name of Sarah Lemmon who ascended the mountain with her husband in 1881. These days the mountain range is home to a ski resort, some of the worlds tallest cacti and a magnet for around five metres of snow per winter. Which isn’t hard to believe since in Tucson the temperature was a hefty 45 degrees, but at the summit just 16 degrees celsius. Since this was the first time we had felt such a temperature in about 6 weeks, Jack and I were shivering as we took a sly piss behind a tree.
There is supposedly a fee to enter the national park, but the ranger must’ve been on his break when we rocked up banging out the satellite radio as the shack was closed. There was an honesty box and we honestly considered using it, but eager for the view we burned rubber and made our way up the Catalina highway, now a designated sky island highway and scenic byway it really is a gorgeous drive with every drive offering stunning vistas and world class trails. The speed limit is a measly 35mph but I reckon this is discretionary as we really put our 4 wheel drive SUV to the test winding up the mountain road and taking corners like a boss. Despite the fact we were anxious to get to the summit we just had to keep stopping and enjoying the views which were mostly a mixture of breathtaking and mesmerising. And, we pretty much had everything to ourselves as we rarely saw anyone on the 30 mile road, or at any of the stops we made. On one of the stops actually we became myth busters.
The lower part of the Catalina mountains is teeming with king size cacti some 10ft tall and more. Now, having watched the Simpsons movie and Beavis and Butt head I was led to believe that you could get off your face from licking a cactus. Being the driver it would’ve been completely inconsiderate and irresponsible to start licking a plant so I obviously didn’t do it. But Jack did. And I can confirm, it did nothing. Now I know how that might sound, but he was having a piss up a cactus and shouted “dad, get a photo” I looked over and saw him spiking his tongue for a laugh.
At the summit of Mt Lemmon is a car park, some bloke talking about space and a few trees. There is a hike that begins and winds around somewhere or other but we were all hip hopped out, mountain tired and seriously liking the idea of driving up mountains.
Having left Tucson we were bezzing down the highway at a cool 80mph in cruise when something caught my eye. Ever since being a kid I have been fascinated by airplanes and it has passed right through my kids to Toby. He starts moon walking and shit when he sees planes and so when, out of the corner of my eye I spotted what looked like a load of planes in the desert I made a quick detour down some sandy road toward the light. The closer we got, the more apparent it became that we were coming up on an airplane graveyard. Basically, what happens is companies that go bust, planes that go kaput and just those waiting to be decided what to be done with go to a graveyard in Arizona. Thousands of planes, some in pieces, most just parked up in the dry Arizona sun set to a back drop of nothing-ness and sand. There was obviously loads of signs saying no entry, trespassers face prison etc and so we obviously ignored these and made our way to a porto-cabin to try the old puppy eye flutter which completely failed.
On we went and eventually we rocked up at one of the most famous and historic towns in the West. The Wild West in fact – Tombstone.
The town too tough to die is surrounded by desert but home to some of the countries most hard core and historic residents of the cowboy era. Incorporated in 1881 it is now home to just 1,300 people, most of whom carry hand guns and dress as cowboys, cow girls and whores. Founded off the silver mines nearby it was once a booming town and once home to some 14,000 people and the site of the famous gunfight at the O.K Corall.
It was the 15th March 1881 and a stage coach was making it’s way from Tombstone to Benson which was where the nearest railroad station was. And actually just 30 miles north. Three cowboys decided they felt like robbing the silver bullion on board which in todays money would be around $600,000. The driver of the stage coach and a passenger were killed during the robbery and the cowboys made off with the proceeds of their heist. Doc Holliday, the sheriff of Tombstone and the Earp brothers (one of whom was Wyatt Earp) were tasked to hunt down the murderers and eventually this culminated in the most famous gunfight of the old west in the history of the United States and making famous the law enforcement and the outlaws in the process. The gun fight signified the struggle against lawlessness in the west and is now heavily portrayed in movies, stories and brought back to life in a painfully restored Tombstone town.
It was indeed one of the most interesting and fascinating times in Americas history and tourists now head to the small town to relive some of the Wild West. Many of the most famous buildings still stand today, re-enactments of the gunfight take place and every other person is traditionally dressed. It truly is like stepping back in time to the Old West, made all the more better by the fact it is the friendliest place we have been anywhere in the States. It is hard to not get enthralled by the history, by the legends that once were there and the sites which played some small part in forming the country America is today.
Naturally the kids loved it, it was like stepping back in time for them and made for a great time strolling through history. It is completely out of the way of anywhere and we came from an over night in Sierra Vista, but that certainly adds to its mystique and absolutely adds to the credentials of the fact that you can’t just stumble upon this great town, you have to want to be there. And by wanting to be there you earn the respect of those that are there, and whose enjoyment in life comes solely from reliving their fascinating history in true colour, for all to see, and in Dolby surround sound.