Fueled by closure of the mines in the 1970s the old town has dwindled from a peak population of almost 25,000 to about 6,500. Still something like 98% of the historic district remains intact.
Our goal was the Copper Queen, a vintage hotel that was, and still is, the crown jewel in the treasure box that is Bisbee. The hotel has been refurbished to Motel 6 standards, in other words it has been updated from the original configuration in several key areas, most notably all rooms now have a private bath rather than a shared one at the end of the hall. Another change is that an elevator was added in 1940.
The result is the ability to enjoy a few modern conveniences in an atmosphere little changed from when this hotel represented the height of modern sophistication for 1905. To a large degree the hotel, the saloon, and Winchester’s restaurant are as they were when Teddy Roosevelt stayed here.
When I made the reservation inquiries were made as to special packages. Even though I was informed there were none available the staff and management exceeded expectations and surprised me. Upon arrival we found a small bottle of campaign on ice, two chilled glasses, and a polite note of congratulations in our room.
Dining choices in Bisbee are varied and range from a four course dinner in a restaurant that is consistently awarded a four diamond rating to the usual fare of burgers. We chose to dine at Wichester’s in the Copper Queen and were not disappointed.
The food was superb. The atmosphere quaint with an historic touch of class and the staff was most courteous.
Sadly, my schedule prohibited more than a two or three day trip and as Bisbee is four hundred miles south of Kingman the next morning it was time to begin the run home. We decided that we would add a couple of hundred miles to the return trip in an effort to avoid the nightmare of driving through Phoenix and to see some of Arizona’s finest landscapes.
So, we drove west across the San Pedro River at the old town of Fairbank, site of the shoot out between Jeff Davis and Three Finger Jack in 1905 and across the flower dappled fields near Soniata, the heart of Arizona’s wine country. As an historic foot note the wineries in this part of Arizona predate those in California.
This is a gorgeous drive that ends with startling abruptness at the border town of Nogales. Here we turned north towards to Tucson but made time for stops at Tubac, San Xavier del Bac, and the ruins at Tumacacori, remnants from the Spanish colonial era.
We battled our way through Tucson and headed north toward Oracle, Winkleman and Globe. This is one of many overlooked scenic drives in Arizona, something I hoped to remedy with Backroads of Arizona.
From Globe we continued north past Roosevelt Dam to Payson, and down the mountain to historic Camp Verde. By the time we made Payson dusk was fast becoming dark, not something I relish as the woods that border the road are a haven for deer as well as elk.
On our trip to New Mexico last year I had a close call with several elk standing in the middle of the road in the early morning hours when rounding a curve. This year the near misses included a large peccary near Globe and a couple deer in the hills above Camp Verde.
We ended our adventure with a great, late dinner at the Pine Country Restaurant in Williams, one of our favorite places to eat and one I highly recommend for the Route 66 enthusiast.
Suffice to say it was a whirlwind adventure – 1,046 miles in two days. I learned long ago that it is the company, not the sites, sounds or attractions that make a great drive. On this trip I had the best company a man could ask for. I also have a new box of memories including the glow of my dear wife’s face in the candle light as we watched the lights come on in Bisbee far below.
As the song says I feel sorry for anyone who isn’t me.
One final unrelated note. I received an advance copy of Backroads of Route 66 today and must say I was quite impressed, and this isn’t because I wrote it.
My hope is you find it as exciting but of even more importance I hope that as with Backroads of Arizona (now in its second printing!) you find it an invaluable resource for discovering the secrets on the road less traveled.