White Pickets and Red Bricks The Town Too Tough to Die

White Pickets and Red Bricks - A break in the cloudy sky let sun light the face of a Tombstone Apartment.
White Pickets and Red Bricks – A break in the cloudy sky let the sun light up the face of a Tombstone Apartment.

You may have noticed that history is one of my frequent photo themes, whether it’s human history, historical buildings, or the geologic origins of a mountain. I don’t know where this passion came from because I was a terrible history student in school—I could never keep my dates straight. Maybe it’s an old-person thing. Ironically, we geezers try to cram useless facts into every unused nook and cranny in our brains, only to drop dead before using any of it.

Whenever Queen Anne and I visit a place like Tombstone, we like to see all the hot spots that every tourist goes to. The gunfighters, the courthouse, the palatial bars, and we even rummage through the gift shops (ya gotta have new T-shirts). When I get home and write about my photos, digging up the background on the above subjects is relatively easy. But, as is the case with the building featured in this week’s picture, not every historical building has a bronze plaque.

When I shot the Tombstone County Courthouse featured a couple of weeks ago, I started across the street and circled the building. I snapped images as I went, but I was looking for something different—an angle no one had seen. The shot I presented was taken from the alley out back, and the wall, tower, and clouds gave me what I wanted.

When I finished my loop, I was back at the starting point—in front of a red-brick home across the street from the courthouse. This century-old home doesn’t have a written story—well, not online, it doesn’t—but I want to know more. Who was it built for? Why was it converted into apartments? Where did they get all of those bricks?

I’m a sucker for picket fences. I would never own one because they’re a pain in the ass to maintain, but I can’t pass one without getting out my camera. I took two versions of this photo; the first was when I started my courthouse walk. In that one, the sky was overcast, and the building was entirely in its shadow. When I finished my lap, the clouds had partially opened, allowing the sun to shine light onto the apartments. This pattern of light and shadow is my favorite light. Here’s why: if you combine the way the building is lit and the broken clouds in the sky, this scene will never happen exactly again. That means I captured a specific moment that can never be reproduced. If you think about it, it’s a moment of history.

I called this shot White Pickets and Red Bricks because those are the essential elements that make up this image. You can see its larger version on its Webpage by clicking here. I hope you’ll join us next week when we come back with our final Tombstone image.

Till next time
jw

BTW:

I want to note this week’s passing of David Crosby, a founding member of two bands that were part of my formative years; the Byrds and Crosby, Stills, and Nash (and subsequent derivatives). They pioneered the transformation of folk music to folk rock. Several of David’s albums in my collection get regular rotation in my listening room. Peace-out David.

Crystal Palace The Town Too Tough to Die

Crystal Palace - When we travel to Tombstone, we make a point of stopping in the Crystal Palace and admire its back bar.
Crystal Palace – When we travel to Tombstone, we make a point of stopping in the Crystal Palace to admire its back bar.

How adventurous are you? Do you try new things or stick with the tried and true when you return to a location? I’d say that Queen Anne and I are 25/75 split. We always seem to return to the joints we’ve enjoyed but try to see what else is out there. I’m unsure if that’s adventurous or what other people usually do.

That holds for Tombstone as well. It may not be a surprise that when we get to town, one of our first stops is a bar—not just any bar, but we specifically make a beeline to the Crystal Palace. We don’t go there because the beer is cold or the wine is vintage; let’s face it, beer is beer, and bar wine is—ugh. When we are belly-up to the bar, the alcohol is only a vessel for a toast to a great piece of furniture—the Crystal Palace back bar.

The Palace is on the south end of town on Allen Street. During winter, they keep the front doors closed, but you can bust your way through a pair of a traditional cowboy swinging doors during summer. As you look around the cavernous room, you’ll see a bigger-than-life roulette wheel hung as wall art. The ceilings are two stories high and covered in stamped tin tiles. There’s a stage along the back wall where rows of cancan girls danced. On the room’s left is a massive mahogany back bar dwarfing the bartenders. The room smells of stale beer, French fries, and hamburgers smeared on a leather saddle.

The cabinet that is the source of our admiration reaches about three-quarters of the way to the ceiling. It has three arches supported by Corinthian columns with mirror inserts. I wonder how often those mirrors were targets of bullets or flying cowboys. It looks like one piece, but I’ll bet there’s a seam hidden beneath the center trim and festoon. On each of its flanks are matching liquor hutches. If you don’t have time to drive to Tombstone, you can see its twin sister in one of Prescott’s Whiskey Row bars (I don’t recall exactly which bar it was because I spent too much of my life doing research for this article).

We don’t grow mahogany in Arizona or any other hardwood that would be nice enough for cabinets like this. This one was ordered from furniture makers in New England and then shipped around South America’s treacherous Cape Horn (no Virginia, the canal wasn’t yet built). Once the sailboat reached the Sea of Cortez, the bar was unloaded and carried overland by wagon.

If you’re hungry, you can order food. It’s not the worst place in town, but it’s still bar food. They prepare onion rings in-house, notably better than those awful versions at Jack’s or The King. If the tour busses are in town, the place will be packed, and the crowd can overwhelm the staff. Then you’ll have to be patient with your food and bill. But it’s not any better at the other restaurants.

There is one more thing about the Crystal Palace that I should warn you about—especially in spring. For some reason, enough couples are getting hitched in Tombstone; the town provides them with sideshows. On one of our visits, we noticed a table full of guys having a bachelor’s party. They had a great time drinking beer and being loud when suddenly an attractive woman dressed in a bright red dance costume burst through the swinging doors. She was followed by three men with handlebar mustaches wearing long black dusters and deputy badges. The young woman walked over to the groom-to-be and pointed her finger at him. She shouted for the entire world to hear, “That’s him! That’s the slime ball. Last night he promised to love me forever, and today he’s running off with another woman.”

Then the deputies grabbed the scoundrel under his arms and dragged him through the side door to the hanging tree out back. The crowd emptied the bar and filled the streets. Once there, the posse strung him up but stopped until someone fetched the bride.

Once she arrived (accompanied by her entourage), the lawmen presented their case. After hearing what they had to say, she promised that after their wedding, she’d set him straight, and he would never do it again. The sheriff polled the crowd, “Do you believe her?”

Most of the mob said yes, so he removed the noose, and we all went back into the bar and ordered another beer—on the groom.

I called this week’s picture Crystal Palace, and it’s of the cabinets described in my story. I was happy that my shot was sharp in such a dark room without using a flash or a tripod. I lightened the wood in post-production to show off its luster and grain. To get a clean shot, I had to wait for the bartenders to go to the kitchen window. Sometimes it pays to be patient.

You can see a larger version of Crystal Palace on its Webpage by clicking here. I hope you’ll join us next week when we come back with another Tombstone story.

Till next time
jw

BTW:

Are you ready for flowers? With the frequent rain this winter, we will have a bumper crop of wildflowers. Now is the time for you to come up with some strategery on where to go to photograph them.

Courthouse Yard The Town Too Tough to Die

Courthouse Yard - The tall brick wall surrounding the Tombstone Courthouse yard conceal the gallows within them
Courthouse Yard – The tall brick wall surrounding the Tombstone Courthouse yard conceals the gallows within them

Whenever I visit Tombstone, it takes me a while to get oriented. But when I see a town map, I understand why. Unlike most communities established in the Mormon Territory of Deseret, the streets aren’t aligned to the compass points and aren’t centered on an intersection named Central and Main. Instead, the town is 45° off the compass; there’s no Central Avenue, and Allen Street substitutes for Main Street. Given Tombstone’s distance from Salt Lake City and its rough and tumble history, I don’t suspect its citizens weren’t concerned about religions.

When I visit the “Town Too Tough to Die,” I consider the OK Corral its social and geographical heart. As I stand on the corner of 3rd Street and Allen and look the town over, I see the streets lined with one and two-story old wooden buildings. They’re either painted in bright colors or left in their natural dull brown finish. The only exception is a block southwest on 3rd Street. There you’ll see a large two-story brick building trimmed on each of its angles with white stones. On top is a cupola festooned with a widows-walk. The first time you see this pearl before the swine, you instantly know it must be important. It was—is. It’s the original Cochise County Courthouse.

It only took five years from the silver find to the OK Corral gunfight. In that brief time, the population swelled to 7,000, and robberies and lawlessness ran rampant. Wikipedia notes, “Except for the Earp–Clanton feud, which gave Tombstone an extremely bad press—from which it has no interest in recovering—citizens gladly accepted the proffered alternative.” The townspeople wanted a change. More importantly, miners had to make a two-day journey to Tucson to file a new claim. In 1881 two historical events happened; the shootout and the state legislature carved Cochise County out of Pima and made Tombstone its seat. The irony of those events and building the courthouse a block away from the Corral the next year isn’t lost on me.

By 1929 the silver played out, and Bisbee became the next boom town. The copper strike there required more men to work the mine. With a larger population, Bisbee won the county seat in an election, and the government offices moved 25 miles down the road. The old courthouse sat empty between 1931 and 1955. That’s when the local historical society took an interest in it. They began restoring and lobbying using local contributions until the Arizona legislature declared it an Arizona State Park.

In this week’s featured image, I call Courthouse Yard, I tried to capture the gingerbread and grandeur of the red-brick building, but I wanted to emphasize the wall surrounding the side yard. Inside those enclosures is where convicted murderers met justice at the gallows. The first hangings were the perpetrators of the Bisbee Massacre in 1883, while the last was the two men that killed a sheriff and deputy at the Wilson Ranch Shootout in 1899. The tall brick walls were designed to shield the gentle public from the gruesome hangings, but most of the town went inside and watched through the second-floor windows anyway. Incidentally, I like the foreboding clouds hanging above the courthouse.

You can see a larger version of Courthouse Yard on its Webpage by clicking here. I hope you’ll join us next week when we tell another thrilling tale from yesteryear in Tombstone.

Till next time
jw

BTW:

We’re planning to visit Temecula, California, wine country, in the upcoming weeks. I hope to bring home a bottle or two along with the pictures and stories we gather.

Gunfighters The Town Too Tough To Die

Gunfighters - Actors dressed in Earp costumes try to stay warm on Allen Street while they coax visitors to come see the 3:00 pm show.
Gunfighters – Actors dressed in Earp costumes try to stay warm on Allen Street while coaxing visitors to see the 3:00 pm show.

Ghost towns in Arizona are a dime a dozen. There are enough of them to fill a book. I know because I currently have five of them sitting on my shelves. The morphing of a city into a ghost town follows a familiar pattern. It starts with some loony prospector finding a valuable mineral—gold, silver, copper, diamonds, or another precious stone. News of the bonanza spreads quickly and lures a gaggle of opportunistic people. Half of them want to get rich by picking nuggets from the ground, and the rest want to pick them from someone’s pockets.

A new town springs from the ground like a children’s pop-up book. More people settled in the town and either got jobs at the mine or open shops that every mining community needed, like bars, gambling halls, and whore houses. Eventually—in a year, a decade, or a century—the gold (or whatever) pans out. The excitement of living in a mining town slowly dies, and its residents move on to the next boom town. Mother Nature reclaims the land without caretakers; all that remains is a pile of rotting wood, some foundations, and the eerie spirit of ghosts.

Of course, there are exceptions to my rule. In a handful of cases, when the mine goes bust, its residents look around and say to themselves, “This is a great place to live.” They find other sources of income. I call these places amusement communities. Examples that come to mind include Oatman, Jerome, Bisbee, Bagdad, Clifton, and Tombstone.

Of those locations, Tombstone is the odd duck. There are no gaping open pits to gawk at, historic hotels, or James Beard-worthy restaurants. I suspect that most of its visitors don’t even know about the silver mine. That’s because the silver vein wasn’t gigantic, and that’s how it got the name Goodenough Silver Mine. A gunfight between the Earps and the Clantons secured Tombstone’s historical spot. If it weren’t for that singular gang fight, Tombstone—’The town too tough to die’—would be a pile of splinters by now.

Don’t get me wrong; there is a list of exciting things to see in Tombstone. It was the Cochise County seat for a while, so there’s the old courthouse (with its gallows patio), the Crystal Palace back bar, the world’s largest dead rose bush, and the Birdcage theater should be on everyone’s checklist. Of course, if you have the time and money, you should see the show at the OK Coral, but realize that the actual gunfight was on Highway 80—behind the Coral.

I took this week’s photo on a cold, windy December afternoon. We had checked into our motel and started into town before the light faded. Standing in the middle of Allen Street (dirt, then paved until the street department poured dirt over it again—for authenticity) were four gunfighters dressed in black wearing badges. They tried to stay warm while they hawked visitors to the 3:00 pm show. I don’t know how successful they were because the streets were empty as people sheltered inside the bars. I titled this shot Gunfighters.

You can see a larger version of Gunfighters on its Webpage by clicking here. I hope you’ll join Queen Anne and me throughout January as we show some of the exciting Tombstone scenes we found.

Till next time
jw

BTW:

Queen Anne and I are working on our calendar for the year. We’re putting together a list of places we’d like to visit and this year’s book topics. If you have any requests, let us know in the comments section.

Eagle Crags Picture of the Week

Eagle Crags - Red-rock Vermilion Cliff outcrops covered in snow make a perfect Christmas greeting card.
Eagle Crags – Red-rock Vermilion Cliff outcrops covered in the snow make a perfect Christmas greeting card.

Have you ever been in a situation where you had to resort to Plan B at the last moment—and in the end, Plan B was always the better choice? In a convoluted way, that’s what I did to bring you this week’s picture. Let me start at the beginning.

When I set up my December project, I already had four photos picked out. Three of them went up without a hitch, and the last was scheduled for today. I thought it was a doozy—a view of looking down the stairwell of the Hassayampa Inn. You know, one of those shots where the stairs wrap around the frame and seem to go on forever. In the photography world, if you see a shot like that and don’t snap the photo, they will revoke your Artist License.

When I looked at the file closely this week, it was too blurry. The stairwell was dark, and I didn’t hold the camera steady enough while the shutter was open. If you saw it from across a large room, you couldn’t tell, but on close inspection, it looked like something my Aunt Kay would take. I gave up and deleted the file like the professors told me.

Now I panicked and started looking through my files for an alternative. This is where I got distracted and began chasing squirrels. My RAW image files are only halfway organized. I started a system a couple of years ago where I keep them grouped by State-Location-Year (I have so many Arizona pictures that I include a county folder, State-County-Location-Year). Since we moved to Congress, I’ve used this system, but my older files haven’t yet been sorted. It’s one of those Round-To-It things. You’ve probably guessed that I picked this week to start organizing and forgot that I was looking for this week’s post.

I was working on a 12-year-old file from a trip that my friend Jeff and I made to Zion National Park. We’d driven there on the long Thanksgiving weekend and shared a motel room. One image mixed in among the others was a shot of a Vermillion Cliffs uplift called Eagle Crags. When I looked at this image, I wondered, “Why haven’t I ever shown this file?” The mystery was solved when I looked at the file data. The camera that I used had a limited file size and couldn’t be used to make decent prints, so I considered it a snapshot of the weekend.

As I looked at the broken snow-covered sandstone, I remembered that Adobe had added a Photoshop tool that added pixels to an image from thin air—using artificial intelligence. So, I dug around and processed my small file using the “Super-Rez” tool, and the results were impressive. The original file would comfortably fit on a 5”x4” photo, but if you visit my store, you can see what it would look like 5 feet wide. It’s good enough to include on my Web Pages. So while I’m stuck in the house recovering from the crud Queen Anne passed to me, I can wade through more files and discover other hidden gems.

You can see a larger version of Eagle Crags on its Webpage by clicking here. I hope you agree that it’s a lovely Christmas card from Queen Anne and me. Next week we begin a New Year, a new month, and a new project. Be sure to come back then and see where the road takes us.

Till next time
Jw

BTW:

From the Witkowski household to you, we wish you a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

Hassayampa Lobby Picture of the Week

Hassayampa Lobby - A warm fireplace keeps the Hassayampa Inn Lobby comfortable.
Hassayampa Lobby – A warm fireplace keeps the Hassayampa Inn Lobby comfortable.

I’m confident that my wife’s life goal is to make my life miserable. Like a rebellious teenager, she delights in making me suffer. She’ll ask me for an opinion and then do the opposite. I’m not the only one that’s noticed this about her. When she worked for Eastern Airlines, one of her co-workers actually told her, “Your husband must be a saint.”

Here’s the latest example. A couple of weeks ago, Queen Anne came home from one of her coven meetings, and the following day she woke up coughing and sniffling. Since we’ve both had our quota of shots, I figured she was coming down with a cold. I don’t believe either of us has had one since we moved to Congress, so we were overdue.

Because we’ve been well for so long, her cold was seeking revenge. I’ve never heard her convulse so often and violently. She ignored my advice to rest, eat chicken soup, and take something to exacerbate the symptoms. Instead, she went about her business as if nothing was wrong, leaving a trail of Kleenex behind her. I was surprised that she didn’t pass her germs off on me, and I silently thought, “If I keep my distance, I won’t get sick.” We slept in separate rooms so her coughing wouldn’t keep me awake, although our house is small and sounds carry. As days passed, she got worse, and I detected a resentment that she alone suffered. A subtle look in a woman’s eye is visible only to a husband.

We were doing fine until this week’s three-day road trip. She swore she was getting better and insisted on going. To shorten this story, we spent three days together in the car, where she sneezed and coughed the entire 500 miles. Every time I glanced at her, she was elbow-deep in dirty snot rags, asleep against the window with a runny nose. After two days of her hacking and wheezing, my right ear began to wilt.

By the third morning, my immune system couldn’t take it anymore. When I let out my first cough, a miracle happened. Anne suddenly turned into Mother Teresa. Now she could nurse someone back to health. She was even willing to make homemade chicken noodle soup—and even asked how many cans to open.

I’m writing this post with watery eyes, a scratchy throat, and a plugged nose. However, I got even. The first thing I did when we got home was to get out my stash of Alka-Seltzer Plus. Anne snatched the box out of my hands and wanted to know where I was hiding it. While I let the two tablets fizz, she read the package. “It has aspirin. I’m allergic, so I can’t take this.”

“It will help your congestion and achiness. What harm could one little tablet do?” I countered. She set up a dose and tossed it back like she was doing shots.

Yesterday morning, she stomped into my office with arms akimbo and scowled at me. I looked up at her face. She had a hive on her lower jaw, and everything below her nose was swollen. She looked like Homer Simpson—stubble and all. I successfully stifled my giggling, so don’t let her know that I told you.

This week’s photo comes from our Thanksgiving trip to Prescott. It’s a shot of the Hassayampa Inn’s Lobby. That holiday night was frosty, so we enjoyed a glass of after-dinner wine by the fire in the evening.

From the outside, I think the hotel is an unremarkable brick cube, so I wanted to capture some of the elegance on display inside. The coffered and ornate ceiling came out well in this photo. Even the painting over the fireplace showed up well, but I’m disappointed that the artist chose a scene not in Arizona. We have plenty of beauty they could have chosen.

You can see a larger version of Hassayampa Lobby on its Webpage by clicking here. Come back next week when our final orphan photo finishes up the month—and year.

Till next time
jw

BTW:

Thanks for helping me get through my Sunday chores this morning. Now I need a bowl of soup and a long nap (rinse and repeat) until I shake this dreaded affliction.

Dragon Backs Picture of the Week

Dragon Backs - A pair of peaks in the Dome Rock Mountains that look like spiny back dragons.
Dragon Backs – A pair of peaks in the Dome Rock Mountains that look like spiny back dragons.

The drive between Quartzsite and Yuma on Highway US 95 has two parts. Driving in either direction, it’s thirty miles of gentle uphill grade and then downhill for the other thirty. The mid-point is at Stone Cabin (now an empty building shell), where the Border Patrol checkpoint is.

From Quartzsite, the road is dead straight, and your line of sight is limited only by the whoop-de-woos (wash dips) and the earth’s curvature. The 800-foot climb is barely noticeable, and the road is flanked on the east by the KofA Mountains (named for the King of Arizona mine), and to the west are the Dome Rock Mountains (the dome you see west of downtown Quartzsite).

The south half of the trip has a steeper grade—most of which is in the first mile, where the highway drops off a hill. The scenery changes too. There’s a different mountain range far off to the east—the Castle Dome Mountains, but you’re surrounded by the Yuma Proving Grounds, where the military plays with its new toys. Instead of a pleasant drive through the wilderness, you begin searching for things like the down-looking radar dirigible, a Bradley tank using your car for target practice, or the C-130 that just took off and climbed to 10,000 feet before troopers shove something big out of the back—I sure hope that chute opens.

Whenever Queen Anne and I travel this road, I look for these landmarks to help pass the time. I’d rather have a stimulating conversation about physics with her, but she usually has her head pressed against the headrest, her eyes closed, and her mouth open. She stays that way until one of her snorts wakes her.

On the drive home, one of the landmarks I look for is a pair of unnamed mountains in the Dome Rock Range. When I pass them, we’re nearing the Quartzsite city limits. The twin peaks look like a pair of dragons sunning themselves on a rock. I’ve often thought I’d like to get their portrait, but no matter how much map scouring I do, I’m unable to find a way to get closer—short of hiking two and a half miles across the open Mohave Desert.

The spiny back of the dragons climbs from the desert to their west-facing heads—where they watch the Colorado River flow south. As with last week’s shot, we always drive by them right after lunch. That’s the absolute worst light in the desert. I keep swearing on a stack of Ansel Adams books that I will shoot them when the light is correct, but it’s yet to happen.

On our last drug run—when last week’s photo was taken—clouds were gathering over the Dome Rock Range, so instead of a uniform blue sky, there was texture over the mountains. After I took the KofA Thunderhead shot, I walked across the highway and pointed my camera at the dragons. This time I twisted the zoom to telephoto and framed the monsoon clouds. The result is this week’s featured image, which I call Dragon Backs.

You can see a larger version of Dragon Backs on its Webpage by clicking here. Next week, I have pictures to show from a different place for show-and-tell. I hope you can take a break from your Christmas shopping and take a look. We’ll see you then.

Till next time
jw

BTW:

Flagstaff Book - A collection of photographs and musings from our summer trip to Flagstaff.
Flagstaff Book – A collection of photographs and musings from our summer trip to Flagstaff.

Oops, I Did It Again (Britney Spears song written by Richard Thompson). I published another book. This one covers all of the places we visited in and around Flagstaff. As usual, it’s available in two versions. You can see and buy the hardback on Blurb.com—which you won’t do because it’s too expensive—and the free PDF version you can download, view, and print from your computer. There are additional photos in each of the four chapters, so I’m hoping you take a look. You can get to its Web Page by clicking here.

%d bloggers like this: