S4:E4 – The Arizona Mining Town Smackdown

Bisbee or Jerome – do you have an opinion on the best Arizona mining town? In today’s “What is it about this place?” we compare the two towns and declare our ultimate, all-time winner with a Drunk History-level, very scientific analysis. And, an RIP to an unlucky Arizona hiker.

For photos from this episode: visit our blog, Driving Inertia

This episode was written, recorded, and edited by Lisa McNamara and Paul Olson. It was produced by Lisa McNamara.

Theme music by Michael Kobrin from Pixabay. What is it About This Place? intro music by TuesdayNight from Pixabay. Transition music by NaturesEye from Pixabay.


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This is Road Tripping in America, a podcast about life on the road. I’m Lisa and I’m Paul.

We’re exploring the US in a pickup truck with a camper – we named our setup The Bobs. We’re in search of off-the-beaten-path adventures and new experiences. Join us as we share our stories from the road.

Bisbee or Jerome – do you have an opinion on the best Arizona mining town? Guess what – we did in 2012 and we still do today. In today’s “What is it about this place?” we compare the two towns and declare an ultimate, all-time winner. And before we go, an RIP to a very unlucky Arizona hiker.

This is series four, episode four: The Arizona Mining Town Smackdown

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If you’ve been listening to this podcast for a bit, you’ll know that we also #vanlifed for a year a decade ago. Back then, we were living and traveling in an actual van – a Toyota Sienna minivan, that is. We drove more than 38,000 miles, we hiked a lot, and we saw great swaths of the country. It was easier to camp in popular places back then – we usually stayed in developed campgrounds in or near national parks and other well-visited sites, without any advance planning. We were able to roll into places like Glacier National Park in the afternoon and get a campsite for that night without having reservations. There were some places we struck out, but they were the exception, not the rule. That doesn’t seem possible anymore. Now you need a reservation just to enter many of the popular parks.

Back in 2012, we weren’t able to do any off-road or even much graded gravel road stuff in our stock minivan. We were too inexperienced; we didn’t have the right gear. This time around, because we’re avoiding busy places and because we intentionally got a setup that could get onto the roads we were too scared to drive last time, we haven’t been repeating ourselves too much.

But in Arizona, we did end up revisiting some places, because Arizona has so many places that we love. We’ve even gone back to them a few times in the in-between years. So this time around, we ended up re-re-re-visiting some places.

For two of these places, Bisbee and Jerome, we thought it’d be interesting to look back at our very first visits and see what has changed in the past ten years in these two famous Arizona mining towns.

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Just some quick, basic info about the two towns. Bisbee is located in far southeastern Arizona, about an hour and a half southeast of Tucson and 20 minutes north of the US/Mexico border. Jerome is located in central Arizona, two hours north of central Phoenix and 45 minutes southwest of Sedona.

Both towns were once mining towns, with copper being the primary source of riches for both. Both towns have great mining history museums. I think both towns claimed to be the biggest town between Chicago and San Francisco at some point, along with just about every other old western town (has anyone else noticed this?). Jerome claims that it was the largest copper mine in Arizona, with three million pounds of copper extracted a month during its boom times. The last mine closed in Jerome in 1953.

Bisbee was known as the queen of the copper camps. Queen to Jerome’s king, maybe? Over almost a hundred years, eight billion pounds of copper, 102 million ounces of silver, 2.8 million ounces of gold, and millions of pounds of zinc, lead and manganese were extracted from its mines. Bisbee also has a special, unique form of turquoise hiding in its mountains. Bisbee’s mining operations shut down in 1975.

Paul wrote a funny comparison of the two towns on our blog back in 2012. Back then, Bisbee was our favorite Arizona mining town winner by a hair. Do we still feel the same way?

And…what happens when we decide to record after we’re a couple drinks in on a Saturday night? We end up with some great insights sprinkled with a bunch of f-bombs and a few accidental drunk history-esque moments. Enjoy.

It’s the Bisbee vs. Jerome Ex-Mining Town Smackdown – ten years later.

Ten years ago, we loved Bisbee, Arizona. We couldn’t wait to return. We returned in 2016 and stayed in an old mining cabin for about week. We returned again last month, in May 2022. Back in 2012, we loved Bisbee so much that we were really looking forward to exploring another of Arizona’s ex-mining towns, Jerome. But did we love Bisbee too much to enjoy Jerome? Were our love-struck eyes too cloudy to appreciate another tiny town in Arizona? Maybe.

Paul decided to make our comparison of the two towns very “scientific.” There were categories. There were points. The city with the most points would be crowned Arizona’s best small former-mining town. Simple.

And the categories are: parking, drinks, old-timey bars, views, park proximity, stairways, houses and architecture, hot dogs, visitors and residents, and ghost experiences.

Jerome’s parking and free shuttle

Wineries / Breweries / Coffee Shops:
Jerome wineries

Old Bisbee Brewing Company
Electric Brewing
Passion Cellars
Old Bisbee Roasters

Old-timey Bars:
Bisbee’s St. Elmo
Jerome’s Spirit Room
Jerome’s Paul and Jerry’s Saloon

Park Proximity:
Dead Horse Ranch State Park
Tuzigoot National Monument
Prescott National Forest

B Mountain/Chihuahua Hill
Chiricahua National Monument
Cave Creek Canyon

Bisbee 1000
Bisbee’s art alley

Hot Dogs:
Bisbee’s Jimmy’s Hot Dog Company

And the completely scientific results are…
2012 winner: Bisbee, by 1 point
2022 winner: Bisbee, by waaaaay more points (we were too lazy to add them up)

Wait – you said something about ghost experiences?

I don’t believe in ghosts – I think most things can be explained logically. I’ve never had any kind of ghost experience…or gone looking for one. But, as I was trying to sleep in our steamy, A/C-free room in Bisbee this May, I felt something. As I lie there, sweating and cursing our climate control oversight, I felt a hand touch my hip and rest there for a second. It felt like someone was standing by the side of the bed next to me. Then the clothing on my hip moved – it had been all bunched up and it then smoothed out. Oddly, I wasn’t freaked out at all, because it felt like a reassuring touch – like, your grandma or mom saying, “here, let me fix that for you.” Just to make sure it wasn’t Paul groping me, I sat up and looked at him, only to confirm that he was fast asleep on his side with his back to me.

Looking at the ghost experience book the next day (because, of course they had one), someone else had written recently that they had felt someone touching their legs. So this particular hotel has a leg-touchy spirit, if you’re into that kind of thing.

I’m talking about this after the ranking because we’re not giving any points for this. People think both towns are haunted. Hotels and tour companies go all-in on selling haunted experiences. But like any other experience, you can’t force something to happen. I’m sure I was dreaming. But, maybe…not?

Have you been to Bisbee and/or Jerome? Do you have a different opinion or do you want to share something we missed? We’d love to hear from you. Email us info(at)roadtrippinginamerica.com.

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We’re closing on a bittersweet note, with an RIP for Donald Hayes. Donald’s body was found on Mingus Mountain in Prescott National Forest on May 18, with his dog sitting very much alive, loyally at his side, as we were hiking on the trail they disappeared from.

I’ve never been in the middle of a search for a missing person. For days, helicopters circled overhead. Police, fire fighters, national forest personnel, and volunteers staffed a command center at a rest area on the top of the mountain pass. Police were posted up at every trailhead leading out of the forest. Side-by-sides full of official and volunteer searchers in blaze orange vests passed back and forth on the webs of dirt roads. Forest rangers kept up a comforting patrol. All hands were on deck for five straight days.

We were very worried that there was a new fire in the area, but every time we checked our trusty fire and smoke monitoring websites, there was nothing new. We finally realized what was going on when we went for a hike on the Woodchute trail on May 18. That day, we saw a car parked at the trailhead, surrounded by green flagging tape. A missing person flyer was stuffed in the trail register. We looked from the flyer to the parked car, suddenly realizing why it was surrounded by tape. Suddenly realizing what had been going on the last five days.

We passed other civilians on the trail who were out there, casually looking. Some wanted to talk, some didn’t. The officials don’t encourage the general person to go out there and search, because often we untrained people become just another body for them to rescue. But they also didn’t close down the area.

On our hike that day, I scanned every mountain side for a flash of light or waving arms or motion of any kind. But I didn’t see a thing, other than forested hillsides, a couple sego lilies, and expansive views of the Verde Valley.

Partway through our hike, the tenor of the area changed. On the return, things felt noticeably different. The helicopters that had been flying overhead for days were suddenly quiet. We realized that the searchers in the off-road vehicles we’d seen earlier hadn’t given their customary, cheerful waves. The handful of people we had seen on the trail earlier were all gone. We felt like we were very alone out there – the last ones on an abandoned trail.

When we returned to the trailhead, the abandoned car was gone. There were only a couple vehicles left at the makeshift rest area command post at the pass. We knew for sure that the search had to be over, and the heavy air told us that things had ended badly.

It’s easy to victim-blame someone who gets lost, but none of us were there with Donald and his dog. We have no idea what really happened. We only know that Donald Hayes never got to walk out of the forest and see his car waiting for him at the trailhead. He didn’t get to experience that sense of relief when you get back after a tough hike, strip off your hiking shoes and socks, put on flip flops, open a cold drink, and sink into the comfy car seat. The best part of any hike.

All we know is that he went out for a hike that day and never returned, and a whole bunch of people did everything they could to find him, but they didn’t find him in time. RIP, Donald Hayes.

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Next time – come along with us as we drive from City of Rocks to Albuquerque, chasing green chiles and New Mexico trivia along the way.

Until then, if you haven’t already, we’d greatly appreciate it if you’d leave us a rating or a review on Apple podcasts. That helps others find the podcast. And if you have any stories you’d like to share on the podcast, reach out to us at info(at)roadtrippinginamerica.com.

Thanks for listening.

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