A historic Arizona mining camp offers Old West glory with a quirky twist.
Bisbee, Arizona is number 2 on Budget Travel's list of the 10 Coolest Small Towns in America. When you look at the town by its numbers, the facts will astound you: By the early 1900s, the town’s Copper Queen Mine, one of the richest mineral sites in the world, yielded almost 3 million ounces of gold and more than 8 billion pounds of copper. As a bustling mining camp back then, a history honored at the Mining & Historical Museum, a population of more than 20,000 relished its riches. Flash forward to today, with a population of around 6,000, and its small town vibe is likely a big reason why retirees and creative types flock there.
Two hours southeast of Tucson, 30 minutes south of Tombstone, and eight miles from the Mexican border, this mile-high city is something of a funky, laid-back artists’ paradise set against a hilly historic backdrop. Actually, “hilly” is a bit of an understatement. The town is so steep that each floor of the four-story high school sits on a ground floor. The Mule Mountain Pass into town is not for the faint of heart. Once you get there, though, you’re rewarded with a living portrait of the Old West. Various boutiques and galleries flourish amid restored Victorian homes, old saloons in the Brewery Gulch district, once the stomping grounds of gamblers and prostitutes, and stunning historic hotels, like the Copper Queen Hotel, the oldest continuously operating hotel in the state, dating back over a century. But far from being a fusty time capsule, Bisbee delights in its quirkiness. The Shandy Dell, a collection of nine revamped retro trailers, is a popular accommodation. The so-called Killer Bee Guy, a specialist in the insects who’s often featured on TV when broadcasters need bee expertise, has a shop here that sells honey, bee pollen, and more. And in case you have any doubt of the general attitude, just take a look the bumper stickers found on many residents’ cars that say “Keep Bisbee Bizarre.”