We spent one entire day visiting two very unique towns in southeast Arizona, Bisbee and Tombstone. One I’m sure everyone has heard of, the other, not so much.
Bisbee is located in the Mule Mountains and was discovered in 1877 when army scouts on the search for renegade Apaches came across very evident signs of mineral deposits in the mountains. Primary among these was copper, although veins of gold, silver, lead and zinc were also mined. During the early 1900’s Bisbee became the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco with some 20,000 inhabitants and developed into one of the most cultured cities in the west. Among its claims is that it is home to the oldest ballfields in the country (Warren Ballpark), Arizona’s first golf course (Turquoise Valley) and the state’s first community library. Not only was there culture of a high calling, there was also a collection of brothels and saloons that were common to the early mining towns of this country.
In the early 1900’s the mining was expanded to include open pit mining and successful extractions continued until all operations, both open pit and underground mining were discontinued in 1975. During that stretch of time some 8 billion pounds of copper, 102 million ounces of silver and 2.8 million ounces of gold and a lot of zinc, lead and manganese were produced. The underground mine can still be toured, not an exercise for the faint of heart or those who suffer from claustrophobia. The open pit is closed to the public but there are numerous spots in town where one can get a good photograph.
The town rapidly became deserted although not to the point of being considered a ghost town. Because of its rich history, Bisbee became a haven for the hippies and dropouts of the 1970’s, the disaffected of the Vietnam war and the flower children of that generation. They brought with them a desire to maintain the culture, the original architecture and ethos of the town. They did a pretty good job, and while their numbers have dwindled dramatically, we spotted several old hippies still wandering around. Bisbee has maintained a vibrant art and culture vibe about it, not so artsy like a Park City or a Vail that caters to a higher end of clientele, but true to its heritage and like many towns we’ve seen so far a somewhat sleepy but still very alive little town.
Among the annual events in Bisbee is the 1000 step walk, which covers a number of the steps one can find in town. The idea is to cover 1000 of these steps which is the equivalent of a 10k race, with a little more burn.
We stopped for a beer and some hot (hot!) salsa and chips as we wandered around town, up and down Main Street.Then we ate a very late lunch at a most unlikely place called Thuy’s Noodle Shop, an authentic Vietnamese dive that had outstanding food, each order prepared painstakingly by the owner and well worth the wait.
Bisbee was a rare find, a quaint little art town, very real and very clean. A delightful find.