Greetings, travelers! Knowing our love for ghosttowns, it was just a matter of time before we made it to one of Arizona’s most popular historic mining towns, Jerome.
Even though mining in Jerome ended in 1953 (after 77 years!), the town is still a thriving tourist destination and artistic community with plenty of fun things to do and see.
The drive: The charming hillside spot is only about a two hour drive up north from Phoenix. There are spots to fuel up and stop along the way, but because the I-17 reduces to two lanes as you head toward Flagstaff (and unfortunately, as you head back) traffic can get kind of hairy, with REALLY long delays depending on what’s happening (holidays, ski/snowboarding season, etc.), so I would recommend filling up to a full tank of gas before you go.
When to visit: Because it’s hopping tourist destination, Jerome stays pretty busy year-round. It helps that even during the hot summer months, it’s a few degrees cooler being farther up north. I know that we always stress getting somewhere in the early a.m., but it’s really true if you want to avoid the crowds and have the run of the town for yourself! Holidays are often the busiest, as well, but I think we lucked out because we got to Jerome just a bit after 10 a.m. – by the time we left around 2 p.m., the place was poppin’.
If you like to hike: We recommend Dead Horse Ranch, a state park just 20 minutes away from Jerome. Don’t let the name throw you off, it’s a pleasant and expansive state park with a lot to offer. There are sites for campers, lagoons for fishing, areas for picnicking, and even a small river with a river walk. There are also, of course, hiking trails – I think we ended up hiking about 3 miles along their Lime Kiln trail. I would say this trail is easy to moderate, depending on your hiking experience – nothing too steep and no climbing required. Just always make sure that you a) have enough water (it doesn’t hurt to bring snacks for energy, either), b) know what trail you’re on and stay on it and c) know your limits.
What to see: This is really traveler’s choice! We basically just walked around the town with no set agenda, but other travelers recommend the Douglas Mansion or Gold King Mine. Just remember that this is a hillside town, so you will be doing a LOT of walking upwards (and then blessedly, downwards).
From what we could tell and from what I’d heard from a family member, this is a pottery and glassblowing studio. Open hours seem… flexible. If you do manage to catch them when they’re open to the public, apparently they do pottery and glassblowing demos.
Getting your grub on: We ate at the Haunted Hamburger, and no, the burgers aren’t haunted, but the building supposedly is. Also, their outside patio offers a great view of the town below. There are plenty of other food stops to choose from, but they fill up FAST once they open (another reason to get there earlier rather than later).
Certainly, there’s plenty more to explore, but hopefully this will be a good starter guide for you.
What I meant to do: Drive out to Superior (about an hour and 20-minute drive out of Phoenix, southeasterly toward Globe) to spend at their annual Prickly Pear Festival. Spend a couple hours sampling jellies, candies, ice creams and more until my body is 90% prickly pear.
What really happened: Buy some prickly pear jellies and taffy and spend the rest of FOUR hours running around the town starry-eyed and snap-happy because, oh my god, the buildings, y’all.
It’s not my fault that the houses, the shops, the walls, etc. in the town of Superior have so much CHARACTER.
Lemme give you a little background on Superior. This little engine that could started as a mining town in about the mid-1870s thanks to the Silver King and Silver Queen mines. Although it was one of the richest silver mines in AZ, the Silver King shut down in the 1880s due to a decline in silver prices coupled with high costs in operation. However, the Silver Queen mine kept chugging along because of hella copper production. If you can believe it, copper mining in Superior didn’t end until 1995 – that’s 120 years, folks, give or take a few.
Even though mining has died out (though Resolution Copper has plans to start it up again in nearby Oak Flat), the town is still alive and kicking. I’ve curated a list of things to do and see below:
For people who enjoy history (especially mining history):
Magma Mine Copper Smelter
This is a huge smelting stack you can see from the road as you’re driving into town. It was operational from about 1914 to 1981.
A resident told me that there was a good chance that the smelter would have to come down because it had become unsafe over the years and that the repairs were too extensive for the town or Resolution Copper to consider. So, visit Superior soon, because I’m not sure how long this stack will be around. The only caveat is that the road is 100% blocked to the smelter, so you’ll have to admire from afar or check in with Resolution Copper (they have an office on Main St.) to see if they give tours that allow you to get a little bit closer (not too close, because there may be arsenic and other fun mining chemicals in the stack??).
This is the small house-turned-museum of former early AZ governor, Bob Jones. Admission is free (though donations are accepted and encouraged) and it’s chock full of historical town artifacts and town residents who are more than happy to talk history and give you recommendations of places to visit, both historical and current.
Various Buildings Throughout the Town
Seriously, do yourself a favor and set aside time to just walk and drive around town. There are some great buildings along main street, but others are hidden gems throughout the surrounding neighborhoods. Just remember to treat the areas with respect – because it’s a small town a lot what seems like public property blends with residential and public streets will suddenly turn into private drives. No trespassing means no trespassing, don’t be that guy.
For people who like plants (and other neat nature-y things):
Established in 1923, the arboretum is about three miles just outside of Superior. It boasts more than 6000 plant species from every continent, and also refuge for 150 kinds of birds and 40 other wildlife species. I didn’t get chance to visit this time, but I have plans to drive back out and wander around there in the near future (once we’re past 100-degree temps).
There were a few different little shops along Main St. – a couple antique shops, an art gallery, the Save Money Market (if you need to stock up on snacks, water, etc. this is a good place to go, plus it still has that 50s market feel) and others.
There are multiple places to eat around town, most of them on Main St. and very easy to find. The Philly Cheesesteak I got at De Marco’s Italian had homemade bread and it was GREAT.
Fuel/When Nature Calls
There’s also Circle K gas station and rest stop right as you drive into Superior, so you’re good for bathroom breaks and fuel.
Believe me, I could go on, in the words of that one farmer guy from Babe, “That’ll do pig, that’ll do.” Join us next time for another Arizona find!
You can, of course, adjust this itinerary to fit other starting points.
Day 1: Driving to Utah and Seeing Natural Bridges National Monument
It is about a 6-7 hour drive from Phoenix, AZ; if you are leaving from there and want to explore Natural Bridges in one day, please be sure to leave early in the morning. Be well rested, and have a driving partner to help you make it up. Some of the roads on the way to Natural Bridges can be a little difficult (winding dirt roads along cliffs).
Natural Bridges NM has a very nice visitor center and a loop drive for those of you looking for a relaxing view into the canyon. For the hikers among you, my travel partner and I hiked down to each of the major bridges and then back out, but there is a trail that runs the whole length of the canyon if you have the time and energy for that.
Bear Ears National Monument is fairly close to Natural Bridges, so if you want to explore there as well, you may consider camping nearby and adding a day onto your itinerary. We were unable to visit Bear Ears on our own trip.
Humble accommodations, but with friendly staff and comfortable rooms.
Day 2: Canyonlands National Park
There are several entrances to Canyonlands NP, but due to bad weather, we skipped the southern one. Again, for those of you looking to get some more hiking in, you may consider spending an extra night in Monticello to explore the area near the southern entrance.
Following our schedule, however, day two involves a drive up to Moab (about 1.5 hours) and then to the northern entrance. Again, there is a great visitor center and a very nice drive in this part of Canyonlands. Some of the shorter hikes that we stacked here were Upheaval Dome, Whale Rock, Aztec Butte, Grand View Point Overlook, and Mesa Arch. All of these were short, although Upheaval Dome has a longer trail that requires more expertise. See park materials for details on the trails and what fits your needs best.
Private rooms available, great atmosphere for mountain bikers.
Day 3: Arches National Park
It is a short 15-minute drive from the southern end of Moab to the entrance of Arches National Park, but depending on the time of year, you may want to plan on getting there early as Arches is quite popular and gets very busy.
There are tons of amazing views and formations that you can see from the car in this National Park, so be sure to plan time for all the sights even if you don’t think you will hike. If you are up to hiking, I would highly suggest that you do the Delicate Arch hike, as this will take you to some great views of the arch that is on all of the Utah license plates. Of course, there are plenty of other trails throughout the park that also are worth visiting. Devil’s Garden and the Windows Section are a couple others that we did and enjoyed, but I would have liked to have planned ahead and gotten a permit for the Fiery Furnace as well.
It is about a 2.5 hour drive to Bricknell, Utah and the road gains some altitude so check the weather for sure in the winter, and be sure that you have the energy to drive safely to your next destination.
Not my favorite in terms of atmosphere, but the room was comfortable enough.
Day 4: Capitol Reef National Park
It is only about 30 minutes from Bricknell to Capitol Reef, and this is one of the quieter parks, so you don’t need to be in quite as much of a rush to get out as I would suggest for Arches, Bryce, and Zion. There are no major attractions in this park, and the drive is mostly on a highway or a very small road and dirt road extensions. Be sure to check out the petroglyphs here and definitely do stop to see all the huge rock formations along the highway.
In terms of hiking here, I really enjoyed the walk to Hickman Bridge; the trail up to here has some good views of Capitol Dome as well as the other surrounding mountains. My favorite hike, however, was the walk through Capitol Gorge. I would have also liked to have walked through Grand Wash, but we ran out of time.
It is about a 2.5-3 hour drive into Panguitch near Bryce Canyon, so again, be safe and give yourself time to make it over there.
Pretty unique for a Quality Inn, with an old west character.
Day 5: Bryce Canyon National Park
It is a nice 25 minute drive from Panguitch to the entrance of Bryce Canyon. Again, this is a busier park, so be sure to plan to get there early, and take a look at park andbus schedules if it is the high season.
For those non-hikers among you, you will fall in love with Bryce Canyon from all the lookouts. While I think that anyone who is able should hike into the canyon a bit, there are some great views from the road. For those of you looking to hike but with limited time, be SURE to hike the Queen Garden, because you will be right among the hoodoos and it is unforgettable. Tower Bridge is another option for a shorter hike and has some very unique vistas. For those faster hikers or people with more time, there is a long rim trail, as well as a variety of backpacking trails in the canyon that can make for a long day hike.
It is about 1.5 hours from Bryce Canyon to Cedar City.
It is about an hour from Cedar City to Zion on a good day, but you should know that Zion is EXTREMELY busy, so much so, that in the high season you have to take a bus into the park. Please plan ahead for congestion depending on when you go, and if you want to hike, get an early start.
There is a good reason for this park being popular, it is beautiful, and I think that anyone could spend a several days there, let alone one, with or without hiking. Of course, the hike that every knows is Angel’s Landing, and I really loved hiking this trail, but it is absolutely not for everyone. First off, it is a very steep climb to the saddle, and then the hike out to the landing as cliffs on both sides and is very narrow. This is dangerous for anyone with a fear of heights or unsteady feet. Furthermore, do not hike this when there is snow and/or ice on the trail. Emerald Pools is a shorter, much easier alternative, and there are tons of other trails for anyone that Angel’s Landing isn’t a good fit for.
When you drive out of Zion, towards Page (2.5 hours), the park extends down the highway for a time, offering some more great views, but this stretch of the freeway will have lots of slow drivers that see fit to take pictures while they drive. Please don’t be one of these; if you want to take pictures on the way out, be sure to pull over. There is also a long, cool tunnel on the way out, but again, follow signs and do not stop in the tunnel for pictures.
Budget Stay Suggestion:
Knights Inn, Page, AZ
Day 7: Back to Phoenix
Nightborn Travel covers some off-the-beaten path locations, sometimes focuses on solo travel, and often includes outdoor exploration such as hiking. So, please be aware of the following (adapted from HikeArizona.com): Hiking, traveling and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends. It is your responsibility to travel and explore responsibly and take care of your own safety.
If you’re up for a little bit of hike in Bisbee, AZ, the jaunt up Youngblood and Chihuahua Hill is an excellent way to get the heart pumping and to see life in this former mining town in a different way.
Like we mentioned in our handy itinerary, you can take OK Street up to the base of Youngblood Hill and take time to check out all the local homes (trust me, you’ll want to – they have a lot of character). If you start your journey earlier in the morning (maybe around 7 a.m.), you’ll benefit from pleasant temperatures and having the town (and trail)practically all to yourself before the sleepy town becomes a bustling tourist stop.
Blue Jesus (I’ve called him this because he is both literally painted blue and because of his sorrowful expression) is the marker of your trail up Youngblood, but also a good wake-up call for groggy hikers because from a distance you can’t tell if it’s a statue or a person waiting at the trail.
A couple important notes before you ascend:
Beyond Blue Jesus is private property, so be polite and don’t go exploring a local’s front yard.
The path up to the hills is steep, narrow and slippery. If you’re not a strong hiker or don’t have appropriate shoes, it’s best to come back another time. There is also a bit of incline when getting to the top of both hills, so stay hydrated and listen to your body to stop when needed.
If you do make it up Chihuahua Hill, you are rewarded with a great view of the town below and are privy to a shrine that’s maintained by its residents. You can see some of our photos from the site below, but it’s really worth a visit in person. There’s a sense of peace, joy and love you get when you look at these colorful tributes.
Pay your respects and please move around with care.
A MONUMENTAL STORY Reasons to Love National Monuments
Many national monuments across the west are currently under fire from the federal government, but I think there are plenty of good reasons to support the continued protection of these areas, no matter what side you’re on. Here are some of mine:
Monuments keep the American culture alive. National monuments (and the US’s many other protective parks) are a great way to maintain a beautiful country for ourselves and future Americans. Ours was a country built on the frontier and exploration, and national monuments play a key role in keeping that culture alive through the ages.
Monuments provide a long-term source of economic growth. Many of the alternative uses of monument land only provide short-term gains. Let’s take uranium mining as an example. This is a finite resource, and once it is removed, there is no way to renew its value to the communities involved. Furthermore, the land left behind is permanently (in the scope of a human lifespan) degraded (an example from Navajo lands). Alternatively, an industry like tourism does not consume a finite resource, and while it can degrade the environment in a variety of ways, these effects can be mitigated by policy and repairs are possible.
Monuments are a source of American pride. Did you know that the concept of national parks were developed in the United States? The system of land protection that we have has been one of our most successful legacies around the world. National monuments are a part of that, and it is something to be proud of. People travel from ALL OVER THE WORLD to see our beautiful country.
Monuments protect American history. The Antiquities Act was designed to protect relics of the past, and landscapes are a part of that. Some of the best stories from our history, especially in the West, comes from the harrowing tales of women and men trying to make their way in an unforgiving and wild environment. Having the opportunity to see those landscapes as our ancestors did keeps our history alive and helps us appreciate what it took to build our country.
Monuments provide many different services and resources to local people and visitors alike. I’m going to go back to the uranium example here (just because it is relevant to several of the western monuments). Mining provides jobs to miners, can support a community while the resource holds out, and it provides taxes as well. It is unlikely that many other services (e.g. clean water, recreation, etc.) will come from land used for this activity, and the companies selling this resource will take the lion’s share of benefits from uranium’s extraction. Monuments, on the other hand, provide jobs through tourism and management, revenue from fees, recreational opportunities, and a variety of services that support human health and happiness.
If you’d like to let the government know what you think about national monuments, public comments are open until July 10th, 2017. You can comment here or through Monuments For All.
Bisbee is a former mining town (current artist colony) south of Tucson near the AZ/Mexico border. It is the perfect place to experience historic, small town America.
Starting Point: Phoenix, AZ
Day One: Travel to Bisbee
The drive from Phoenix to Bisbee is about 3.5-4 hours depending on traffic.
Take your time driving down to scenic, little Bisbee.
If you leave in the morning or early afternoon; Tucson is a great place to stop by on the way.
Day Two: Exploring Bisbee
If you are up for a morning stroll, walk up OK Street which will lead to the base of Youngblood Hill and will take you by some adorable Bisbee homes.
For strong hikers, there is also a trail at the end of the street that climbs up Chihuahua and Youngblood Hill. This path is steep, narrow and slippery, however, so hike at your own discretion. Be safe.
Head back to downtown Bisbee for a tour of the Copper Queen Mine (http://www.queenminetour.com/), where you will get to ride a little train into the heart of the mountain and learn about old copper mines from former miners. There are several tours throughout the day.
Spend the day strolling through Bisbee, checking out galleries, visiting historic hotels, and enjoying this small, colorful town.
After dinner, if it suits your fancy, wander the streets at night and learn about the many ghosts of this small town with Old Bisbee Ghost Tours (http://www.oldbisbeeghosttour.com/). These take place at 7 p.m. each day of the week.
Day Two: Kartchner Caverns and Getting Home
Catch breakfast in Old Bisbee or Sierra Vista.
Stop by Kartchner Caverns (https://azstateparks.com/kartchner/) to see one of the United States’ most colorful, living caves. You will not be disappointed in this special, natural attraction. It is about an hour from Bisbee to Kartchner.
Stop for lunch in Benson or Tucson, and then head back to Phoenix. It is about 2.5 hours from Kartchner to Phoenix depending on traffic.
Ending Point: Phoenix, AZ
Reserve a place to stay.
Reserve a tour with the Old Bisbee Ghost Tours and Kartchner Caverns.
Learn about some of the historic landmarks in the town to visit.
Know the weather! Stay safe.
Solid Gas/Food Stops Along the Way:
Note: There are numerous small towns that also dot the way to Bisbee, but if you want guaranteed gas stations, fuel up in Tucson or Benson.
Mostly free parking in Bisbee (there’s like one paid lot in the entire city), but be prepared for the lots (which are small) to basically be full after 10 a.m., at least on weekends.
There’s plenty of street parking available, it just depends on how far you’re willing to haul your butt up and down a hill.
Before you park, check if it’s residential. Don’t be a jerk and park in someone’s spot.
Places to Stay:
Copper Queen Hotel (http://www.copperqueen.com/): This is a historic hotel in the middle of town. Perfectly central to all Bisbee’s attractions, and a great place for ghostly activity (for anyone interested).
Hotel Lamore/Bisbee Inn (http://bisbeeinn.com/): A smaller alternative to the Copper Queen, this place is just as historic and ghostly. But it has traditional shared bathrooms, it will really bring you back.
Plenty of alternatives throughout the town, and some good AirBnbs as well.
Part of the fun of traveling is doing something unplanned.
I was driving back down from Northern Arizona where I had just gone snowboarding (aka, falling on my behind allllll the way down a small hill) for the first time, and I saw the sign for Arcosanti.
From what I knew about Arcosanti, which was admittedly very little, it was small artistic community. Already late in the afternoon, I wasn’t sure if they’d be open. WERE they even open to the public? If so, would they be open now – did art even HAVE hours?
I shrugged and took the exit anyway. I had time and nothing to lose.
The exit made way to a dirt road which eventually wound its way to the entrance (I took a little longer than usual to make some excited noises at a few cows on the side of the road who continued to not care about my existence).
I was greeted by a sign that gave me pause. An urban laboratory? What kind of diabolical experiments could be taking place here? Completely unsure what that meant, I continued on (bravely, stupidly or both) to meet my fate.
And I was pleasantly surprised by a light breeze, blowing through the open plateau of space that the Arcosanti visitor center sits on, the bronze and ceramic bells hanging around the property awake with noise.
The bells are everywhere across Arcosanti, created by artists-in-residence (and sold on-site and online if you want to get your paws on ‘em). No bell is quite the same – different shapes, sizes and designs – but all of them bear the mark of Paolo Soleri.
Soleri was the founder, the dreamer, the architect of Arcosanti. You learn more about Paolo and how they’ve kept his hope of a self-sustaining and eco-friendly community alive if you take the tour. Tours run about an hour starting at 10 a.m. and are donations-based, so BE NICE. Check their website or call to be sure, because they do charge for specialty tours (non-English, etc.). I also 100% recommend the tour because if you don’t join a tour, you’re not allowed to wander. Which means you’re stuck at the visitor’s center and miss all the history, learning about how the Arcosanti runs now and seriously cool architecture.
The next time you find yourself driving (up or down) the I-17 in Arizona, pop over to Arcosanti for some artistic inspiration (and then stop at Rock Springs Cafe for some pieeeeeee). Or, wherever your travels may take you, think about doing something a little out of the ordinary – it might just end of being one of your favorite parts of the trip.