FYI–To catch more photos in a better layout, try clicking on the Airstream Travelers link under each of the posts’ headings—I think you’ll like it better.
To say that Bisbee has declined in size and vigor from its glory days as a thriving silver and copper mining town might be an understatement; nevertheless it appears to be a town that isn’t going under easily. In the nearly 100 years that copper has been mined in Bisbee, more than 8 billion pounds of copper from 40 mines have been brought from the mines; the prosperity of Bisbee has risen and fallen with the price of copper. The boom times ended by 1950 and the last mine closed down in 1975, still leaving a huge amount of ore in the ground. After lying dormant for a decade or more, Bisbee began to redesign itself. Lower property values coupled with a picturesque location led to the town’s rebirth as an artists’ colony of sorts. Houses that had been sitting empty soon became occupied by the so-called hippies of the 1960’s. Artists came to work and sell their products, and slowly the town planners put its mining history to good work. Then the tourists began to come.
You leave the desert lowlands, driving through rugged hills and low mountains of increasing elevation to get into Bisbee, Arizona. Quite unexpectedly as you approach the city limits, you take some curves and suddenly, without much warning, a rather startling desolate landscape comes into your view. The remnants of former copper mining is not a pretty picture.
Yes, the land has been raped . . . mightily abused. Having seen such devastation in other copper mining areas, still it’s something we find astoundingly disturbing. The land is hacked away, and carved out, terraces winding down into a gargantuan cavity in the ground.
Once past this sight, the highway curves into and above the town itself. If you stay on the high road you’ll have a great perspective of how the city winds through Tombstone
Canyon, red-soiled hills dotted with green foliage hemming it in.
The town’s homes, mostly small and modest, stair step up the hillside slopes, most clinging precariously to the mountains’ steep and rocky flanks. Their location begged the question, more than a time or two . . . “How did they manage to build in such a place?”
The twisting streets offer some great walking and photographing possibilities. Main Street, Brewery Gulch, and other downtown areas have well-preserved commercial buildings. To its credit, the town has maintained and refined its style of past boom times, and intermingled with the obligatory touristy and antique shops, you’ll discover some quality galleries, fine arts and jewelry shops.
Lodging opportunities abound—in a variety of choices. The old Copper Queen Hotel is an historical institution that retains the look of the town’s bygone glory days. Built in 1902, but remodeled in recent years, it’s the oldest full-service hotel in the state. Other possibilities are more modern inns or quaint B&Bs. It’s obvious that the town is accustomed to accommodating an influx of tourists and travelers.
I must admit, for prime location and panoramic views, the Queen Mine RV Park is an ideal spot to stay. Literally perched on a plateau directly above town, you can walk (downhill, of course) into Bisbee, and easily be at any downtown place in a matter of 5 minutes or so. The sites of this small park, only enough space for 25 RVs, are laid out in a large circle, a different but workable plan. Opposite the town view you’ll see the deep copper pit and surrounding hills. A microcosm of Bisbee can be had from this particular spot.
Speaking of attracting visitors and tourists, I can’t write about Bisbee without mentioning the Bisbee 1000. It’s an event as unique and colorful as the town. The only outdoor stair climb in our country, the course features nine staircases connected by winding roads that go through some of the most scenic parts of Old Bisbee. Originally begun in 1990, it was a way to incorporate the stairways that connect the town’s quaint houses and colorful gardens and terraces. These stairways and winding walkways originally followed the mule paths worn into the terrain during the copper mining days.
The first Bisbee 1000 was held in October 1990, publicized and promoted by mere word of mouth. It drew 200 participants. Each subsequent year it grew larger, becoming
a state-wide featured event. In recent years, there have been around 2,000 entrants for the event. The Bisbee Visitor Center has brochures on hand describing and mapping the route. With that map in hand I figured “When In Rome . . . “ and thought it was the best way to experience this town. Equipped with walking shoes and cameras for photographing the proof, we set out (or should I say—UP!).
Thighs of steel—oh yes, by gosh! We did it!!
1,000 plus a few extra steps were climbed!
And when you weren’t climbing those 1,000 steps, you were walking up and down streets, and even doing a mile loop down a country road! Oh baby, can you feel the burn???
We passed quaint homes on the hills . . . cottages kept up nicely . . .
We also passed by artwork decorating their public walls and buildings—real impressive sights to find.
Each stair climb was indicated by decorated and numbered sites—hand painted on walls and buildings. (Always informing you of what lay ahead–what better way to firm up those flabby butts?)
From the 1000 stair-steps in Bisbee . . .
Airstream Travelers, Melinda and Chris