Saturday, February 28, 2015

remembering arizona

If you are looking for a nice place to vacation this summer, may I recommend the Grand Canyon?

Located in the general area of Phoenix, Ariz., the Grand Canyon is an inspiration to behold. For thousands and thousands of years, the waters of the Colorado River steadily have carved the canyon through the living rock. The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long. In places it is as much as 18 miles across, and at points the canyon walls are 6,000 feet high.

It is a place of surpassing beauty. Its walls are a stunning array of reds, and the river is a living blend of colors. Wildlife thrives there in the desert, with fish that race upstream to spawn, or simply pass their lives navigating the twists of the river's bends. Coyotes and mountain lions hunt their prey along the river's twists and turns, and during the winter months bald eagles join other raptors and the newly reintroduced California condor in the skies overhead.

How can you describe sunset at the Grand Canyon? Words cannot express its beauty. Each night God makes the sky his canvas and with broad strokes he paints a work of timelessly fleeting beauty. And then, as the evening fades, he whispers the names of the stars and calls them forth one by one. It is impossible to see night come to the Grand Canyon and not be filled with wonder.

I would go on, but I've never been to the Grand Canyon. Instead, when I visited the state 15 years ago, my mother-in-law took us to another location people the world over know Arizona for: Tombstone. This small city is the site of the O.K. Corral, not to be confused with that famously mediocre church hymn, "The O.K. Chorale"; nor with that unremarkable reef off the East Coast, the O.K. Coral.

The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral is the best-known and best-loved shoot-out of all history. Aside from movies like “Tombstone” and the imaginatively titled "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral," it has appeared on television in series as unlikely as "Star Trek" and "Doctor Who," and even on "Peabody's Improbable History." It's easy to see why it's such a crowd-pleaser. It's got guns. It's got action. It's got dead bodies piled up sky-high. It's got good guys and bad guys. It's even true! (But not really.)

Not surprisingly, the Wyatt Earp and his associates define Tombstone. When we visited, a clothing store there boasted that it used to be the saloon where Wyatt Earp was the dealer at a faro table. Other places identified themselves as the office Doc Holliday used for his dental practice; the home of his girlfriend, Big Nose Kate; the burial place of the Clanton brothers; and the spot where Morgan Earp was killed.

The references went on and on, and before long I found myself not only spotting references to Wyatt Earp and the others, but actively looking for them. By lunchtime, when I used the bathroom at Big Nose Kate's Saloon, it had reached the point that I half-expected to see a sign identifying the urinal where Wyatt Earp used to pee.

It's hard to blame civic and business leaders for making the gunfight so central to the town's identity. Located 70 miles southeast of Tuscon, there's not much else to support the town's economy. There are fewer than 2,000 people in Tombstone these days, but tourism revenue has given them a high school that would make any community proud.

I'd say their tourism strategy is working out all right for them, but all the same, the next time I visit Arizona, I think I'd prefer to see the Grand Canyon.

I'm told it's really nice there.

Copyright © 2010, 2015 by David Learn. Used with permission.