Wednesday, May 6, 2015

A Weekend in Bisbee

An Arizona Treasure

Last weekend Roadboy took a road trip to SE Arizona, specifically Kartchner Caverns and Bisbee.

For those who might be unaware of Bisbee, it a history rich and very cool former mining town that has been adopted by artists, retirees and an assortment of free spirits.

From Phoenix a trip to Bisbee can be a perfect weekend escape. And, at 5,300 feet, it can offer relief from Phoenix's scorching summer. 

Just before arriving in Bisbee from the north you pass through a tunnel. When you emerge you are rewarded with the first glimpse of the fragile old mining town still tenaciously clinging to the very hills that once produced massive amounts of gold, copper, silver, lead and zinc.

During its heyday Bisbee was the largest community between Saint Louis and San Francisco. It suffered a catastrophic fire in 1910 and was the site of a tragic labor dispute known as the "Bisbee Deportation".

Bisbee Circa 1916

A View Down Bisbee's Main Street Today

The View Looking Down From Opera Drive

After the Bisbee fire, the City constructed fine commercial buildings, high quality school's, Arizona's first community library and the state's first golf course.

The Bisbee "Deportation"
Arguably Bisbee's lowest point came in 1917 when 3000 of its miners, some attempting to unionize with the International Worker's of the World (IWW), began a peaceful strike.

The strike was met with a fierce and well-orchestrated response from the principal mine owner The Phelps Dodge Corporation. First Phelps Dodge demanded that President Wilson send federal troops to end the "Pro German" strike (this was happening at the end of WWI). President Wilson saw through the BS and declined. Phelps Dodge then circulated a list of striking miners to the 2200 members of Bisbee's "citizens protective league". At the same time Telegraph communications to / from Bisbee were severed and roads to / from Bisbee were sealed.

The roundup resulted in the kidnap of 2000 striking miners. The miners were taken to a ball field. Those miners who had not yet joined the union were offered release if they renounced the union. 700 miners renounced.

The 1300 remaining miners, under the gaze of Sheriff Wheeler's belt-fed machine gun, were then loaded into 23 manure laden cattle cars. At 3:00 am, after 16 hours in transport, the miners were dumped penniless in Hermanas New Mexico. They where told that returning to their homes and families would be deemed wartime sedition.

An eventual Federal investigation pronounced the kidnapping "wholly illegal and without authority in law".

From Boomtown to Ghost Town to Artists Haven
Over the next few decades, Bisbee became the home of a stunning new art deco County Courthouse (filled with WPA artwork). And, just down the hill, the Iron Man (Iron Miner) sculpture was installed at Courthouse Plaza.

The Cochise County Courthouse

Art Deco Doors To The Cochise County Courthouse

Bisbee's Iconic Iron Man

In reality the Iron Man is artist Raymond Philips Sanderson's 2000 lb concrete sculpture he finished by coating it with sprayed layers of heated copper.

The Emergence of Modern Bisbee 
From 1950-1970 large scale mining operations in Bisbee closed down leaving the local economy in decay. Eventually however, its climate, character and devastated property values, attracted the artists and residents whom call it home today.


Today, Bisbee's economy relies on tourism; featuring B&B's, restaurants / breweries, a chocolatier, and a variety of unique shops and galleries.

Any Bisbee Shopping Trip 
Should Include a Stop at Optimo Hatworks

And nearly anywhere you look in Bisbee you will find art; street art, fine art and (of course) some not-so-fine art. 

Armed Clowns

Dancing Dead

Painted Corrugated Metal Art 

The Peace Wall 

Domination Art Bisbee Style

After a full Saturday afternoon of strolling and exploring Bisbee we overnighted in nearby Sierra Vista. On Sunday morning we enjoyed a cave tour at Kartchner Caverns (pretty darned amazing). But, regrettably Kartchner prohibits photographs, so no blog post from Kartchner.

Our visit to Bisbee was too short. Next time it will include (at least) an overnight and dinner at Cafe Roka.

Roadboy recommends a weekend in Bisbee! 

Bring your camera.

Come hungry (and thirsty).

Roadboy's Travels © 2015 

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