Boom Towns

Bisbee and Tombstone, AZ - Dec 2009

Ghost Town
On a week night, Bisbee's main street is a much quieter place than it was a century ago when rich copper mines made it one of the southwest's biggest boom camps. The spirit of the boom days (if not the attire) returns each New Year's Eve when Bisbee residents pour into the streets for a wild and bizarre midnight street party (picture New Orleans's Mardi Gras crossed with Woodstock and you get the idea).

Long-distance Call to the Past
Yes, Bisbee has century-old historic buildings, a classic pre-fab 1940s diner, and an underground mine tour, but here is a REALLY rare historic artifact - an actual working pay phone.

Church and Hotel
Two of Bisbee's most famous buildings - the 1903 Presbyterian church and the grand 1902 Copper Queen Hotel - are also its toughest to photograph as there is always a few cars parked in front. Like many historic hotels, the Copper Queen has become haunted in recent years. Ghosts are good for business, it seems.

Gateway to the Gulch
Think globally, drink locally! The aptly named Brewery Gulch was home to Bisbee's three Bs: Breweries, Bars and Brothels. While it is quieted down a bit in recent decades, the century old Saint Elmo Saloon has remained open nearly the whole time (and apparently with the same furnishings).

Pit Stop
Just southeast of town, the highway skirts along the edge of the famous Lavender Pit - the area's copper pit mine that remained in operation until the 1970s. On this cold morning, fog created a flat layer across the top of the pit (but oddly did not drop down into it).

Dot's Diner and Shady Dell Trailer Park
Dot's Diner and the Shady Dell Trailer Park have become local landmarks the last few years. The trailer park is filled with restored 1940s and 1950s era Airstream-style trailers with period furnishings that can be rented for the night like cabins - retro, funky and hip all at the same time.

The Inside Scoop
Dot's Diner is beautifully restored 1950s 9-seat Valentine pre-fabricated diner of the sort that was mass-produced in the 1940s and 50s. Although it could get by on looks alone, Dots has a good reputation for contemporary and period dishes served up diner style. Two Chicks on a Raft and a Blonde with Sand, please! (eggs on toast and a coffee with cream and sugar)

There's a Storm Coming
Over the hill from Bisbee, sits its older sister, Tombstone. When prospector Ed Schieffelin headed into the hills in the 1870s, he was warned that all he would find there was his tombstone. Instead, he found one of the southwest's biggest silver deposits and the roaring boom camp that soon sprung up nearby became one of the wildest and most infamous towns of the old west.

False Fronts
Today, more silver is taken out of tourist's pockets than out of the ground and the town has turned into something of a low-budget wild-west themed amusement park as much as a historic site. Many of the original town buildings burned down several devestating fires and the most of the ones today are somewhat less than authentic recreations. It can still be a fun place, if you take it all with a grain of salt. And if you are looking for a good deal on Minnetonka Moccasins, Mexican blankets, cow skulls, plastic six-shooters, or anything with a kokopelli on it than this is heaven on earth.

Stage Stop at the OK Corral
In October 1881, Wyatt Earp, his brothers and Doc Holliday faced off against the Clantons and McLaurys in the famous Gunfight at the OK Corral. Even by the 1920s, Tombstone and the OK Corral were becoming popular tourist attractions for a country that was already fascinated by the legends of the American West. The Historama (at the site of the OK Corral) is one of the oldest of these attractions and features an amusing semi-animated diorama presentation narrated by Vincent Price.

The Bird in the Gilded Cage
One of the few surviving original buildings from the golden days of Tombstone is the famous Bird cage Theater where singers, actors and vaudeville shows performed for crowds of drunken miners and cowboys. It is said the building contains nearly 150 known bullet holes.

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