Part 1. Bisbee the Mile-High Delight – Food, Hiking, and History
The first thing we noticed as we drove into Bisbee, Arizona, was the giant ‘B’ on the hill rising behind the small picturesque town. If you’d like to inspect the B a bit closer, you can hike the Chihuahua Hill Trail. The trail begins on OK Street and rises about 600 feet to the hilltop at 5,800’, which is just over a mile high. A slightly shorter path will take you to The Shrine, which also stands high on a hill overlooking the town. Once there, you’ll find several crosses, along with several alcoves filled with religious artifacts that people have brought to the shrine over the last few decades. There is even a Buddhist corner. The story of the shrine is that in 1980 a man named Adolfo Vasquez, who was losing his eyesight, promised God that he would build a memorial if God saved his sight. God came through – and so did Adolfo’s site. The Shrine is the perfect place to consider the blessing of our eyesight because the view is spectacular.
Another less difficult way to get a great view of Bisbee and its history is the Bisbee Tour Company. Our guide, Steve Ray, picked us up in a golf cart and drove through the tiny streets, big hills, and colorful history of Bisbee. Home of the Copper Queen Mine, Bisbee has a rich history of mining and, subsequently, union disputes. One of the worst episodes took place about 100 years ago. In the summer of 1917, 3,000 members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) went on strike. As a result, the mine owners deputized 2,000 of the miners, who in turn rounded up about 1,200 strikers who were put on a train to New Mexico and told never to come back. As Steve was driving us through town, he told us that the story is a personal one for him. His grandfather was deputized and ended up arresting his brother for deportation. In 2018, a disturbing documentary, Bisbee 17, opened with this very apt quote: "Cities that are haunted seem to straddle past and present as though two versions of the same city are overlaid on top of each other.” The documentary focuses on a reenactment that took place for the centennial observance of the deportation. In the reenactment Steve and his brother Mel play the parts of their grandfather and great uncle.
Speaking of haunting - Bisbee Tourism also offers an hour-long Ghost Tour through the historic part of Bisbee. Indeed, many of the old hotels in town boast several resident ghosts. We did not take the tour but come sundown we saw a few groups wandering through town in search of the spirits of the past.
Another type of spirit was also highlighted during the tour. The golf cart pulled up on the edge of a gulch where many of the minors had lived in dormitories. Directly across the ravine was a row of old buildings, which in the 1800s had housed bars on the bottom floors and brothels on the top. The second-floor windows facing the dormitories often displayed the ladies of the night, perched on their windowsill, beckoning the miners.
Like the rest of the country, prohibition brought changes in Bisbee. Getting a five-year-jump on national prohibition, Arizona enacted a ban in 1915, which effectively shuttered several establishments in town. One enterprising bar owner began selling ice cream, at least out of the front of the store. For added insurance that no one would check into what was being sold out the back of the store, he would hire local children to sit in front eating ice cream.
Of course, one needs a lot of refueling after such a long trip into the past. And current-day Bisbee offers a lot of delicious opportunities. One of our memorable meals was dinner at Bisbee’s Table, located right in the center of town. If you are visiting on a particularly hot day, the cool, dark interior offers welcome relief. The dark hardwood floors and paneling evokes a feeling of history, while touches of colorful Art Deco lights around the room bring a bit of modern-day to the mix. The menu also offers an eclectic mix of comfort foods and more trendy dishes. I ordered the Rueben sandwich, which was delicious! Lean and tasty corn beef was piled high on marbled rye and dressed with a nontraditional ancho sauce giving a nice spicy kick to the sandwich. The fries that came with it were delicious, crispy and just the right amount of greasy! Michael went for the comfort of Meatloaf, served with mashed potato, broccolini, and crispy fried onion rings, which he enjoyed very much.
We were very fortunate to be able to experience two of the best breakfast/lunch places in town. The High Desert Market and Café offers house-made bread and baked goods, along with salads, pizza, sandwiches, and desserts. The market section is where you will find gourmet spices and local crafts. I much enjoyed an excellent blueberry scone, with a crispy sugar glaze on top and juicy blueberries mixed in. Michael went for the more substantial, but equally delicious bagel and lox. It comes with all the fixings – tomatoes, capers, onions, and cucumber. And the lox was piled high! The High Desert Market and Café was a lifelong dream of owner Peyton Tamburo. She started in 2000 with a farmers market and opened the full restaurant in 2006. The number of local folks in the café proves that she is a well-loved and established part of the food scene in Bisbee.
About halfway between downtown and South Bisbee, in the Lowell neighborhood, you’ll find the Bisbee Breakfast Club. We arrived to find a line of locals waiting for seating. It was a Sunday morning, so we weren’t surprised that we had a bit of a wait – and it was well worth it. Since it was mid-morning, we were split between the very extensive breakfast menu and the lunch selections. I had the French Toast, which was three thick slices of French bread dipped in a cinnamon batter and fried to perfection. Michael had the Sonoran Shrimp Salad – field greens topped with spicy sautéed shrimp. With tomatoes, hardboiled egg, black beans, and tortilla strips, this salad was a scrumptious full meal, hitting all the major food groups and a nice SW kick!
You would definitely need a hardy breakfast if you wanted to meet the challenge of the Bisbee 1000, Bisbee’s annual Great Stair Climb. As Bisbee grew out of the narrow ravine at the center of town, houses were built higher and higher on steep slopes. Even today, many of the houses cannot be accessed by roads. Which is why you will find over 80 steep, long staircases averaging over 70 steps per staircase! This brings us to the Bisbee 1000 Stair Climb happening the third weekend of every October. It is often referred to as “the 5K that feels like a 10K”. The course includes 9 of those staircases, totaling 1000 steps! In Bisbee fashion, as the route wanders through narrow streets and paths, past Victorian-style houses and quirky street art, the runners are serenaded by local musicians and conclude with the Bisbee 1000 Craft Beer Festival. This sounds much more vigorous than our golf cart tour!
After our busy day, we retired to the centrally located Canyon Rose Suites situated in the Allen Block Building and listed in the National Historic Registry. We relaxed a while and enjoyed the complimentary wine from Willcox Arizona, which we will visit tomorrow. Leafing through some of the historical literature left in the room, we learned that in the very early 1900’s the Allen family needed concrete blocks to construct this building so they founded a factory to produce the blocks which are now known as the popular Allen Blocks. Canyon Rose Suites is also reported to be the home of a friendly, mischievous spirit that the owners have affectionally named Suerte (which is the Spanish word for ‘luck’). Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) Suerte did not visit our room during our stay.
So much history here and we are looking forward to our next visit to learn even more and maybe meet some ghosts.
Parts 2 and Part 3 of this story.
Editorial disclosure: lodging, beverages, and food generously provided.