I wanted to do something out of the ordinary this past holiday season. As someone who lives alone, I have found that certain holidays are easier than others and that Christmas tends to be a time that I prefer to do something away from home. Last year I made a promise that I would travel as a special gift to myself, both for Christmas and because I haven’t been on any trips since the pandemic began. I ended up having a magical time at the Tombstone Monument Ranch and have been looking forward to sharing this special diamond in the desert with our readers.
What could be better?
Landing on Tombstone Monument Ranch was a relatively easy decision. I had a handful of criteria for my trip and they met them all. My requirements were that my destination had to be:
-Outside of Colorado
-In a warmer climate
-Somehow related to history
-Be in a much different type of location to Denver
-Have other people around
As a big fan of Wild West history, I quickly got the idea of returning to my home state of Arizona and crossing off a bucket list item: spending a holiday at a dude ranch. I am a Tombstone lover and decided to see what the area might have to offer. However, it wasn’t until I started making calls that I settled on it. From my first contact with the ranch, they were so friendly and sounded genuinely excited to host me. Plus, when I asked them if they could cater to my gluten-free, vegetarian diet they weren’t phased in the least, a problem I have come across when speaking with other dude ranches.
With my decision made I set off to plan for a fun cowboy Christmas, though enjoying the element of surprise in life I didn’t gather too much information on what to expect at the ranch. I wasn’t to be disappointed!
Old west hospitality
My stay with Tombstone Monument Ranch began in a way I wasn’t planning on. Despite being about an hour’s drive from the Tuscon airport I had decided to fly into Phoenix and make the three-hour drive slowly that day, stopping in some of my former favorites along the way. My lack of recent travel experience showed up early as I found myself physically wrecked after my 5:30am flight from Denver. I won’t be doing that again! Although I had planned to eat along the way, I found myself too nauseous to contemplate a Mexican food breakfast or lunch. I then discovered that my back wasn’t too thrilled and that I was in desperate need of a nap (imagine that!). I made the decision to high-tail it to the ranch out of concern for my safety given my exhausted state. I’d be hours early but thought it was the best option.
Not the beginning of my Wild Wild West holiday that I had in mind, but things would only go up from there.
Driving into Tombstone was thrilling. It doesn’t take long to feel that you have stepped into an old western movie when you enter the town. Between the saguaros, the mountains, and the cowboy-themed everything it doesn’t disappoint from the moment you roll into the area. I would continue to be pleasantly surprised as my GPS took me onto a long and winding dirt road to look for the ranch. When I arrived I felt like I had just pulled up to a movie set, it was that stunning. My adventure was underway.
Although I was extremely early, the ranch staff welcomed me warmly and did what they could to help me get comfortable in their on-site saloon while I read and waited for a bit to eat. As tired as I was I enjoyed a great buffet-style lunch, complete with gluten-free options. And then, it was nap time!
Lay of the land
I was excited to stretch my legs and explore the grounds once I was refreshed and relaxed. The entire site is truly special with Tombstone-themed rooms (I was in Miss Kitty’s Bordello!), gorgeous views, huge corrals for dozens of horses, and charming desert paths. I was in heaven!
Besides the trails that I would explore extensively on horseback over the next three days the place I spent the most time was the cozy Trappman Saloon at the front of the property. Manager Michelle DeSplinter let me know that it is named after the original owners of the land, the Trappmans, who raised cattle back in the 1800s. Michelle says the history is her favorite part about the ranch: “The property has come full circle…it used to be a cattle ranch way back when in the 1800s. And now this property is a cattle ranch again.”
A view from the past
I had the opportunity to go on a handful of horseback rides with one of the ranch’s handsome wranglers. The first was a history tour exploring trails and former mining camps that few tourists get to see. It was fun to have our experienced guide point out the different places where miners once worked and laid stakes to silver mines back in Tombstone’s glory days. We also rode past the gravesite of Ed Schieffelin, the founder of Tombstone who famously named his first mine and then the town as such after being told all he would find in the desert hills would be his grave.
This first ride was a two-hour “history ride” exploring miles of Tombstone trails. As a history lover, I couldn’t resist, despite not having had a riding lesson yet. And while it turned out great in the end, my nerves prevented me from remembering as many of the details as I would have liked. Nerves aside, it was a wonderful first experience and introduction to the ranch.
I would also have the opportunity to go on a one-hour “slow ride” the next morning as well as a “beer and Doritos” ride on Christmas evening. With each ride, I came to love being on horseback more. Besides loving the activity itself I was pleased to see that each trail was new and that we were shown completely different areas each time. I couldn’t get enough!
Michelle told me that the horseback offerings for guests are a vital aspect to the role that Tombstone Monument Ranch plays in keeping the history of Tombstone alive as it gives visitors the chance to view the land from the same vantage point as those who explored it in the 1800s, on horseback. Plus, “It gives them a perspective they wouldn’t receive otherwise. It connects people to the land. It connects people to a different aspect of life that so many people don’t get every day.”
I had a beautiful experience thinking about the brave miners and adventurers who spent time in the area as I rode along. And as someone who certainly loves my modern luxuries, it is fun and inspiring to imagine the sacrifices that so many were willing to make for a new type of life or shoot at fortune. Plus, how dusty they must have been!
Christmas Day in Tombstone
It was a real joy to spend Christmas Day in the desert and at the ranch. Waking up in such unique surroundings made the day special from the moment I woke up and there is nothing like starting the day with a horseback ride. I also appreciated that the staff had fresh coffee brewing each morning nice and early for me to enjoy while prepping for the day and before having their hot buffet breakfast.
After my ride, I decided to sneak off into town to see if I’d have the opportunity to take photos of the less-crowded streets in my beautiful Recollections bustle dress. Plus, I had heard that there would be one gun show available to watch that day and wanted the chance to attend and take photos with one of the gunslingers. This too wouldn’t disappoint.
Gun Fight Palace
The Gun Fight Palace is located right on Allen Street and the show I attended featured reenactments of four different famous Tombstone gunfights. As the actors point out, while many like to think of famous gunfights taking place in the streets after a duel is sworn, in reality, most took place inside of saloons after exhausted men, heavy drinking, and tempers combined. I found the show really interesting, especially the reenactment of the death of Warren Earp. The least popular of the famous Earp brothers, Warren was gunned down during a bar braw in 1900 after pushing one of the patrons too far for the last time. He was so despised that he bled to death on the floor with people walking over him for hours before he was removed. Yikes.
I would recommend The Gun Fight Palace for anyone who is interested in some genuine Tombstone history. The sweet actors were kind enough to let me stay behind after the show ended to take some photos. I will definitely return the next time I am in town!
The streets of Tombstone, all to myself!
Another highlight from my Tombstone Christmas was having the rare opportunity to enjoy the nearly vacant streets of the historic town to myself while taking photos of my beloved Recollections Blair Rose dress. I could not get enough of this experience and only tore myself away as our beer and Dorritos ride was coming up at the ranch. I walked up and down the streets with my tripod and pictured myself as a desert beauty walking the thoroughfare for the first time, oblivious to admirers. Being able to take photos in front of The Birdcage Theater, OK Corral, and Crystal Palace in my beautiful period dress is a holiday memory I will treasure.
A cowboy Christmas
And of course, I was happy to return back to the ranch for both another beautiful horseback ride and Christmas night with some friends I had made during my time, including Seger, the trusty bartender who made everyone feel like a VIP and friend. I had gotten to know a lovely couple from California and we were all thrilled to have Christmas dinner together and get to know each other more. And of course, I had an amazing vegetarian dinner prepared for me including a stuffed butternut squash that I must get the recipe for.
Sadly, I had to leave Tombstone Monument Ranch on Boxing Day, and with a heavy heart! Luckily I was able to have one more shot at photos, this time with perhaps my favorite Recollections dress, the Marine Victorian Dress. This time I had the chance to spend time with my new friend Linda, one part of the California couple I had clicked during the stay. We had a blast walking up and down the paths of the expansive grounds taking stunning pictures with the dropback of the desert and the ranch. The grounds are kept so impeccable that we found countless places for photo ops and only ended reluctantly to have lunch.
Thank you, Tombstone Monument Ranch!
Are you planning a trip this year? I highly recommend a stay at this unique destination. The ranch caters to families, couples, and singles like me. They are located just about two miles from town, giving the opportunity for easily tart back and forth between the two Wild West locations. At this point, I am planning a second trip early in the summer and welcome anyone to reach out with questions about visiting Tombstone or Tombstone Monument Ranch.
More Old West Fun
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Polly Pry: daring journalist of the Wild West
Lillian Smith: Buffalo Bill’s other female sharpshooter
What fun reading about your experience, Janice. It sounds like a place I would have enjoyed back in the day when I could do such things Your 90-year-old Grandma!
Was there a week before adoring my pioneer working dress. Love going there for Sunday Dinners. Beautiful photos! Glad you liked our neck of the woods. I wear my dresses in Whetstone everyday. Love the west!
Traveling solo over Christmas can be a very hit-or-miss experience. Thank you for sharing this one as a good option! I will certainly keep it in mind for the future!
Another excellent historical site for solo travel is Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, KY. I highly recommend it!