Want to find out if Tombstone, Arizona and/or Lincoln County, New Mexico is a kid friendly and age appropriate destination for your next vacation with kids? You’ve come to the right place!
Welcome to Exit 9 of our Great American Road Trip with Kids (and on a budget) – only one more Exit to go! Are y’all excited?!
Exit 9 is a break from our National Parks. On our way from Exit 7 to Exit 8 (after out pit-stop to see friends and family in Arizona), we stopped by Tombstone, Arizona. We didn’t spend a lot of time here, and I’ll get to that in a bit.
After Exit 8, we headed to Lincoln County, New Mexico, site of the Battle of Lincoln and part of the Lincoln County War, and the main storyline of one of my favorite movies of all-time, Young Guns.
We spent a little over an hour in Lincoln before we made our way to our final stop, which you’ll hopefully learn about in Exit 10!
If you’ve been following along with us, much appreciated!
If you haven’t, please check out the following:
Exit 1 – Route 66
Exit 2 – Petroglyph and Aztec Ruins National Monuments
Exit 3 – Mesa Verde National Park
Exit 4 – Hovenweep National Monument
Exit 5 – Monument Valley Tribal Park
Exit 6 – Glen Canyon National Recreational Area
Exit 7 – Grand Canyon National Park
Exit 8 – White Sands National Monument
We know traveling is hard to do these days (Tombstone is open but the museums in Lincoln are not), but we hope that times to travel will return soon, and that you can use these recaps of our 2019 Great American Road Trip to help plan your next stop to one of these old west towns.
Want to follow along with us on this journey? Awesome! You can follow us through RSS feed, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, or just by subscribing to receive emails when posts are release. Much obliged!
Also, I’ve created a Young Guns Spotify playlist to accompany this post. You may want to listen to it as you read along. You can find it here.
As a reminder, we’re giving you our recommendations and non-recommendations (or highlights and lowlight), for a Great American Road Trip with kids (and on a budget). This will include tips and tricks, what there is to do, how kid friendly each place is, how you can do it on a family-friendly budget, and what you’ll need for that portion of the trip.
Great American Road Trip with Kids (and on a budget!): Exit 9 – Wild Wild West (Tombstone and Lincoln County)
I’m not sure what it is about the old west, but I’m fascinated with it. The history, the characters, the six-shooters, the buildings, the horses, heck, even the dirt, all brings chills up and down my spine. Not sure when it started but my earliest memory was when I was 11-years-old and watched Young Guns for the very first time.
The moment I saw Young Guns I was drawn into Billy the Kid and The Regulators. I read Pat Garrett’s book, “The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid” immediately thereafter. I dreamed of riding horseback through canyons, playing poker in saloons, and as Toby Keith says, “wearin’ my six-shooter, ridin’ my pony on a cattle drive.”
Whenever the “If you could go back to any time period which one would it be?” question is asked as an icebreaker my first answer, without even second-guessing, is the late 1800’s and the ol’ west.
Thinking about it 32 years later I realize I wouldn’t last longer than 15 minutes in the wild west. I’ve shot a pistol three times in my life, have never ridden a horse, and I have to shower daily cause I don’t like to feel icky.
Still the lure of the wild west excites me, and knowing we’d be driving past the area where Billy the Kid and The Regulators once rode thrilled me and made the destination a must-see.
Before I dive further into Lincoln, let’s briefly touch on Tombstone.
Tombstone was a 30-minute drive off Interstate-10, so an hour there and back. It wasn’t worth it. I was thoroughly disappointed in the town. Most of the buildings had been rebuilt or remade into replicas of the original town made famous by Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. The only original building was The Bird Cage Theater, and that would’ve cost us $64 to tour.
It felt like we were on a Universal Studios back lot. Every block you’re interrupted by “actors” in old west attire asking for you to come to their Wild West gunfights. Dodge City, Kansas, where Holliday originated from, was similar. I wanted authentic history and I didn’t get any of that from Tombstone.
Lincoln was an hour off our path to Exit 10, but I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity as there’s a very low chance I’ll ever be back through that area.
The drive through the mountains was beautiful, and passing the site John Tunstall was murdered, and knowing that The Regulators rode these same hills only made me more excited.
A little more background on my love of this era, and in particular this film and these “characters”. My youngest brother spent the summer of 1994 rewatching Young Guns II 20-plus times. He and his buddy rode their bikes as if they were riding for The Regulators while listening to Warren G’s “Regulate”. It all brought Billy the Kid and the rest of his crew back into our lives.
When it came time for that brother to marry, and I was assigned bachelor party duties, it was easy to find a theme. Pals. PALS is what’s written on Billy’s tombstone, and Emilio Estevez’s Billy the Kid says in Young Guns, “See, you get three or four good pals well then you’ve got yourself a tribe. There ain’t nothing stronger than that.” We brought together seven dudes that had been friends for 15 years, for what was likely our last run as PALS. The theme was very fitting.
Though Young Guns isn’t completely accurate, it’s said to be the most accurate depiction of the Lincoln County War that’s been portrayed on film. You can read a brief history of that war here. I also read Mark Lee Gardner’s “To Hell on a Fast Horse” when we returned from the trip, and Gardner did an outstanding job of finding newspaper clippings, and interviews with family and friends, combining the biographies of both Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett.
As mentioned, Lincoln is well off the beaten path, a village in the middle of a mountain pass. But if you’re a fan of these movies, this era, these characters, it’s a can’t miss.
You’ll see the actual courthouse and cell Billy was chained up in. You’ll see the actual spot he killed Deputy Hindman and Sheriff Brady. You’ll also see the spot where the McSween residence was burned down, Tunstall’s store, and more.
This is history. History, the study of past events. History, what we’re trying to tear down in this country now. History helps us learn not only from mistakes made, but from those that made it. These were not great men that I drove two hours out of the way to learn about. The Lincoln War was a nonsense war. Like most wars, there was no point or resolution. We no longer ride horses around shooting people over land disputes, or cattle. But it’s history. Leave it alone, stop looking back at the past and trying to change it, it can’t be undone, changing the past is impossible (unless you have a DeLorean and a flux capicator). You can, however, change the future. Focus on now, and rewriting the history we’re creating today.
Tombstone, Arizona (1.4 out of 5):
Lincoln, New Mexico (4 out of 5):
Age: All ages.
Tombstone – Walking the town costs you nothing, but taking a self-guided tour of The Bird Cage Theater is going to cost you $14 per adult, $12 per child (that’s $64 for a family of five). The Bird Cage Theater is the only original building in the town, inside and out. Gunfights are held at various places throughout the day, but will also cost you, as will all tours.
Lincoln County – $5 for adults, children 16 and under are free. What you get with that $5 is five to seven museums, and all buildings are in their natural state.
Word of the Day: Regulate (verb) – to govern or direct according to rule, to bring under the control of law or constituted authority.
The Johnson Five Recommends: Lincoln, New Mexico.
The Johnson Five Doesn’t Recommend: Tombstone.
Tombstone and Lincoln County Wars information mentioned in this post:
- “To Hell on a Fast Horse: The Untold Story of Bill the Kid and Pat Garrett” by Mark Lee Gardner
- “The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid” by Pat Garrett
- Young Guns Blu-Ray
- “35 Biggest Hits” by Toby Keith
- “Regulate…G Funk Era” by Warren G