You could not know it by looking around today, but in the early 1900’s, Bisbee was the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco. It’s rich mineral reserves made the community famous. The Mule Mountains that envelope the town gave up gold, silver, lead and zinc. However the mountains were mostly a storehouse of copper. Over eight billion pounds of copper were mined before the last of the mines shut down in the 1970’s.
Today, Bisbee’s saloons, hotels and other Victorian era architecture have been transformed into coffee shops, art galleries, gift shops and boutiques. There are no gunfights in the streets, scheduled daily, unlike many of the historic towns in the region. If you are interested in geology, a museum and a tour of a once-functional mine will be an enjoyable pastime.
Eclectic art shops are plentiful.
Bisbee is filled with older hotels, my favorite, and a great place for lunch, is the Copper Queen Hotel. The hotel’s roots are in mining. Built by the Phelps Dodge Company for investors and visiting dignitaries, the hotel was completed in 1902. Today, the building, complete with outside dining terraces, exudes turn-of-the-century charm.
If you are up for an adventure in overnight accommodations, you can stay at the Shady Dell. You need to call them for reservations well in advance. There is almost no chance you can get an accommodation if you just stop by.
What is special about this place that makes it so popular?
A motor home or travel trailer isn’t unique enough for you? How about a 1950’s era cabin cruiser?
Before the mines played out, the lifeblood of Bisbee was Phelps Dodge Corporation. The mining company built housing for workers, provided company stores and pretty much “ran the town.”
Today, the largest remnants of the mining era you can visit are the giant open pit mine called the Lavender Pit, named after Harrison M. Lavender, Vice-President and General Manager of Phelps Dodge Corporation.
The signature attraction in Bisbee is a tour of the Queen Mine. Closed to mining operations after it played out in 1943, the mine is now open for tourists to visit. A $13 bill will get you a ride almost 1000 feet into the mine and several hundred feet under the surface of the mountain into which the mine is dug.
Once you purchase your ticket, you are issued a hard hat, safety slicker, belt, mining flashlight and a red tag. The cables around our necks have a small flashlight on one end and a battery pack that is held in the belt they issued.
The tour guide is a retired miner, though he is certainly too young to have worked in the Queen Mine. He appears to know his mining equipment. He was entertaining and informative. This tour is a must.
At the mine entrance, we boarded a train, one of the trains miners used daily. The engine on this train, labeled #1, was put into service in 1928. I think we were given hard hats to keep from hurting ourselves when we stood up to get off the train. I banged my head more than once on the board that is directly above our seats.
After being warned about the closeness of the walls (hands and arms by our side), we were taken some 100 feet or so into the tunnel. The train stopped and those who felt claustrophobic were given the opportunity to leave the mine at this point, and be given a refund. There were no leavers on this trip.
Attempts to take photos inside the mine were mostly futile. I did grab a few shots at one of the several stopping points where we exited the train and were given a tour inside some of the working caverns. There are miles of tunnels throughout the mine. The guide was very descriptive about the safety measures used. One interesting item I learned is that they use pine to shore up areas of the mine because under stress, pine wood creaks and pops. Miners hearing the sound of pine cracking and popping knew to get the heck out of there, a collapse was imminent.
The mine is a cool 47 degrees F. year round. The yellow slicker is not enough to keep you warm. Be sure to bring at least a sweater or hoodie; you will be in the mine for over an hour. They offer five tours a day. Be at the mine about 30 minutes ahead of the scheduled tour to get your assigned mining gear.
The red tags issued to us at the beginning of the tour are actually artifacts of the original mining procedures. Miners would hang their tags on a board inside their mine work area. The last person out of the mine was the area boss. Woe be to the miner who forgot to pick up his tag when he left the mine for the day. Any tags left hanging when the shift boss was ready to leave, meant that there was still a miner inside. Search procedures would be started. You better have been missing inside the mine.
After our mining adventure, it was time for lunch. We headed to the Copper Queen Hotel and had a very good lunch (except for my french fries, which were basically inedible.) I should have had the fruit cup side. Lynn said it was very good.
After lunch, it was time to head for home. Bisbee is only about an hour or so south of I-10 on Arizona highway 80. Along the way, you can stop in Tombstone and visit the site of the OK Corral. In another post, I will tell you of our journey there.
Happy trails from Arizona!