[Source: William C. Thornton, Special to the Arizona Daily Star] — My wife and I recently had vastly different experiences at two state-operated parks. The first was Judge Roy Bean State Park situated miles from nowhere in the tiny west Texas town of Langtry. It was one of the nicest little museums we’ve ever seen and tells the story of the self-appointed “Law West of the Pecos” in a series of interactive dioramas that come alive before your eyes.
The original wood structure where Bean dispensed his own brand of justice on the Texas frontier sits behind the well-kept museum and visitor center. When court was not in session, it was the center of community life, i.e. saloon, poker room, and pool hall. A small botanical garden features native plants and picnic tables under shade trees. Admission charge? Zero. I asked volunteers at the information desk if we couldn’t at least put a few bucks in a donation box. They explained that the park is fully funded by the state of Texas and does not take donations.
A day-and-night opposite experience awaited us at McFarland State Park up the road in Florence. The park honors Ernest McFarland, whose service as governor, U.S. senator, and Supreme Court justice makes him the only American to ever serve in all three branches of government. He is perhaps best remembered as one of the authors of the G.I. Bill, which opened college doors to millions of veterans coming home from the battlefields of World War II. The park’s centerpiece, Arizona’s first courthouse, dates from 1878 and combines traditional southwest adobe walls with an Anglo American wood-shingled pitched roof and wooden porch.
The years have taken their inevitable toll. Adobe walls are crumbling, rock foundations need shoring and wood porches need repair. The building was closed and renovation began in October 2008. We visited the museum and vowed to return when repairs to the courthouse are complete. [Note: To read the full op-ed piece, click here.]