After taking a while to get through our first State, we quickly hit a couple more – though we’ll be returning to both later. First up: New Mexico, and the White Sands National Monument. A long-ish drive through wide landscapes and mountain passes brought us out to this bizarre natural feature that is essentially a desert within a desert. The White Sands are actually gypsum, but the sand is the finest, whitest sand you’ll ever see. It is blown into giant dunes that would not be out of place in the Sahara. There are some interesting nature walks, but most people come to play – to scramble up and down the sand, build sand castles, or to slide down the massive dunes on plastic sleds. You can’t ski, but I suppose it’s the next best thing if you happen to live that far from snow… We also dropped in to the White Sands Missile Range, where the US government tests its vast array of missile weaponry. Surprisingly, after a cursory glance at a Driver’s License it was ‘in you go’, to look around the on-site museum, and yard full of specimens (including a massive WWII V-2 and US Patriot Scud-busters.) It was very much a boys afternoon!
Then it was back to strange natural features as we stayed the night at the City of Rocks State Park, a weird collection of rock formations pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Separate camp spots are hidden within the massive bulbous rock formations (each several stories high), making it one of the more surreal places to spend the night. Being so isolated, non-commercialised and downright strange, it was quite an experience!
We ducked into Silver City before leaving New Mexico. A boom-bust-boom town whose success ebbed and flowed with the success of the local mines, it has re-invented itself as a really nice arty, creative town, with funky galleries and handicraft stores, cool coffee shops, and public art. It also had extraordinarily high kerbs, apparently built to keep the summer flash floods from the pavements.
And so, from New Mexico we stepped into Arizona, and hit one of the most famous wild west towns in the US – Tombstone. The name actually came before the town, as an in-joke from the man who discovered the silver deposits in that particularly remote part of the country. He had been told that his tombstone would be the only thing he would find. $85 million later, he could afford to laugh. Tombstone was, of course, site of the most famous gunfight in the Old West – the Gunfight at the OK Corral… The town today is kept almost like a film set – characters wander around dressed from the 1870s, horses and carts wander the main street, and three times a day, at the exact spot, you can watch a re-enactment of the lead up to the 30 second gunfight – where you are encouraged to boo the baddies and cheer on Doc Holliday and Wyatt Earp. Yes, it was as cheesy as a block of Camembert, but it was kind of fun and actually pretty informative. Tombstone had an interesting history as a frontier mining town in its own right, with vast wealth – including carted in Victorian Grand Pianos – juxtaposed with the debauchery you’d expect from a town on the edge of the law and mainly full of men.
Last up on this leg of the trip was Bisbee, south of Tombstone and heading once again for the Mexican border. Bisbee was, like Silver City, a mining town (this time copper) that had its day then re-invented itself for the 21st Century. If it was less out the way I’m sure it would be one of the most visited places in the US, but that would probably have ruined what makes it so great. It sits nestled in a small valley, right up against tall red hills on all sides. It feels very quaint, with the small main street now buzzing with art galleries, antique shops and funky cafes. It really is another of America’s hidden treasures.