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Saturday, September 7, 2013

All About Arizona - Bisbee

Ahh, Bisbee.  This is probably the most fascinating but overlooked town in Arizona.  Located in the far southeast corner of the state, it's less than 15 miles from the Mexico border, but that's not what defines the town.  It's mining.  Bisbee mining yielded 8 billion pounds of copper (that's $26 trillion in today's dollars), nearly 3 million ounces of gold ($4 trillion today), 77 million ounces of silver ($1.8 trillion), 304 million pounds of lead and nearly 380 million pounds of zinc.

Here's the Queen Mine, the underground way copper was mined at the turn of the last century.

 This is the Lavender Pit, a more "modern" open pit mining:

As impressive as all this wealth is from a little town, if this was all there was to say about Bisbee, it wouldn't be worth a visit.  But Bisbee is so much more than mining, especially today:

Bisbee  is an adorable little town with so much history and charm!  In the early 1900's it was the largest town between St. Louis and San Francisco.  Mining executives, laborers, gamblers and prostitutes all flooded Bisbee and claimed a little part of it as their own.  This is the famous Brewery Gulch, where the saloons, brothels and gambling halls could be found.  It's still a cool place today with restaurants and bars.  Like so much of Bisbee, it was rebuilt by an eclectic crowd of artists who moved into Bisbee in the early 1970s after the mines closed.  These are the people who made Bisbee vibrant so it didn't become a ghost town.  

Even though Bisbee isn't a ghost town, that doesn't mean there aren't ghosts.  There are daily tours to show you the places in town where people have encountered spirits of times gone by.  Some of the tours take you up through Brewery Gulch and through hillside haunts.  One of the favorite haunts from Bisbee's heyday is the Copper Queen Hotel.

It is a jewel and if you stay in Bisbee, this is the place to stay.  If you're expecting a modern full service hotel, this isn't it.  However, it has original wood floors, transoms over the room doors and vintage bathrooms.  Once reserved for the most important mining executives visiting Bisbee, today it's open to the public.  

There are also plenty of small galleries and jewelry makers (using local gems and minerals) in town, but the thing that brought the original visitors to Bisbee is the one thing that should attract you to Bisbee.  We've come full circle - the Queen Mine.  During a visit to the Queen Mine, you will don a yellow slicker and miner's helmet (equipped with a head lamp) and hop on a little rail car (you straddle it).  When you're all ready to go, you will descend about a mile into the mountain to see the actual mine.  There's nothing I've found quite like it.

While it may not make the list of places to visit in Arizona during a one-time trip to the state, it is a must see for people who frequent Arizona or who call it home.  I've been there a number of times and I never get tired of seeing the special little town in the Mule Mountains.