In Arizona history, the towns that made the wild-west famous lie in the deep southeastern part of the state. Mining brought wealth and wealth brought trouble and these two towns were where all the action happened.
Bisbee is a small town in southwest Arizona that we briefly visited a couple months ago and was one of those places you want to go back to and spend a little time. Last week my wife and I got the opportunity to do an overnight visit with some friends from Eugene. Here is a little information provided by the chamber of commerce about Bisbee:
Bisbee, 90 miles southeast of Tucson, is the picturesque county seat of historic Cochise County. The community was founded in 1880 and named after Judge DeWitt Bisbee, a financial backer of the Copper Queen Mine.
This Old West mining camp proved to be one of the richest mineral sites in the world, producing nearly three million ounces of gold and more than eight billion pounds of copper, not to mention the silver, lead and zinc that came from these rich Mule Mountains. By the early 1900s, the Bisbee community was the largest city in the southwest between St. Louis and San Francisco.
It had a population of 20,000 people and had become the most cultured city in the Southwest. Despite its culture, however, the rough edges of the mining camps could be found in notorious Brewery Gulch, with its saloons and shady ladies. In 1908 a fire ravaged most of Bisbee’s commercial district along Main Street, leaving nothing but a pile of ashes.
Reconstruction began immediately and by 1910 most of the district had been rebuilt and remains completely intact today. Activities began to slow as the mines played out and the population began to shrink; mining operations on a large scale became unprofitable in 1975.
Bisbee has since evolved into an attractive artist colony and retirement community emphasizing monthly special events and tourism. Travelers from all over the world come to Bisbee to savor its unique charm, it’s uncommon blend of creativity, friendliness, style, romance and adventure, all wrapped in the splendor of the Old West.
Well that does sound like an interesting town, doesn’t it? Our friends had reserved ticket to see the historic Queen Mine at the edge of town. Here is a little history on this famous mine:
Queen Mine – a name to stir the interest of mining men everywhere – has been one of the greatest copper camps the world has ever known. In almost 100 years of continuous production before the Bisbee mines closed in 1975, the local mines produced metals valued at $6.1 billion (at 1975 price) one of the largest production valuations of all the mining districts in the world. This staggering amount of wealth came from the estimated production of 8,032,352,000 lbs of copper, 2,871,786 ounces of gold, 77,162,986 ounces of silver, 304,627,600 lbs of lead and 371,945,900 lbs of zinc!
Today’s Queen Mine Tour takes visitors deep into the old workings of the famous Queen Mine where great tonnages of extremely rich copper ore was mined in the early days, catching the attention of the mining industry around the world as one of the greatest treasure troves of copper ever discovered.
Outfitted in hard hat, miner’s headlamp and a yellow slicker, thousands of Bisbee visitors descend into the Queen Mine Tour each year—heading underground and back in time. Tour guides, retired Phelps Dodge employees, lead the group 1,500 feet into the mine and recounted mining days, techniques, dangers and drama. Adding a personal touch, the miner-turned-tour guides help visitors experience what it was like to work underground.
The tour was very interesting and it gave us a good feel of the dangers and hazards of this type of mining. Our tour guide was an old-timer who explained the process and equipment used in this mine.
Today, just to the south of the Queen mine is a huge pit mine called the Lavender Pit. There is a view point about a mile south of Bisbee where you can get a good look at a heck of a big hole.
Phelps Dodge Corporation opened the Lavender Pit in 1950, at the site of the earlier, higher-grade Sacramento Hill mine. Production through 1974 totaled 86 million tons of ore averaging about 0.7% copper, or about 600,000 tons of copper produced, with gold and silver as byproducts. About 256 million tons of waste was stripped, but a portion of this was acid-leached for additional copper . Turquoise was also a by-product of this mining activity. Bisbee turquoise, also known as Bisbee Blue, is amongst the finest turquoise found anywhere in the world . Mining operations in the pit ended in 1974. The undeveloped Cochise deposit, located immediately north of the Lavender pit, contains an estimated 190 million tons of rock containing 0.4% acid-soluble copper , which may be mined in the future.
Because of the competent host rock, this pit has much steeper sides than other open pit copper mines in the southwest. The pit covers an area of 300 acres (1.2 km²), and is 900 feet (274 m) deep. Large tonnages of dump rock are placed around Bisbee, notably north of the residential district of Warren and other parts of the southeastern Mule Mountains area. This dump material, along with the large open hole of the pit, is unsightly and unpopular with many tourists and residents, but was typical of the mining practices of the time. Recently, the mine site sold. We saw a few men working at the site and wondered if they may be getting ready to expand the pit.
After the tour of the mine we were off to explore the down town a bit. I was surprised at how many shopper we saw on a mid-week day so far from a large City. There are numerous galleries and antique stores scattered among the more main line retail shops.
Our accommodation for the night was the historic Copper Queen Hotel. This nostalgic hotel reminisces of its glory days. The rooms are small but nicely update and come with everything including ghosts. To learn more about an interesting hotel see their webpage: http://www.copperqueen.com/
That evening we had dinner at Café Roka, a highly recommended restaurant by both locals and online sites. It’s a very busy place and you do need reservations if you don’t want a long wait. Here is their web site and you can easily see why it is so popular: http://www.caferoka.com/
Early the next morning I took my camera for a walk around the town. This town is much steeper than it looks and a good many homes are stacked vertically on the sides of hills. Many of the streets are so narrow there is only one lane. I’m not really sure you can drive to all the houses and most have steep stairs up or down the hill to the front door. Here is a collection of shots of some of the interesting places I saw:
Even though I didn’t visit Tombstone on this trip, I wanted to include just a little blurb on this historic town from a trip we did a couple of months ago. Tombstone is only about 20 mile or so north of Bisbee and one of the most famous towns in Wild West history. The town bills itself as “The town too tough to die”. This was the rowdy gambling town where Wyatt Earp was once sheriff. I did visit the old Court House he worked out of and saw the gallows where they hung all the bad guys. The town has been restored and is a magnet for tourists passing through the area. Ride in horse drawn buggy or wagon and watch short “shoot-outs” and re-live those wild days of the past. Here is just a little of what we saw:
If you want to know more about Tombstone here are some helpful sites:
The southeast corner of Arizona has a lot to see and far more than is included in this blog. Keep looking for the beauty and adventure in the world around you and enjoy this visit to the wild-west.