I'd left a lot of asphalt in the wake of my old BMW to get there, so I savored the saunter through Tombstone's dusty downtown, pausing to imagine schools of bullets swimming up the street toward me. In my mind, Val Kilmer channeled Doc Holiday with the whiskey grumble and that great quip: "I have not yet begun to defile myself."
In Boot Hill Cemetery, deaths are helpfully explicated on the graves. "Killed by Indians," stands near "Killed in a knife fight" and "Killed for cheating at cards." The gun fighters, whores and Chinese railroad workers that built this great nation have become dry soil. Manifest destiny and all that.
Half an hour down SR 80 is the dried-up copper mining town of Bisbee. Located only a few miles from the Mexican border, this would be the perfect outlaw hideaway but instead serves as a design hunter's hide. Delectable restaurants intermingle with an almost unseemly an array of treasure-filled antique stores.
The Shady Dell is the town's most appropriate accommodation. The facility consists of a chrome constellation of Airstreams and other vintage trailer homes.
Shady Dell belongs to a forgotten past, to the days when gas was cheap and people toured the country at the helm of glittering cetaceans. It more museum than motel and the 12 trailers all have their own theme. You can stay with your family in one of the large campers playing vintage board games all night, stay with your buddies in a beach party bus attached to your own private Tiki bar or honeymoon in nautical comfort on faux seas.
At the entrance is Dot's Diner, which looks like you think it looks.
The owners, Justin and Jen, are a sweet young couple who have turned their passion into their work. When my wife and I arrived late on a very cold night, they had thoughtfully turned our lights on and had the room fully heated. We stayed in the Royal Mansion suite, a luxurious classic from the 1940s. I could picture Lucille Ball cracking wise in it as Ricky Ricardo tapped a rhythm on the steering wheel. The old fixtures sparkled with a showroom intensity.
We drifted off to sleep listening to the Billie Holiday record spinning on the complimentary vintage record player and, in the morning, I woke to Ella Fitzgerald's wailing.
Over breakfast, Justin and Jen discussed their plans to offer their guests aging convertibles to erect a private drive-in theater. I want to watch old westerns on that screen while lounging in the comfortably and uncomfortably distant pasts.
Photos by Ashna Rodjan
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