Episode 55- Tucson Tales

We’re very conscious that our time in Tucson is too short to see and do everything, since our first month “here” was actually spent cruising up the coast of South America. As a result, we’re trying to do as much as we can in our remaining January weeks.

The past 4 days alone have been filled with new places and experiences.

On Sunday, I rediscovered the art of Ellote (Ted) DeGrazia at the museum that was his home and studio in the Catalina Hills. Ted was not familiar with his work at all, and I knew it largely as the simplistic primary-coloured black-eyed children he painted, but there was so much more: religious themes based on the ministry of Father Kino in Mexico, paintings depicting the life and struggles of poor Mexicans and the Papago Indians of the southwest, a series on bullfighters, musicians, angels, abstracts inspired by Paul Gauguin, plus bronze sculptures, decorative metal work, ceramic tiles, desert garden landscaping, and even architecture (he built his home and studio from adobe bricks that he molded and fired himself). Until touring his gallery I had no idea how prolific he was.

L to R: stained glass windows of the studio; ceramic tiled kitchen counter; glazed enamel over metal door, inset with coloured glass balls; bronze garden fountain
L to R: “self portrait”, Mexican pipe player in yellow sombrero; Our Lady of Guadalupe on chapel entrance wall; processional

Monday we spent a sunny afternoon at the Pima Air & Space Museum, touring 4 huge hangars (250,000 square feet) and another 80 outdoor acres showcasing 328 military and civilian planes, and helicopters. Seeing everything from the Wright Brothers’ plane through to the fastest military plane on record (at over 2,000 mph) to Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner prototype really highlights how much, and how quickly, the technology involved in flight has progressed.

Just to demonstrate that, for artists, ANYTHING can be a canvas, several of the huge fuselages have been turned into art installations. It’s a far cry from the cartoons that World War II flight crews painted on their planes!

On Tuesday, we visited Tombstone, “the town too tough to die”, where we had a glimpse into the old west: a place where the law – and the inhabitants – were both, literally, moving targets. That fact was best demonstrated by the 250 or so graves at Boot Hill, where the terse engravings on the headstones speak to many, many violent ends.

L to R: the undertaker’s advertisement; the original gold-plated “Black Moriah” used to transport coffins to the cemetery; one of Boot Hill’s tombstones
L to R: Cochise County Courthouse; part of Tombstone’s main street; the stage coach making its way through town

We didn’t take in the re-enactments of the gunfight at the OK Corral, but did tour the Cochise County Courthouse, jail, and gallows, and the Birdcage Theatre, which is the only building in Tombstone still completely original to the day it closed in 1884. Lilly Langtry was one if many famous performers who graced the stage there during the boom years of silver mining, while men with money were “entertained” by the ladies who occupied the “bird cages” (the curtained boxes on the second level of the theatre). A very young Lilian Russell premiered Arthur Lamb’s song “Bird in a Gilded Cage” on the stage here on the theatre’s opening night in 1881.

L to R: The Bird Cage; the “cages”; the original piano still in front of the stage; a room for the “other” entertainment

In the late afternoon, on the advice of a friend, we drove to Whitewater Draw, where up to 20,000 sandhill cranes spend the winter months. I’d say they are “snowbirds” like all the Canadians wintering down here, except that the birds are WAY noisier than most Canadians! Like me, they rarely stop chattering.

We stayed overnight at Tombstone Monument Ranch, in the Blacksmith Room, and had drinks at the beautiful wooden bar that was imported from Germany! We met couples from Canada (Lindsay and Fenelon Falls, Ontario) and from New Zealand, and had a fun evening learning how to play Texas Hold’em Poker with “Wyatt Earp”. Although we didn’t take advantage of the horseback riding, ATV’s, archery or shooting practice, I did take full advantage of the excellent margaritas ON TAP in the bar! We’ve added this dude ranch to our list of potential places to bring the kids and grandkids.

L to R: the the ranch rooms with porch lights on as we arrived in the evening; the saloon bar; Wyatt dealing cards; exterior of some of the rooms in daylight

On Wednesday, after a hearty ranch breakfast, we headed to Bisbee, site of the Queen Mine, one of the world’s richest mines. Active mining operations ceased at the Queen in 1943, but sister mines in the same Mule Mountains continued to yield copper, silver, gold, lead and zinc until 1975. The Queen Mine was re-opened as a tourist site in February 1976 and since then has offered underground tours to more than 1 million people. Ted is puzzled by why I want to explore caves and mines, but humoured me anyway as we travelled 1600 feet into the mine and 100+ years back in time. I think that, despite the pretty intense cold in that particular mine, he found it interesting too. All the tour guides are former Phelps Dodge (Copper Queen Consolidated Mining Company) miners, so we benefited from hearing some fascinating first-hand experiences. We also learned that the Queen Mine was the one that Disney staff toured and on which the Thunder Mountain Railway ride was based!

L to R: Bisbee’s “B” on the mountainside; the tram entrance into the mine; the “cage” elevator that took 9 miners at a time down into the lower levels; alarm bell code for mine disasters warnings; a silver, copper and gold ore deposit lit up by a modern miner’s light. Originally, miners worked their 10 hour shifts using an allotment of 3 candles.

We may need to lay low for a couple of days to re-boot. More adventures await in this very interesting and historic part of Arizona. It will surprise none of our friends that I have a list!!

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