Carolina: Cruising Past 70: TRAVEL AWAITS ARTICLES: How to Spend a Perfect Day in Bisbee, Arizona

Friday, May 21, 2021

TRAVEL AWAITS ARTICLES: How to Spend a Perfect Day in Bisbee, Arizona


We were camped nearly five hours north of Bisbee in Cottonwood but were captivated at the book launch for one of my husband’s favorite authors, J.A. Jance, and decided to spend a day in the town. Her books are mostly set in Seattle, Washington, where she lived most of her life (where we lived before we started RVing). But the Brady series is set in the town of Bisbee, where she was raised.

Bisbee is less than 12 miles north of the Mexican border. It was founded as a copper, gold, and silver mining town in 1880. By 1920, the mining boom raised the population of Bisbee to its high of just over 9,000 residents. Today, over 5,000 people make Bisbee their home. And it has transformed itself into a tourist and artists’ haven. It was in the middle of the 1970s when the transformation happened.

By 1975, just like in other mining towns in Arizona, mining companies stopped their operations. Parent company Phelps Dodge Corporation worked with the local government to create a mine tour that was part of the town’s bid to become a tourist destination. Later on, the federal government took interest and provided federal aid to complete the development of the flagship tour of the Copper Queen Mine, which is one of many things you can enjoy during a perfect day in Bisbee.

The Queen Mine Tour

from the Queen Mine Tour

Bisbee’s Queen Mine was one of the richest copper and one of the largest mines in history. Because of the redevelopment efforts, it reopened very quickly as a tourist destination in 1976, less than 100 years after the mine originally opened. The Bisbee mines produced metals valued at $6.1 billion (in 1975 prices). Eight billion pounds of copper, almost three million pounds of gold, and 77 million pounds of silver were taken from the ground here. A high-quality turquoise known as Bisbee Blue was a by-product of its copper mining days and today is a regarded and priceless collectible.

About 50,000 people a year, outfitted with a hard hat and a miner’s headlamp, take the Queen Mine Tour. We experienced firsthand, for about an hour, how miners worked, going down to 1,500 feet below ground. It was very cold down there as the temperature remains at 47 degrees year-round. Back when the mine was operational, it was a diverse group of immigrant miners from Europe that tilled the mines.

The Lavender Pit

Lavender Pit Photo Credit: Lynn Libert Andrews of the Arizona Photography Group

Located near the famous Copper Queen Mine is the former open-pit copper mine called Lavender Pit. Jeep tours are available if you want to see it up close. The pit is not colored purple; instead, it got its name from Harrison M. Lavender, who, as vice-president and general manager of Phelps Dodge Corporation, proceeded to make the previously unprofitable low-grade copper-bearing rock in the area into commercial copper ore. It was opened in 1950 and operated until 1974, producing 86 million tons of ore that yielded 600,000 tons of copper, plus gold and silver by-products.

The Copper Queen Hotel

The Copper Queen Hotel, Facebook

Bisbee’s development spurred artist Stephen Hutchison to purchase and redevelop the famed Copper Queen Hotel. Today, it is the most iconic lodging place in town. It was in 1898 when the Queen Consolidated Mining Company decided that they needed a comfortable place for the executives and dignitaries to stay when they visited the mines, especially considering most of their business was run from their Bisbee operations.

John Wayne, Lee Marvin, Lee Remick, Michelle Pfeiffer, Julia Roberts, Kiefer Sutherland, Ollie North, Nancy Reagan, Gabby Giffords, Jake LaMotta, and Linda Ronstadt are some of the famous people who have stayed in this historic hotel. John Wayne’s favorite room is up the main staircase on the second floor, and it is the most requested room today. But the Copper Queen Hotel is even better known for those who checked in but never checked out. It is said there are 16 spirits haunting the hotel, and this is why I will never stay the night!

Originally built with 72 rooms with a shared bathroom suite on each floor, today, the Copper Queen is the only full-service hotel in town. We had a brunch of chicken fried steaks at the former Copper Queen Cafe and Saloon, which are both still in their original locations. They are now known as 1902 The Spirit Room and The Overlook Saloon. This is the same saloon where actors John Wayne and Lee Marvin once had a disagreement that ended with Marvin being thrown out a window by the Duke.

It is also interesting to know that the large boiler in the basement of the Mercantile Building across the street (owned by Phelps Dodge) was used to heat the Copper Queen Hotel through a tunnel, while The Palm Room on the first floor was used as air well to provide cool air to the rooms during the area’s hot summers. The swinging double doors that do not lock and open to the lobby are still there, reminiscent of the good ol’ doors of the Western days. In fact, the Queen Copper Hotel is the longest continuously operated hotel in Arizona. Current rates are between $100 and $200 per night.

Old Bisbee


Bisbee has a thriving downtown cultural scene in the area fondly called Old Bisbee. There are Victorian-style houses and an elegant art deco county courthouse. Compact and walkable, the center of town is quite hilly. There are a lot of stairs from which you can discover little stores or artists’ places. The best example, however, is the old four-story-high school that has a ground-level entrance for each floor given the way it’s built into the hillside.

Erie Street

Dave Corby, Facebook

While in Bisbee, you should not miss Erie Street. It is dubbed a living snapshot of a different time. It is like stepping into a Western movie set. Actually, it is what is left of Lowell, Arizona, a former mining town that was incorporated into Bisbee in the early 1900s. There are only three real stores on the street. The rest are empty. However, each year in March, the entire street comes alive with a festival that features live music, cars and motorcycles on display, and lots of food and drinks. We visited in December, and it was also good to see Erie Street’s Western Christmas decor.

Museums

from Facebook

If you have more than a day, there are three museums that would be good to visit. They can take you back to the gloried and storied past of Bisbee. The Bisbee Council on the Arts’ Mining and Historical Museum was once the headquarters of the Queen Consolidated Mining Company. It prides itself on being the Smithsonian Institution’s first-ever rural affiliate. They say you haven’t really seen Bisbee if you haven’t visited this museum. Sadly, we did not have the time to do it. And there is the Bisbee Restoration Museum run by volunteers and the Muheim Heritage House Museum whose restored interior and precious period furnishings have made it a National Historic Site.

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28 comments:

  1. This was how we spent our day in the old mining turned cultural destination Bisbee, Arizona.

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  2. I always though it would be fun to go on an old mine tour. You put together a very informative article about the area.

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  3. It would be fun to visit the town where the J.A.Jance Brady series is based. We would certainly book a jeep tour to see the Lavender Pit. Even if we did not find lavender there! And a stroll along Erie Street would be a fun way to go back in time.

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  4. Thanks for the fun tour, this reminds me of my visit to Jerome which shares some of the same history and conversion to tourist and art center. I would love to visit some day to Bisbee.

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  5. This is nice! Haven’t visited AZ. Would love to see the lavender pit in addition to others

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  6. Such a great place to explore. I’ve never seen a mining town/site. I think it will be a nice get to know nature trip if I visit Bisbee AZ.

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  7. I might be down that way in the fall. Thanks for writing this; it never would have occurred to me to visit Bisbee, Arizona!

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  8. Thx for this super post featuring Bisbee, Arizona, Carol. I’ve heard about this destination in the past, but has not previously known someone who had personally enjoyed it. Your endorsement resonates with me.

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  9. I didn’t even know Bisbee existed! The lavender pit looks so beautiful and unique. I really enjoy places that make you feel like you’re somewhere different or somewhere you once loved. Great article!

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  10. What perfect timing! My boyfriend and I were just talking about taking a trip to Arizona and I'd love to add Bisbee to our itinerary. Mines fascinate me and I'd love to see the copper mines here. I was lucky enough to tour a copper mine in Butte in 2019. Thanks for sharing a great place to stay while we're there, too!

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  11. This is very interesting. I had no idea about the mining history of this region so it would no doubt be a great place to explore.

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  12. I haven't been to Bisbee, yet, although I was few times to Arizona. Now I know that is worth seeing, great tips on what to do there. I add The Queen Mine Tour to my list must-see.

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  13. Bisbee is one of our favorite places in Arizona and J.A. Jance has for decades been among my favorite authors. She does have another series of books set in Arizona with the protagonist being a former television news reporter who gets caught up in solving crimes. I do love the Joanna Brady series set in this part of the state as well!

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    1. Oh, I thought it was just the Brady series! What town in Arizona is that other series based on? Tombstone?

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  14. lovely shots and lovely places to visit! i want to travel there too soon

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  15. We had never heard of Bisbee, so this article opened our eyes to a potential stop in Arizona. It looks like a fun place to spend a day.

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