Saturday, February 7, 2015

Bisbee, Arizona: historic copper mining town

Old mining equipment
Bisbee is a quaint town with narrow streets and Victorian homes perched on hillsides in southeastern Arizona. It was founded in 1880 at a time when mining was king, or, perhaps the term “ queen” should be used since the Copper Queen was the city’s pre-eminent mine. Gold and silver also were mined here.

Remnants of past mining operations are abundant in Bisbee. The Copper Queen mine was originally an underground mine, but switched to open pit mining when this method of extraction became popular in the 20th century. The huge open pit stretches for a couple of miles on the west side of Highway 80; Bisbee is on the other side. In the early 20th century, the Copper Queen was the most productive copper mine in Arizona, producing an extremely high grade of copper. The copper ore removed from it also contained gold and silver.
Remains of Bisbee's open pit copper mine
Mining equipment decorates the lawn at the Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum, a National Landmark that once served as offices for Phelps Dodge, the company that operated the Copper Queen mine.

Today, Old Bisbee is a tourist attraction, as visitors flock to shop at art galleries, boutiques, book and antique shops, and view the quaint houses that fill the hillsides in the historic section of town. The houses have so many steps leading to them, the city sponsors a stair climb, in which runners go up and down more than 1,000 steps in a 5k run.
Downtown Old Bisbee
Bisbee: an historic town

Be forewarned, parking in Old Bisbee can be difficult to come by, especially on event weekends and one local said Bisbee has events almost every weekend. Streets are narrow, with sometimes not enough room for two vehicles to pass by each other, let alone allow for parking, even on one side.  On event weekends, visitors park on the shoulders of Highway 80 and then walk up or down the hill into town.

Bisbee is a popular locale used in movies and fiction books. J.A. Jance sets her Joanna Brady murder mystery novels in Bisbee and surrounding Cochise County. Parts of the movie 3:10 to Yuma (the original and the remake) were filmed in Bisbee.

Bisbee is just over 90 miles from Tucson. Take the Benson exit off Interstate 10 and follow the signs. Motorists will pass through Tombstone on the way.

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