A photo journal of the epic 25th anniversary tour through southern Arizona of two artists who happen to also be married.
When your job entails hours and days and weeks in the studio, which is also your home, the occasional outing is necessary for refreshing the well of inspiration. When your husband shares the same job, you’ve both done this for as long as you’ve been married, and your 25th anniversary is coming up, it’s time to go big or go home.
So we planned an extended venture patched together from many of our favorite day trips… over a period of 4 days. I know, it’s not Hawaii or Cabo, but we’re artists… we do quirky so much better than conventional. For this trip our primary destination and base camp is a little town we love called Bisbee, a place that’s THE definition of quirky, as you’ll see in the photos (see the full gallery here).
Bisbee is an hour and a half southeast of Tucson. Getting off the freeway at Benson puts us in the San Pedro River Valley. Then there’s the serene and pastoral town of St. David, followed by a quiet stretch where the riparian area gives way to desert. Next thing you know you’re in Tombstone, with about 30 minutes to go to get to Bisbee. Tombstone IS a lot of fun, but when you’ve been in Southern AZ long enough that’s rarely a serious stop unless you have out-of-town company. Normally we just wave at the OK Corral and press on.
After Tombstone we start to approach the Mule Mountains. Climbing up the winding and mildly rugged terrain, we come to a tunnel just over the highest hill. This is the “Time Tunnel”… you enter after driving through sparsely populated mountains, and get spit out right into the heart of Old Bisbee, homes and buildings clinging to the hilly, never flat terrain, stacked on top of each other, the classy Copper Queen as it’s jewel in the crown.
Bisbee, like so many western towns, is an old mining town. The Copper Queen mine is close by and pretty impressive. In recent decades, it’s attracted a diverse and unconventional citizenry. It’s an interesting combo of old west, rural, hippy and artsy-fartsy, and everyone seems comfortable with it. It’s always felt like a different universe to us, which is maybe why we are drawn there. It’s a true escape, one we clearly needed.
We headed up the main drag, called Tombstone Canyon Road, to our dwelling for three nights… the Blue House. Located about a 5-10 minute walk from the heart of town, it was set up on a hill overlooking Castle Rock, a tall rock formation in the midst of everything.
One thing to note about Bisbee, don’t go there if you won’t or can’t do stairs. There is no flat in this town, everything’s up or down. They even have an annual walk called “Bisbee 1000: The Great Stair Climb” – and yes, it includes over 1000 stair steps.
So up the stairs we went to get to our front door for the next 3 nights, which opened into the most charming little house with a kitchen, a comfortable nook to relax in and a loft in which we’d sleep, oozing all around true Bisbee chic. One feature which proved valuable a few days after such a heated election was a distinctive and intentional lack of cable or wifi. The “world” felt far, far away, and all was good.
After precariously hoisting our luggage up a basement ladder masquerading as “stairs”, we settled in and headed into town. We had an appointment with Old Bisbee Ghost Tours. Engaging and informative and a little bit creepy (as opposed to outright scary), the tour was a literal trip through a different Bisbee… Bisbee at night. It’s a town that seems to completely shut down after the sun goes down. We didn’t see or hear any ghosts (that we know of), we did, however, hear some engaging tales. Of course the one mistake we made was planning to eat after the tour… it ended just before nine and virtually every dining establishment in town closed at nine. Lesson learned.
After a good, cool night’s sleep we got up, had some breakfast at the Bisbee Coffee Company and headed out for our next adventure… horseback riding into the Chiricahua Mountains. We met up with Bucky from Blue Sky Ranch, where we were introduced to our patient steeds. We both had Tennessee Walkers, mine was a perfectly behaved mare with one blue eye named Midnight, while Lemorris got the notoriously lazy but always a gentleman gelding Patches. For the duration of the ride Patches took up the rear… waaaay back in the rear… taking his own sweet time. Apparently he’s the most sluggish as well as potentially the fastest of the three horses, guess he feels there’s nothing to prove.
It was beautiful country and perfect weather, with all the rains this past monsoon the grass was high enough we could touch it sitting on a horse… without bending over! This, of course, was a bonus not ignored by the horses, especially Patches who took advantage of every opportunity as well as my husband for whom this was maybe his 2nd or 3rd time on a horse. At least Patches took great care of him, and we didn’t have to worry about a runaway husband.
All along the ride we heard the kind of great stories about the history of the area that get passed on person to person, no Wikipedia needed. Thanks to Bucky, Midnight and Patches (and Bucky’s horse Cricket) for a perfect ride! As a fairly experienced (albeit not as much recently) horse person, I assured my husband we would feel it the next day. And we did. On each and every hill and flight of stairs walking around town.
After returning we ate at a place across from the house called Screaming Banshee Pizza. The pizza was very good, and they had live music going on throughout the weekend. Then we headed out to find a bar where we could watch the one thing we needed cable for… the U of A basketball game. We stumbled upon the Old Bisbee Brewing Company, where we enjoyed some local brew and a winning game from our Wildcats (in Tucson they’re pretty much the only game in town)!
The next morning breakfast at the High Desert Market was a great way to get started, the shortest walk of all from the house, since we were naturally feeling the ride from the day before. We had planned a really nice day of just kicking around town and actually having some down time in the Blue House. Our kids even drove down for the afternoon to buy us lunch!
One neat feature of the Blue House is a drawing pad and sketching supplies left for guests to sketch in (sort of a visual guest book). I don’t doodle as much as I used to, but took advantage of this chance to sketch Castle Rock from a perfect vantage via our little balcony. It wasn’t my best by a long shot, and certainly wasn’t my typical subject, but it’s fun to throw caution to the wind and take on the challenge of “different”.
The next night, we were sitting on our balcony, which was all lit up with blue lights, enjoying a nice cool evening in Bisbee. We’d been hearing a number of musicians playing around the area as part of the Sidepony Express Music Festival going on the whole weekend, but suddenly one voice rose above all the others. A woman was performing at the Screaming Banshee, her voice and her music stuck a chord (pun intended) with both of us. Even though we were “in for the night”, we pieced ourselves back together and walked stiffly over to enjoy the music of Carolyn Toronto. Two purchased CD’s later, her music became the soundtrack of our trip, give it a listen!
One of our favorite parts of any trip to Bisbee is the coffee; both Bisbee Coffee Company and Old Bisbee Roasters have amazing coffee, we’ve actually made day trips there just to get a pound coffee beans.
The last day was the scenic route home. After packing up and heading out, we drove about 30 minutes southeast to the town of Douglas, right on the border of Mexico. I wanted to check out the amazing and historic Gadsden Hotel, with a phenomenal lobby that has to be seen to be believed. It’s in danger of being gone, so I wanted to make sure to at least walk in the doors and take a few photos. Then back through Bisbee continuing west along 92, which runs parallel to and just north of the border before curving up along the Huachuca Mountains towards Sierra Vista.
Instead of heading up to I-10 like normal, we headed west along 82 crossing over from Cochise to Santa Cruz Counties, and detoured down through Elgin (wine country), all the way to the “not even a ghost town anymore” of Canela, AZ… and took moment to get some photos of what may be the only building left of Canela, the school house. Of course after that an additional stop was required when we saw a pasture full of horses from the road, I believe these guys belong to Whispers Sanctuary (also a Bed & Breakfast), this one is on my list. From there it was up through Sonoita and back home where we were brutally mobbed by happy pets.
Bisbee truly is balm for the creative soul, if you’re ever in the area give it a look see, you might find your bliss, or at least some great coffee.
If you’d like to see more photos, visit the full Gallery for the trip here.