Sep 7, 2011

One more Non Beer Related Post.....

If you follow this blog at all, you will know one of my favorite past times (besides beer) is “ghost town hunting”. My friend Brad and I, from time to time will head off into the Arizona desert in search of abandon towns, buildings, and other historic sites. This past winter, we planned another trip, and I wanted to take a moment to share it with you here. I hope you find this as interesting as we do.

Picacho Peak at 5:30am

It started around 5am, when Brad picked me up, and we started to head south (not before stopping at Dunkin Donuts). We made our way south, past Picacho Peak, through the city of Tucson, where the highway takes a turn to the east, towards New Mexico. We exited the I-10 between the towns of Benson and Wilcox, in a little town of Cochise. Cochise is actually listed on some lists of ghost towns, however, there is still an “active” post office, and most buildings appear lived in, and “sort of” cared for, so we continued down Rt 80, towards our first stop about 25 miles to our south. We rolled into the ghost town of Pearce about a half hour later.

Pearce Jailhouse
Pearce was founded in 1894, and as so many towns did at the time, seemed to spring up almost overnight. Cornish man James Pearce first settled and started mining here in 1894, and the first General Store opened in 1896, and the Post Office opened later that same year. It even got a railroad stop later in 1903. However, 1896 proved to be the peak production year for the mine, and in 1900, the stamp mill burned to the ground, but was rebuild that same year. A cave in halted production in 1904, and it never resumed. The town struggled mainly as a hangout for Cowboys that were being driven out by the law from nearby Tombstone. By 1919, the population was just 1900 residents. The great depression caused the rail road to pull up tracks, and the town died soon after. Today, only the store remains, and a home that now holds a pottery shop. The two jailhouses still stand, side by side, as they have for the last 100 years. The cemetery is also a great example of an old pioneer, old west cemetery where the remains of past residences have been laid to rest. The oldest we found was 1896, while the newest was just 4 years ago.

Jailhouse from the hill, looking down at the road

We left Pearce, to head a little further south to the northern most section of the old town of Courtland. We managed to find, completely by accident, the southern remains of this town almost a year prior, and I have since learned that there is another section, that includes a very well preserved jail house, and remains of a boarding house, and another residence. Courtland was really only a “town” for a dozen years or so, but in those dozen years, it was a very popular, well populated town, until, as is the case with so many towns in this area, the mines stopped producing, and people soon left.

Courtland Jailhouse from the road

So, 10 miles down the dust filled, stomach churning dirt road, we came across the Courtland jail house. Standing as it has for the last 100 years. All four walls, and ceiling still standing solid, a testament to how strong they built these structures! The bars still on most of the windows as well. Across the street from jail, was what we figured was the old boarding house I was told was there. Not much more than a cellar hole, cement porch, and noticeable fireplace still remains.

Ringo's Grave site

The Beer Czar at Ringo's Grave
From Courtland, we made our way 25 miles due east to the one site I was most excited about on this trip. Driving through a piece of Arizona, I had never even seen in pictures, and had no idea existed. With golden meadows, framed by creeks and rivers in the foreground, and rocky, snow capped mountains behind it all. We made our way to the site of the death and burial of Johnny Ringo. Made famous in the movie Tombstone, the show down between Ringo and Doc Holiday, in all likelihood, never happened. It was believed that Holiday and Earp were in Colorado at the time of Ringo's death. Ringo was found leaning up against a tree on the banks of Turkey Creek, with a single bullet hole in his head in 1882. Officially ruled a suicide, it is unclear how Ringo met his end, or who was responsible for it. Although the movie is mostly Hollywood, it is a great scene, and I must admit, wherever the filmed the scene for the movie, looks very much like the site we found. A pile of stones tells you wear Johnny Ringo was laid to rest, only a few feet from the tree he was found against. A nice stone monument that tells the quick story of Ringo is just a step away from Ringo’s head stone. Brad and I spent a few minutes in this very quiet; relaxing piece of Arizona that Ringo now calls home, before making our way due north another 30 miles to the remains of Fort Bowie.

Bowie Cemetery

Fort Bowie was an outpost built in 1862 to protect the old Butterfield Overland Mail Coach route that runs about a half mile north of the fort, as well as Apache Springs, just a few hundred yards from the fort. The fort was the first stop for Geronimo after his surrender and move up to the San Carlos Reservation, before going to Winslow, and onto Florida (in fact, Geronimo has a young son buried in the post cemetery). The Battle of Apache Pass took place just a mile or so from the fort, one of the western most battles of the Civil War. The site is now a National Historic Site, and one the best I have been to. You cannot drive to the site of the old fort (unless you have handicapped plates, or have other mobility limitations). You park in a small parking area, where you find a trail head, and a trail that is about a mile and half to the old fort site, that takes you past an old miners cabin, ruins of the old stage stop house, across the Butterfield Overland Mail route, the post cemetery, remains of the old Indian Affairs building, the site of the Battle of Apache Pass, the Apache Springs, and then finally to the site of the fort, where there are interpretive signs to explain what the ruins are you are looking at, as well as a visitors center that houses a small museum of artifacts found at the site of the fort, and surrounding areas. The museum, although small was very informative, and well done.

Old Cavalry Barracks, Fort Bowie

Keeping with tradition
Brad and I spent some time looking at the displays, visiting with the Park Ranger, and purchasing a few nick knacks for his kids, and made out way back the mile and a half to the truck for a celebratory cigar and beer (a little tradition we always do on these trips) and then the long ride home.

We stopped in Wilcox for a quite bite to eat at a great BBQ joint that was in an old railroad dining car. Food was great, beer selection, not so much, which was fine, since I was enjoying the ice tea far too much to mind at that point.

South Eastern Arizona
If you are ever looking for a fun, interesting and educational day trip from the Phoenix area, I would recommend heading to Cochise County, tucked quietly into the southeastern tip of this beautiful state. The history in this area at times appears ancient, and at others, seems to still be alive. The beauty combined with the rich history of this area make this one of my favorite parts of this great state I now call home. The people we met seemed to be proud, and embrace and respect the recent history of this area, and are almost always willing to offer a tip, a bit of info, or even directions to a site that may not be on the map. It’s about two and a half hours drive from the Phoenix area, but well worth the time it takes. If you would like more info on how to get to any of these areas, by all means, drop me a line and I would be happy to talk with you about any of them.

1 comment:

  1. Well Ken, you have done it again. This is so up my alley! I love to go on great trips especially when I have out of town guests. Although enjoy learning about beer, I love these stories, they help me escape from the 115 degree weather. Thank you for sharing!