While driving to Bisbee, we found ourselves out in the middle of nowhere again. Well, a middle of nowhere that afforded us a view of the most spectacular rainbow cloud and a cute javelina that was nosing around on the side of the road – definitely our kind of place! We were also surrounded by mountains, some just distant silhouettes as the sun began to sink behind them. Then, as the chill of dusk settled over us, we found ourselves in Bisbee, queen of the copper camps.
As if the surrounding mineral rich, copper-colored hills weren’t enough, indications that Bisbee was an old mining town were all around us. The skeletal remains of a concentrator that once processed millions of tons of ore kept a lonely vigil along the side of the road. A headframe (a mine elevator, of sorts) across the road stood watch over a once bustling mine. We couldn’t wait to dig into Bisbee, but sightseeing would have to wait until the next day.
Where is Bisbee?
Bisbee is 12 miles north of the border with Mexico, off of Highway 80 in the southeastern corner of Arizona. The closest large city is Tucson which is 97 miles northwest.
Click here for an interesting short history of Bisbee.
The Inn at Castle Rock
Our hotel, The Inn at Castle Rock, was our first stop when we arrived in Bisbee. We knew very little about the hotel but booked it because they had one room available for a reasonable price and their ratings were decent.
Upon check in, the desk clerk gave us a quick tour and then showed us to our room called “Crying Shame”. While the inn wasn’t our usual type of accommodation, it had some great qualities such as a wonderful owner and staff, a free help-yourself-to-whatever’s-there breakfast, and it was clean. Built in 1877, it turns out that the inn has quite a history. They even claim to have a ghost or two lurking around but, disappointingly, we didn’t encounter any. Read a short history and see a few old photos of The Inn at Castle Rock here.
At night, the inn shines the Bat Signal on Castle Rock which is across the street. Did we mention that the inn is kind of funky? We’ve stayed in historic hotels before, but this one has to be the most offbeat. For anyone looking for a totally out of the ordinary place to stay, we would recommend it.
With our luggage dropped off in the room, we were ready to eat, so it was off to downtown Bisbee to seek sustenance.
A Quiet Evening in Bisbee
We arrived at the restaurant that had been recommended by the inn, and that’s where it was happening, at least on that evening. The restaurant, Bisbee’s Table, which is located in the old mercantile building and shares its space with a bookstore and a bodega, must be a popular place for travelers and locals alike.
We had a short wait before the hostess led us to our table. Once we were served our tasty food, we could see why the place was so busy. Then it was back to the inn for some sleep so we could be up and at ’em early for a morning of sightseeing.
After a good night’s sleep and a breakfast of oatmeal, bagels, and bananas, we were ready to do some exploring. Our first stop was the Lavender Pit.
The Big Hole
Bisbee’s “big hole” consists of three open pit mines that were once owned and operated by the Phelps Dodge Corporation. They are the Lavender Mine, the Sacramento Hill Mine, and the Holbrook Mine. Another Phelps Dodge operation was the Queen Mine which sits adjacent to the Lavender Pit and at one time was the highest producing copper mine in Arizona. The historic Queen Mine, Bisbee’s main tourist attraction, can be toured today by those who don’t mind venturing underground into a mine shaft. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to take the tour, so maybe another trip to Bisbee will end up on our agenda at some point.
The city of Bisbee has created a nice scenic overlook area at the Lavender Pit. We spent about 45 minutes there, taking pictures and viewing the “big hole”. Mining began at the Lavender Pit in 1950 and continued until the mine was closed in 1974. The pit is 4,000 feet wide, 5,000 feet long, 850 feet deep and covers 300 acres. It produced over 600,000 tons of copper during its 24 years in operation.
Other byproducts of the Lavender Pit included Bisbee Blue turquoise, azurite, and malachite. We would love to get our hands on some of these…um, gems.
And speaking of the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum, that was our next stop.
Bisbee’s Smithsonian Affiliate Museum
Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum sits right in the middle of town and is a “shouldn’t miss” for any visitor. Covering the history of Bisbee and its mining heritage, the museum appropriately occupies the building that once housed the Phelps Dodge Corporation’s general offices. The building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1983. While we photographed a lot of the museum’s displays, it was the historic photos that grabbed our attention the most.
The scenes above and below reflect a very different Bisbee than what we see today. Of course, mining was the top priority in Bisbee, so civic responsibilities and city beautification wasn’t really on anybody’s mind until the early 1900s.
Bisbee on the rise
While mine workers came to Bisbee from all over the world beginning in the early 1880s, men with families began arriving in the early 1900s. The city was incorporated in 1902, and it was then that the town began taking on a modern city feel. Public sanitation, clean water, and fire protection were highly important to the newly incorporated city, so work to implement those necessary services began. During that time, suburbs also began springing up. One suburb, Warren, which is now part of Bisbee, has one of the oldest baseball parks in the US. Another suburb was Lowell. In 1908, Bisbee even began operation of its first cable cars that ran to Warren and back. As a city on the rise, the population had grown to 25,000 by 1910. In 1917, the first open pit mine was established in an effort to supply the high demands for copper during WWI. However, by 1974, the Phelps Dodge Corporation had ceased production of the pit mines. Underground operations were closed in 1975 causing many of Bisbee’s residents to leave to find work elsewhere. Today Bisbee is the home of about 4,000 residents.
Lowell, Arizona, a suburb of Bisbee, was a small mining town in its own right before the Phelps Dodge Corporation began the Lavender Pit mining operation. Though once excavations of the huge open pit mine began, Lowell was, quite frankly, in the way. Phelps Dodge gave Lowell’s residents the option of selling their homes to the company for market value or having them moved to other locations. Today, all that remains of Lowell is Erie Street, which sits adjacent to the Lavender Pit, and is a quarter mile long time capsule.
We spent an hour walking both sides of the street in Lowell. It’s a definite not-to-miss attraction when visiting Bisbee.
Supporting the Arts in Bisbee
Okay, this might be a thing everywhere else, but it was the first time we had ever seen one. It is called a C.I.G. Art Miniatures Museum, and basically it’s a refurbished cigarette machine that now dispenses miniature artworks. Examples of the type of art you might get are displayed, though what you receive is a total surprise. Each one costs $20.00 USD and fits in a cigarette box type of container. Most of the proceeds of the sales go to the artists with a portion going to the Bisbee Arts Commission.
If everyone else has already seen these vending machines, we may just be behind the times. Or maybe we just need to get out more. (Yes, please!) Anyway, we thought it made a cute souvenir and it was a small contribution to support a good cause.
We hope you enjoyed this visit to Bisbee. Thanks so much for joining us!
Looking for more road trip inspiration? Check out these great destinations:
- Butte, Montana
- Things to Do in Sedona, Arizona
- Annapolis, Maryland and The United States Naval Academy
Safe travels, y’all!
Mike and Kellye
As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) We aren’t paid for our recommendations, and we only recommend our own tried and true vendors and venues. Our suggestions are for places that we’ve heard good things about but haven’t visited personally, and our opinions are our own.
52 thoughts on “Bisbee, Arizona”
Wow, thanks so much for the tour! I’ve lived in AZ all my life, but never been to Bisbee. Honestly, I didn’t know much about it, other than it was a former mining town and in now kind of a artsy hub. Now, I want to visit! Also, the art vending machine it great–I’ve never seen anything like it!
Thanks, Erica! I’m glad I wasn’t the only person who had not seen the cool art dispensing machine. I hope you can get down there at some point. It’s a cool place for a weekend visit.
Visited there several years ago while visiting my sister in Tucson. My son then about 8 got to drive the train into the Queen mine. What a amazing tour. Visited the Stock Exchange saloon. It was 1 of only 3 stock exchanges in the U. S. Turns out the bartender was from my home town Buffalo NY wow that was something . I loved Bisbee. Cant wait to get back.
Thanks so much for stopping by our post, Dennis! I hope you do get to go back soon.
Thanks for sharing! I knew nothing about Bisbee, so it was interesting to learn more about its history. That inn though, such an interesting mix of quirky and odd! (but now I really want to go stay there, haha!)
“Let me take you to funky town…”
Enjoyed the article, my lived out that way. It’s been 40yrs since I been that direction. We are now retired, so it’s added to the list. Thanks
Thank you, Ronald. We’re sure you will enjoy the trip!
Thanks, Vanessa! I hope you can go sometime. Southern Arizona has some interesting places and was perfect for a road trip.
Looks like a quirky place. I had to laugh when uou said a young of 4,000 has a suburb 😊 Maggie
Thanks for reading, Maggie! Yeah, several suburbs, but the mine took one of them.
That is one funky hotel Kellye. Glad it all worked out for you and that they had a good restaurant. Certainly an interesting part of the world, with lots of Old Timie history. Thanks for taking us there. Allan
Thank you, Allan. It was a fun trip.
I’ve never heard of Bisbee before, but what a quirky and charming small town! I don’t know much about Arizona aside from the Grand Canyon and north of the state (as most of my travels were limited to that area), but it looks like southern Arizona has a lot of cool, underrated places like Bisbee! Glad you had a fun time there. 🙂
Thanks, Rebecca! We really enjoyed southern Arizona.
That is such an interesting place. I have never seen an art dispensing machine definitely a great idea. That grasshopper on a stick is a treasure . A memory of a place where people lived and worked so hard.
Thank you, Sandy. I agree that our tiny little painting is a perfect souvenir.
This looks like a very interesting and awesome place! Thanks for sharing!
Thank you for reading!
Bisbee definitely looks like my kind of place, as does Lowell 😀 The Inn is just the kind of accommodation we love to find, quirky yet comfortable, and I love the art vending machine idea (and no, I’ve never seen anything like that elsewhere).
Thank you, Sarah. I’m glad to find I’m not the only one who had not seen a CIG Art machine before. I wish I had been the one to come up with the concept.
That is a funky hotel indeed, but that is the fun of travel! I’d never heard of these towns but they sure are interesting and fascinating. Thanks for sharing!
Thank you, Lyssy!
The quirky motel looked fun. Glad it was clean and comfortable. How can you not smile when seeing the Bat Signal? And I’ve never seen a cigarette machine refurbished for anything. That baby blue old car could have belonged to my parents. 🙂 I enjoyed seeing the old photos, too. Your post also inspired me to Google, “Where is copper mined today?” Thanks for the tour of Bisbee!
Thank you, Betty! You probably found it on Google, but there are several active copper mines in Arizona today.
Loved sharing your tour with you. Also never seen anything like the converted cigarette machine. I loved your art work. Did you pick what you got, or was it random?
Thank you, Brenda! The CIG Art machine was so fun. There was a display showing different types of art, but what you get is a complete surprise. If I wasn’t such a cheapskate, I would’ve put a lot more money into that machine!
Loved this tour. That inn in Bisbee looks like a place we’d like for sure. The art miniatures machine is a great idea. Those historical photos of the town’s past are very cool, illustrating as you note a very different town than today. Lowell looks like a love letter to the past, and would be a must-see for us as well.
Thank you, Bruce! It was a fun stop on our road trip.
I lived in Sierra Vista for a few years, right next to Bisbee. Used to ride our horses that way. Also went to many gun shooting contests in Tombstone, and across border to Nogales for cheap booze! I am very, very familiar with that part of Arizona.
Very cool. We also went through Sierra Vista, but we didn’t get to stay long enough to write a post about it. There was some snow on the mountains, and we commented on how it shimmered in the sun. It was actually our first trip to southern Arizona, and we loved every minute of it and never worried about the border. Thanks for reading the post.
I am really loving this cool, off beat, completely unexpected area! Paris themed room, Batman signal, and a well in the middle of the lobby, a super retro service stations, and the old Indian motorcycle building- absolutely fantastic! I really enjoy these old mining towns and seeing the big hole mine that so many worked in. I use to love going to visit the Kennecott Copper Mine there in Utah and seeing the layers on layers on layers of roads with giant trucks going up and down them. Great post all around on this corner of Arizona 🙂
Thanks so much, Meg! It was a fun place to visit.
Wow, that hotel, I don’t know where to start! And the bat signal! I also love the black and white 1900s shot, it’s crazy how a place can change over time. I’d love to visit, looks like a cool and quirky place with lots to learn.
Thanks, Hannah! That hotel was definitely the most eclectic place we’ve ever stayed.
We like visiting places with a specific industrial history, it gives a certain character which is often associated with local pride even in places where the industry has long got up and walked away. Bisbee is a great example…and I love the “Dodge City” photo of the deserted main street.
Thanks guys. Bisbee was definitely different but a great place for a short visit.
It looks like an interesting part of Arizona. I have to ask, how did you even hear about the town in the first place, meaning what made you decide to go there? Was it on the way to somewhere else or you just decided to go here?
Thank you, Donna. We actually heard of it by watching a YouTube video of some people on a motorcycle trip. And since we were going to be in the area, we decided to check it out.
What a town! We passed through and didn’t stop and I do regret it! At least I can see it through your eyes.
I would love to spend some time in Bisbee, Kellye. I had a read of the history through the link you provided and it’s really interesting. They certainly had their share of hard times with the miner strikes and that devastating fire. The inn looks quite charming and I had a giggle at the batman hologram. I’m a big fan of towns that have an almost deserted feel. I’m sure not everyone feels that way, but I will always embrace a big old slab of “not much happening”. The time capsule feel of Lowell is also right up our street. Obviously I wouldn’t “remember” or know the old service stations but it does give a sense of nostalgia that I have from so many old American movies. I have never seen anything like the cigarette machine museum, great post, Kellye.
Thank you, Leighton. Since you make the most of the places you visit, I think you would dig right into Bisbee.
Bisbee looks amazing! I had never heard of it before so thanks for sharing.
Thanks, Wayne. It’s our pleasure to share.
A well in the lobby…WHAT!!!!! When we head that way do you think we would luck out and be able to just stop at a place to sleep or is it necessary to make reservations? I have never heard of the C.I.G. Machine, how clever!
As far as making reservations ahead, I’m always afraid not to, but we have had some luck a few times, but not on weekends.
This Bizbee is so amazing. Thanks sharing this idea.Anita
Thank you, Anita!
Bisbee sounds like an interesting town, both in terms of its history as well as its quirkiness. And that inn sounds like a real gem with a lot of character! We’ll have to add this to the list for the next time we’re in Arizona.
Thanks so much, guys!
I wanna travel your way!