So reads a sign in the Mimosa Market, a neighborhood market tucked into the hills of Bisbee. This pretty much sums up the philosophy of Bisbee, a small town of 5,500 free-thinking souls in far southeast Arizona. This was our second visit to Bisbee, and we again found it to be one of the most colorful and delightful towns we’ve encountered in our travels.
Like Maybury On Acid
Once known as “The Queen of the Copper Camps,” Bisbee almost died on the vine when the mines closed in the mid 1970’s. But the picturesque location and agreeable climate attracted a wave of artists, craftspeople, and other creative folks looking for an inexpensive place to call home, and they breathed life back into the town.
How to describe Bisbee? The bumper sticker I saw on an old Ford pickup painted in bright colors comes close: “Bisbee, Arizona: It’s like Maybury on acid.”
Hiking The Stairs In Bisbee
Tucked into a narrow gulch in the Mule Mountains, the town is a maze of winding streets and steep stairways that lead to a crazy quilt of homes perched precariously on the hillsides, where renovated brightly painted Victorian homes are interspersed with miner’s shacks. For many people, the stairs are the only means of accessing their homes. They park on the street below, and haul every bag of groceries—as well as appliances, furniture, and pianos—up narrow and sometimes crumbling stairways.
Click on photos for a larger image
We hiked every day for hours, exploring every nook and cranny of Bisbee. Climbing up and down the stairs is a great workout, but most of all, it’s a lot of fun to wander and discover the wealth of street art.
High above Bisbee, a rocky path winds up Chihuahua Hill. At the top, a diverse assortment of religious shrines and offerings peacefully co-exists.
An Abundance Of Street Art
Street art is everywhere in Bisbee. Nowhere else in our travels have we seen quite such an abundance of street art. This is street art of the people—there’s nothing hoity-toity about it. You feel like making a mosaic wall? Gather up your broken tiles and colorful glass bottles, a sack of mortar, and go for it. In the mood to paint? Get out your brushes and add to the ever-evolving murals that decorate the downtown. Tired of your boring old car? Haul out your glue gun and transform your vehicle with a bizarre array of plastic figurines. It’s fun, it’s liberating, and it’s all in the spirit of anything-goes Bisbee.
The Creative Culture Of Bisbee
An extravagant number of artists, musicians, and creative spirits call Bisbee home. We’re always on the lookout for local happenings (bulletin boards and telephone poles are our main way of finding events). This time, we discovered a fun art opening at the local arts and cultural center (with Paintress Gretchen, who wore butterfly wings) and enjoyed a wonderful evening of outdoor live music by The Tin Can Tourists on a tiny outdoor patio at the 1914 Silver King Hotel. We also spent a cozy evening at The Bisbee Royale, a former church turned bistro that serves up wine, appetizers, and fancy desserts along with movies and other cultural events.
Treasures Of The Mining Museum
The Bisbee Mining Museum, in the center of Bisbee, deserves a visit, too. It’s an affiliate of The Smithsonian, and the exhibits offer a fascinating glimpse into the life of miners and the early Wild West days of Bisbee. The gorgeous minerals unearthed in Bisbee mines are alone worth the visit. The miners hauled home souvenirs in their lunchboxes at the end of the day, and their treasures are known as some of the finest mineral specimens in the world. The collection of azurite, lapis, malachite, turquoise, and quartz is fabulous.
It’s A Friendly Town
We spent just over a week in Bisbee, almost long enough to feel like “temporary locals.” The people are friendly and welcoming—I needed corn tortillas for dinner one night and stopped at the High Desert Market Café to buy some. They didn’t have any in the little store, but the owner generously offered a paper package of fresh handmade tortillas from the restaurant, no charge. After a few days of wandering and exploring, we recognized people everywhere we went—our server at Café Roka was Paintress Gretchen, and the fellow ringing up our drinks at the Mimosa Market turned out to be half of the Tin Can Tourist duo we had enjoyed listening to the night before at The Silver King Hotel.
Delicious Food Offerings
For such a small town, there are a number of tasty dining choices, most centered on locally raised foods. We enjoyed lunch (and enormous watermelon-cucumber margaritas) at Santiago’s with fellow RV’ing friends Fred and Jo; lunch at The High Desert Café, and a terrific dinner at Café Roka, which deserves its reputation as the best dinner venue in town.
About The The RV Park
The Queen Mine RV Park is the only place to stay in Bisbee, and we love it. Although you’re parked fairly close to neighbors and there’s not much in the way of shrubbery for screening, the location can’t be beat, and the price is good at $175 for a week. The views are great, too. Both times, we’ve overlooked the Lavender Pit Mine, which was in operation until the mid 1970s. A short walk down the hill takes you into downtown Bisbee, so there’s no need to hassle with driving on the narrow winding streets or fret about parking a big cumbersome vehicle like our truck.
A parting thought from the Mimosa Market chalkboard:
“Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everybody else.” ~Margaret Mead
We loved lunch at Santiagos. Bisbee is definitely a unique little town. Your lovely post and photos almost have me wanting to revisit.
It’s definitely worth a return trip — we want to go back, even after two times there!
I love this town. I remember it from the post when you were there the last time. I take it that you are headed back this way. Is your year abroad about up? Or will you continue the grand adventures?
Brenda, it’s so fun that you remember our post from several years ago (on our former blog!). I’m about a month behind in posting, so we’re closer to Ashland than you think — we would love to see you! And yes, (spoiler alert), the grand adventure will continue. :-)
Wow, a week in Bisbee. Very cool, Viewing at your beautiful, colorful and vivid pictures makes me smile as our two hour visit there was just a scratch in the surface. You and Eric have captured the essence of Bisbee.
MonaLiza, I think you guys would really enjoy a longer visit here — it’s such a fun town to explore! And you would have a great time with your photography.
Everytime I read your blog I have picture envy and none any worse than this time. I have read others post about Bisbee over the years but none of them has made me want to go to this town for a visit like yours has. What fabulous people these towns folk must be. Wonder what goes on there on Summer Solstice. It’s amazing that they can all make a living being artists of one kind or another. Makes me think there might be hope for the world. Really great posts. I just love reading your words and seeing your pictures. More please………..
Sherry, I’m so happy you enjoyed this post — you and David will really enjoy visiting Bisbee — the whole town feels like a celebration of life and creativity. And there’s an inspiring acceptance of all ways of being and thinking, and caring for each other. Of course, we were only there for a week — but everyone we spoke to loves living there.
We must get to this town. Everyone who has gone there post the most amazing pictures and descriptions. We were planning a day trip two winters ago from Tucson but snow closed the road. I guess a day won’t do anyway. We need to do this RV park where everyone stays.
Your write up on the town should be in a travel brochure, Laurel. You have a beautiful way with words. Thanks for the awesome review.
Pam, you two definitely need to go to Bisbee. There’s enough hiking (challenging hiking!) to keep you happy, and I think you’ll find the history of the town fascinating as well. And you’ll like Queen Mine RV Park — it’s a delight to be able to walk everywhere. (By the way, your kind words made me smile.) :-)
We haven’t been to Bisbee in many years and I wish I could remember the hotel where we stayed. All I can remember is that it was perched on a hill and finding the rooms was more like a maze. It was a very interesting place. A lot looks to have changed since our visit, given your colorful photos. We will definitely have to plan another visit.
Was it The Inn at Castle Rock? It’s perched on a hill close to downtown and has been there forever! We walked past it many times in our explorations and it looked interesting.