HOW THE WEST WAS WONDERFUL; Saddle Up & Grab Your Stetson for a Trip to Arizona
Byline: SUE JOLLY
WE are bowling along a desert road and I expect to see Clint Eastwood come riding over the hill at any moment.
It must be the scenery... it looks so familiar from countless TV shows and films. There are huge cactuses with raised arms like totem poles and hills that look as if they should have smoke signals rising from them.
You soon realise a trip to southern Arizona is a sure-fire way of re-living memories of the time you wanted to be Annie Oakley or Wyatt Earp, ride a covered wagon or fight off an Apache war party.
Or perhaps I'm harking back to my childhood because I've just seen the Gunfight at the OK Corral. A reconstruction of it, that is, close to the very spot in Tombstone where in 1881 Earp and Doc Holliday had their infamous shoot-out with the Clanton Gang.
If you like your West to be wild, Tombstone is the place to go. The centre has it all: boardwalks, saloons (yes, they have those swinging doors) and period shops - and the only traffic you'll see comes with horses in front.
You can gee up your inner cowboy or girl by watching the Tombstone Historama... a show with film and moving scale models that tells the area's bloody history. Don't be put off by the fact it's been playing since 1964. It's narrated by Vincent Price and is a gem.
Then take yourself off to the gunfight.
The half-hour show has actors in period costume playing out the events - ending, of course, with a shoot-out (www.okcorral.com, $13 for admission to both shows).
Most people coming to this part of the world will have flown into Phoenix, America's sixth largest city, a vast, sprawling hub with all the "big city" stuff you could want.
But the vast swathes of country are the real reason to come. It is hot all year round and you know you're somewhere very different to Britain when you hear someone say: "It rained last Thursday... but I wasn't here to enjoy it."
Head south-east from Phoenix and the desert starts almost at once. We've only been on the road for an hour and I'm humming tunes from spaghetti Westerns. That's not very appropriate, as it turns out - we're about to leave the cowboystyle trails for the Salsa Trail.
Arizona's history boils down to four Cs - copper, cattle, cotton and citrus. And the locals here have added a fifth - chillies. If you like tacos, burros and enchiladas, this is the place to be.
Restaurants scattered across 40 miles around Safford have got together to promote Mexicanstyle food. They're all family-run and pride themselves on their dishes, especially salsa.
It's quite the thing in the US these days.
Apparently there is now more salsa sold than ketchup. And if, like me, you are a bit of a chilli wimp, don't worry. You can get hot - very hot - but the emphasis here is on the cooler green chillies. I didn't wipe my eyes once (www.salsatrail.com). You can visit a chilli-roasting farm and see freshly-harvested pods being turned into all the jellies, relishes and sauces you could possibly want (www.sansimonchile.com).
Each September Safford even has a weekend salsa fest with hot-air balloon rides, chilli- and jalape[+ or -]o-eating competitions, all set to the rhythms of traditional music. There is also a speciality to make Scots feel at home - deep-fried ice cream. I had to try it. And it was delicious.
While in the area, take a look at the ancient Native American pottery at the Eastern Arizona College near Thatcher. …