Bisbee, Arizona was once the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco, thanks to the mineral wealth mined from the area in the early 1900s, and is the southernmost mile-high city in the United States.
Driving from south from Interstate 10 to this border town, beneath the crystal blue Arizona sky is always a sensory potpourri only found while road tripping. Tourist attractions, from the vibrantly alive to the sadly abandoned, add to wide-open-country driving. There are very few places left in the U.S. where you can stay overnight in a cement teepee, and The Wigwam in Holbrook is one – American kitsch at its finest! Small towns with names like Two Guns, Punkin Center, Snowflake and Tonto Basin, soon give way to the magnificent scenery of the Salt River Canyon, cutting through the Apache Mountains, as Bisbee looms closer.
Copper Queen Mine, established in the early 1900s, was once the largest copper producing mine in Arizona, and gave birth to the town. Abandoned in the mid-1970s, the mine now offers tours, the highlight of which is via authentic mine car, 1500’ into Queen Hill Mountain. Guests are issued hard hats with lamps and encouraged to dress warmly because the temperature inside the mountain is a brisk 47 degrees.
The premier room at the Copper Queen Hotel, just off Bisbee’s main street, is named in honor of John Wayne. The actor always stayed here while filming his epic Western movies in the area. Today, visitors learn about the ghosts that still inhabit the hotel. “Howard”, for instance, is an older, tall, bearded gentleman with longish hair and is sometimes seen wearing a black cape and dapper top hat. He usually walks the hallway of the second floor. Two other apparitions are a young boy, thought to have drowned in a nearby river, and a “working girl” who killed herself after being spurned by a regular customer.
A short walk around the steep streets of Bisbee puts the visitor in good stead for a stop at the hotel saloon, where tidbits of historical lore abound. Case in point is what might seem like off-the-shelf saloon art, but is actually a century-old, nearly life size portrait of Lillie Langtry. Lily, how her name was spelled in America, was a British stage actress popular around the turn of the century, when “The Queen” was built. Legend has it that she was the love interest of Edward, Prince of Wales, later to be King Edward VII. She was also the lady love of the infamous Judge Roy Bean, although they never met, and he named not only his saloon, but the town of Langtree, Texas in her honor. From the remarkably well-stocked bar, one can choose to end a wonderful day with true American whiskey, single malt Scotch, or a nice British gin and bitter lemon, in honor of Lillie Langtree. Here’s to you, Lillie.