Visiting Villa del Oeste, Durango

A popular destination just outside of Durango is Villa del Oeste, a far west town that has been used in the filming of a lot of Westerns. I was rather ambivalent about going because, even though it’s not too far from Durango (just 10 minutes if there’s no traffic…), I didn’t feel like making the effort to take out my truck and go there. So I had popped in at the tourist info kiosk at one point and asked if there is a bus that goes there. Only on weekends, when they have shows. I could take a bus at 1:00 p.m. to make it to the 1:30 p.m. show and then either return on the 3:30 p.m. bus or spend the afternoon and watch the three different shows, to return on the 6:30 p.m. bus. Perfect! I was told the cost was $35, which I thought was just bus fare, but nope. The bus is free and the entrance to the village is $35. Definitely not worth driving!

Julia wanted to catch a guided tour about Pancho Villa at 4:00, so we decided to go catch the 1:30 show, do whatever wandering around we had time for, and come right back on the 3:30 bus. That was more than enough time to get a bit of a sense of the place since it’s pretty small.

The ride inspired a joke that would follow us through the day. The bus slowed down on the highway and Julia said, “Llegamos” (we are arriving). I said, “No. Es un tope” (No, it’s a speed bump). We wound up on another bus later in the day and as the bus slowed down for a tope, Julia said, “Llegamos…” turned to me, and then we both howled, “No, es un tope!” I guess you just had to be there. 😀



One of the frequent comment in reviews about the town is how fake it and touristy it looks in real life compared to how well it photographs. So true!


The shows are held on the main street. Lots of benches for guests, some more comfortable than others.


My oral comprehension of Spanish is still terrible, especially when it comes to fiction. I do okayish following a straight up informational narrative, but when I have to follow a plot, different voices, a variety of inflections, etc., forget it if I don’t have subtitles (Spanish okay!) to guide me. So I really didn’t understand much of the show. But based on the jokes I did get as well as how much everyone else was howling, it was funny!

At one point, a no good husband who was always running off stood up to his wife and pointed a gun at her, yelling, “You’re not afraid of my gun?” She had been chasing and whacking him with a giant saucepan in previous scenes and was standing there holding the saucepan. I whispered to Julia, “He should be more afraid of her saucepan.” She turned to me, a huge grin on her face, and burst out laughing. The joke continued later in a souvenir shop where you could buy replica guns and I bemoaned that there were no saucepans for sale!



There was a cancan show after. Reminded me of Dawson! I was wearing a flowy black skirt, so I went into the street and danced, too, swirling my skirt around. So much fun!


We wandered around a bit, finding a snack (cranberry bun for her, nieve for me), and got some pictures taken. This was my favourite:


The town has a few stores with souvenirs, lots of portrait studios, and some food vendors. It would be easy to spend an afternoon here with kids, but not a full day.



There were a few things we could have done had we chosen to stay till 6:30, like a cart ride or even go horseback riding, and I know we didn’t explore every inch of the village, but we both agreed that we wanted to get back to Durango rather than hang out.

This was a fun couple of hours that I know I wouldn’t have enjoyed half as much on my own!

It was 4:00 when we arrived, so Julia had to hoof it over to Francisco Villa. I walked the block with her, thinking our day was over. But she said she wanted to do a cemetery walking tour quite a bit later that evening, so how about we meet up for dinner around 6:30, then go do the tour? Great! I told her to come meet me at the hotel when she was ready as I would be there having a break.

I was glad to have a few hours to decompress and relax. I also had a headache from all that Spanish! What an education the day had been so far! I didn’t understand everything Julia said, not by far, and I sometimes had to pull out a dictionary to more clearly express myself, but, really, we did okay comprehension-wise. There were so many laughs all day, which transcends any language barriers. This is one of my favourite things about traveling solo, meeting up with someone just for a day and sharing some memories with no expectations of becoming lifelong friends.

Tombstone, AZ

I am really into the history of the Wild West and the characters that inhabited it. So you would think that visiting Tombstone was a must for me. Not in the least. Afraid of a tourist trap, even copious numbers of people telling me to go there weren’t enough to make me believe that this iconic western town would be worth a detour. If it hadn’t been kinda sorta on the way to Nogales from Tucson, I would have definitely given it a pass.

I spent an enjoyable day there and do not regret going, but I feel that my initial misgivings stand. Lots of fun can be had in Tombstone and if you’re a history buff you’ll get your fill of artifacts, but if you want a more genuine-feeling Wild West town experience there are lots of better choices.

Before I get into my narrative about the day, I have to explain the lack of pictures. You can take as many pictures as you want in Tombstone of anything, but you cannot post anything about paid attractions online without express written permission, which is apparently difficult to get. So you’ll just have to take my word for a lot of this. 🙂

My first stop was the courthouse museum, admission $5. It was full of history about Tombstone and its colourful inhabitants.

Tombstone courthouse.

Tombstone courthouse.

I learned about the card game faro, the most popular game at the time, but which is now outlawed in the US because it gives the house a 67% chance of winning.

One of the more ghastly exhibits was a reconstruction of the gallows. I believe they are the second gallows I have ever seen (the first being in Ottawa!), and let’s just say they’re not nice to look at. 🙂

I learned about a Chinese man who was born in Virginia City, MT, where I was just recently, and the Chinese population of the town.

One exhibit that I found quite impressive was two large walls full of all sorts of different types of barbed wire. I didn’t realise that many exist!

The courthouse museum was a good start to my day. I then headed for Allen Street, the main kitschy touristy drag with a faux Western look (go to Dawson City for a more realistic one!) and lots of shops selling tchotkes.

Allen Street. I liked the Earps standing in the middle of the street. :)

Allen Street. I liked the Earps standing in the middle of the street. 🙂

I encountered a man who loves the outdoors and doesn’t let his physical disabilities stop him from going off the beaten path. Picture taken with permission!

Impressive wheelchair!

Impressive wheelchair!

My next stop was the Bird Cage Theatre, admission $10.


This was a theatre/brothel/gambling hall/saloon that operated from 1881 to 1889 and has been preserved intact, one of the few original Tombstone buildings that survived the fires. Admission gives you all the time you want to wander the rooms. This was a wow experience for me. So much history, and preserved almost exactly as it was 125 years ago! I was able to use the incredible zoom feature in my camera to see details in the wallpaper of the viewing balconies and details of the ceiling.

The Bird Cage Theatre was totally worth the admission price also. Buoyed by my success thus far at avoiding tourist traps, I took the plunge and went to check out Big Nose Kate’s Saloon, named after Doc Holliday’s girlfriend. The saloon was once the Grand Hotel.






The saloon was a little loud, but the music was good old classic country sung by a lively entertainer, so I decided to stay for a bit. I ordered a beer and perused the menu. The food was really inexpensive (!), so I decided to try their ‘Stampede’ burger, with cheese, bacon, and BBQ sauce. Surprise, the burger was excellent and they even made frozen fries taste good somehow! I tipped the server and singer generously, and still came out of there at less than $20 for a beer, lunch, and a show!

Before I left, I took the twisty stairs down to the basement into yet another shop so I could see the room of the man who did menial labour at the hotel and tunneled his way from his room into a silver mine in his downtime. Seriously!

Yup, my day was going well! So well, in fact, that I decided to jump into the tourist trap and buy a ticket to see a recreation of the OK Corral gunfight. I ponied up $10 and for that got to see the show, the OK Corral museum, the Tombstone history movie, and I got a free copy of a reproduction of the Tombstone Epitaph newspaper with the article about the shootout and subsequent inquest!

The gunfight show was amusing. The acting wasn’t great and I thought that it was hilarious that they cast an old guy to play Billy Clanton, who was 19 when he died at the hands of the Earps. What I got from the show was a better sense of the unvarnished truth about the fight and where it happened exactly. One of the most memorable parts of this whole part of the day was seeing the map Wyatt Earp drew in the 1920s showing what he remembered about the placement of people during the fight. He had bad handwriting!

The movie dated back to the 1950s and was narrated by Vincent Price! It was a little bizarre in that most of the action was in a diorama and occasionally a screen would come down to show reenactments of certain things. I learned a lot about the history of the town. The founder was told when he went to the area that he would only find his tombstone, hence the name he picked for the settlement!

I have to say that I find it distasteful that there’s a sign on Allen Street at the back of the corral saying that the fight happened there when the true location is on now super busy Fremont Street, several doors down from the corral. There’s a sign there, too, but I think a lot of people would miss it. I only knew to look for the spot because of my own knowledge of the event.

The real site of the OK Corral gunfight.

The real site of the OK Corral gunfight. There’s just a little sign next to Fly’s photography studio and boarding house.

I went to the actual fight site while munching on an ice cream, found for just $2 for a decent-sized cone. When I was done with that, I went to the Epitaph office to pick up my free paper. By the way, I love the name of that newspaper!

There is a free exhibit in the newspaper office about the man who founded it and quite a lot of history about his and Wyatt Earp’s connection to the Chilkoot Trail and the Klondike gold fields!


My free paper would have cost me $3 and I would have bought one, so I really got my money’s worth out of that OK Corral show ticket!

My final stop of the day was the Boothill Cemetery. Access is free through yet another gift shop. I paid the $3 to get the booklet that gives info about all the graves.




Billy Clanton's grave.

Billy Clanton’s grave.



I was surprised to find Tombstone to be relatively inexpensive and good value if you spend your money carefully. I never once felt that I was paying a ‘Tombstone tax’, a premium just because of the location.

I’m glad I went to Tombstone and found the experience worthwhile, but this wasn’t a wow day for me at all. What I enjoyed most were the artifacts. I’d say the two best parts of the day were my first steps into the Bird Cage Theatre and seeing Wyatt Earp’s gunfight map!

Two pictures from the trip to Nogales:

This pest control's car was decorated like a mouse, complete with tail, whiskers, and ears!

This pest control’s car was decorated like a mouse, complete with tail, whiskers, and ears!

According to my GPS, Nogales is the end of the world!

According to my GPS, Nogales is the end of the world!

An Adventure En Route to Flagstaff

From Pipe Springs, I returned to Utah so I could take route 89 through the southern edge of the Grand Staircase – Escalante Monument, an area famed for its beautiful multicoloured hills. I pulled over at an information sign that indicated that the ghost town of Pahreah and an abandoned movie set from the 1930s, as well as the Paria cemetery lay six miles away in an isolated valley. The sign warned that the road is only passable to high clearance vehicles in dry conditions. Well, this was certainly not something I could do with Miranda or my old toad, a subcompact Accent!

Off I went down the twisty clay road and it was good going at first, but the road became very twisty and steep. I came down one twisty slope into sandy and got the first niggle of worry that maybe my plan wasn’t such a good idea. This is the kind of feeling I was expecting to get on the Angel’s Landing hike, but never felt once. I continued on for a long while and finally got to something, a sign indicating that the ghost town lay ahead and that the old movie set had burned down and what’s there now are replicas. There was also, to my surprise, a clean pit toilet.

I continued on and found the cemetery. There were names and dates on a plaque, but all the gravestones were unmarked.

Shortly after the cemetery, there was a sign that said, ‘High clearance 4×4 vehicles strongly recommended beyond this point.’ The ugly feeling returned to my stomach with a vengeance. It was surprising to feel it there and not at all on the hike the other day. The scenery down into the valley had made the drive worthwhile and I made the decision to trust my gut. It was late and I didn’t even feel like walking the route to see what I might be getting myself into. I had to reverse almost a quarter mile before finding a place to turn around. I have no idea why the sign was placed where it was. 🙁

The trip back up was something! Sure enough, I came this close to getting stuck at the bottom of that steep sandy slope. It was really tricky because I had to make a run up the hill in very low gear and turn at the same time to avoid going over the edge of a cliff. After that, it was smooth going.

Even though I did not make it to the ghost town and movie set, I am very glad I took the detour! The scenery was so beautiful and I got to see what my truck is made of!

From there, I pushed on to Page where I got fuel and discovered that… someone stole my brand new gas cap!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I bought fuel yesterday before going to Kolob Canyons and I most certainly remember putting my gas cap back on. I am not impressed. 🙁

Page has a really impressive dam. There was even places to park around it for photo ops.

From Page, route 89 was closed and I had to take a detour that was very, very, very slow going . I was glad when I reached Flagstaff as I was started to feel a little faint from hunger. I pulled into the Cracker Barrel at 5PM local time. BTW Arizona is like SK in that it does not change the clocks, so right now it’s on Pacific Time. Cracker Barrel is a guilty pleasure and this was only the second one I encountered on this trip. I enjoyed their apricot glazed pork chops with pecan wild rice, the special of the day, which made for an inexpensive meal.

It wasn’t even six when I got done with dinner and the evening stretched on ahead. I found a Starbucks where I did the last blog post, but didn’t realise that they closed at seven! I thought to go see a movie, but Flagstaff has only one cinema and there was nothing appealing playing. It was way too early to crawl into my bunk for the evening.

So I went to Walmart to kill some time and picked up some fleece pants since it’s going down to almost freezing tonight and all my warm PJs are in the laundry basket. Yes, it wouldn’t have killed me to wear smelly PJs tonight, but I could afford $8 for a clean new pair. 😉

From Walmart, I drove around for the better part of an hour looking for an overnight spot. Flagstaff has a dizzying amount of motels and hotels, but finding one that met my requirements took ages. I’m happy with what I found, although the train that passes frequently might be an issue.

I’m not sure what I’m doing tomorrow. There’s a few things in Phoenix that are of interest, so I might head there. There isn’t really anything around or in Flagstaff that I particularly want to stick around for, plus the weather here is quite cool since we’re at almost 7,000 feet of elevation and I put away most of my warm clothes! 🙂

Billings to Yellowstone, MT, With a Virginia City Detour

I wound up doing more mileage than expected today (about 350KM, although it felt like MUCH more), but I’m right near Old Faithful (less than an hour if the road is open and there are no detours), so that will save me time tomorrow.

A lady at McDonald’s this morning suggested to me that I check out Virginia City, a ghost town near Bozeman. I checked the map and that was barely a detour on my way to Old Faithful, so that’s where I pointed the GPS. But first, I went to Walmart for an oil change and tire pressure check. I had an hour to kill while waiting for that, so I stopped at the deli counter for salami and cheese (enough for two days), apples, crackers, and a veggie tray. I also found a map book, but the GPSes were packaged and shelved in such a way that I couldn’t comparison shop. Plus the prices were too high, so I left them there.

During this time, I also switched back to my CDN SIM card to call SaskTel and suspend my service for three months. That will save me $150, so it was worth the wait to get through to a service rep!

The service manager for automotive apologized for not vacuuming the inside of my truck. I told her that I am aware that my truck is bursting with stuff and that I wasn’t expecting that bit of the service. 🙂

I left Billings around 10:30 and took I-90 west towards Bozeman. There isn’t much in the way of radio out in these parts, so I continued to listen to an audio book my friend L gave me this summer after he was done with it, a pulpy thriller by Tami Hoag, whom I enjoy on occasion. It was a good story with characters I could care about as well as super well narrated, so the miles just ate themselves up.

I stopped at a rest area for an early picnic after getting a coffee at a service station. The wind has been terrible and my gas mileage is absolutely horrible so far. Fuel is still cheaper than I budgeted for, but barely. I had planned on 1.20CAD per litre and I’ve been averaging 1.00CAD. I’m about a third of the way to Nogales (really!) and as long as gas doesn’t go above $3.50ish a gallon, I’ll do okay, especially if I get out of the mountains and high winds!

I really do wonder if there’s something wrong with my gas gauge. I can go from ‘F’ to three quarters of a tank or three quarters to a half or a half to a quarter in literally minutes after being stuck at the previous mark for ages. When I get to a quarter tank, I get to the red mark so fast it makes my head spin. I really should go to the Ford Ranger forum and see if this is normal behaviour.

At any rate, I reached Bozeman and had to get off the interstate and onto a state road. This involved stopping at 50 billion red lights. I am barely exaggerating. That sort of city driving is so fun with a clutch. Not.

Between the lights and all the construction I had and would pass, my ETA to Virginia City changed from 2PM to 3PM. I didn’t mind because I suspected, correctly so, that the city would be shut for the season and there wouldn’t be much to see or do. I parked on a side street and walked up and down the main strip, enjoying the old western-style buildings that reminded me so much of Dawson City. The ice cream parlour was open, so I stopped in and asked for two tiny scoops in a cup, one of cookies and cream, one of cherry cheesecake. My portion was apparently ridiculous (no, it was not, and the proof is below) and got me a discount!

From what I can understand about Virginia City, most of the buildings have been renovated to keep their derelict appearance, but the town is very much alive and has businesses and a population. I couldn’t even get a walking map today, so I didn’t get much info about the town. Going there was something to do to eat up part of the day and I’m absolutely glad I made the detour, but it wasn’t a memorable stop for me.

By the time I got back down to Ennis, the town where the wind apparently blows hard enough to rip off a man’s arm, it was time to decide where I was going to spend the night. It was really too early to stop without having a place outside the truck to spend the evening and I still had two hours to go to get to Old Faithful. My GPS and map told me there was one more sizable community before I hit the park, West Yellowstone. It was only an hour away, so I decided to push on.

The wind along the drive was brutal and cold. I stopped off a few times to take pictures of a submerged forest and was nearly blown into the lake! This lake came to be after a major earthquake in 1959 that killed 28 people, most of them sound asleep in tents at a campground. The first plaque about the earthquake was announced ahead of time as ‘The night of terror and loss’ and let me say I didn’t need convincing to pull off the road and see what that was about! I can’t imagine what a nightmare that night was!

To my immense surprise, there was a rest area along that desolate stretch of highway. I was grateful that I no longer had to look for a tree to squat behind and made a point to check the forecast for West Yellowstone. It was going to be bitter cold overnight. I decided to shop for a motel if I could find something for under 75USD per night, which is way more than I’m comfortable spending, but I’m in major tourist country.

I should point out that my budget is tight by choice and so quite flexible. I’m just worried that next month’s cheque will be late, too, so I’m doing what I can to stretch out what I’ve got in the bank to cover my early day expenses in Mexico (border fees and first month’s rent) as well as all the November bills. Worst case scenario if I get a major extra expense, I’ll have to wait for the November cheque to arrive and delay my arrival in Mexico. Not a huge deal, certainly not enough to freeze in my truck tonight! 🙂

There was a surprising amount of businesses still open in West Yellowstone considering the time of year. I walked and drove around, checking out the less expensive looking motels. The first one was a NO because the office reeked, while the second and third had no one staffing the front desks or answering the buzzers. The fourth one had someone at the desk. A room was $69 with the tax, better than expected for a resort community, even in the off season, so I was suspicious and asked to see the room. It turned out to be very clean and fresh with a newly renovated bathroom. I was impressed!

I packed my truck in such a way that everything I needed for a hotel room was in one bag, so it was easy to grab that bag, my computer bag, and my purse and  move into the room. I didn’t have to dig around for clothes, toiletries, and sundries and felt quite organized!

By the time I was settled in, I was beyond ready for dinner, so I went back down to the main strip and popped into the first place that was open, Buckaroo Bill’s. The wait to put in an order was so long I was actually putting on my coat when the server finally returned, but I stayed and settled in for a long wait for my food. To my surprise, it didn’t take that long, much less than the wait for the server to take the order!

I ordered the Tatanka burger, which is exactly what it says, a buffalo burger. It was just a meat patty, no seasonings in it at all. I much prefer the mild taste of buffalo to that of beef, so that was fine, especially after I added mustard, tomato, lettuce, and even the dill pickles! Buffalo is a very lean meat and can be quite dry if not cooked slowly. This burger while not juicy was quite moist. I was very happy with it! I decided to get sweet potato fries with it and their portion was positively unAmerican, small enough that I ate them all! The meal came to a ridiculous $10, plus a $2 tip! Do you know how much I have to pay to have buffalo in Saskatchewan?! And if someone had told me a few years ago that I would know anything about buffalo meat, I would have laughed!

I’m off to research Old Faithful and figure out roughly where I want to be tomorrow night. I would really rather not pay for a room again since I’ll need to take one over the weekend, so I may have to drive a bit. I have the room till 11:00, but will likely head out around 9:00, just in case there are detours to get to Old Faithful.

Oh, and it started sleeting the second I walked into my hotel room. Am I glad to be here and that I didn’t have to walk from restaurant in that mess!