making owls cool since 1986

We moved to Arizona to see burrow owls. Where the hell are all the burrow owls?

Monday, October 01, 2007


Seeing Bisbee, Arizona for the first time is a pretty rad experience. You head south out of Phoenix and through Tucson. You leave the freeway and travel down a two-lane road, through legendary Tombstone, and up into the Mule Mountains. The mountains are green instead of the usual desert brown. You continue south toward Mexico, you pass through a tunnel, drive around a long curve, crest a hill, and Bisbee comes into sight. It feels like you have driven into a postcard from 1900. The town is nestled in a valley and houses scale the sides of the mountains. Erin and I were a bit overcome with the sight. After months of seeing almost nothing but stucco, scrub brush and desert, seeing a mountain town felt like we drove through a tunnel in Arizona and came out in Vermont. We pulled over and snapped these pictures and a few others.

In order to drive down to the center of town, you must drive up the road a bit further and turn around. Still riding high on the initial sighting of Bisbee, we encountered this giant strip mine on our right. Of course, we pulled over and took some pictures there too. This mine was once one the most prolific copper mines in the country and that copper was the reason for Bisbee's existence. When American scouts in the war against Mexico came through the valley, they discovered large quantities of copper ore in the hills and people started staking claims. Bisbee has a really interesting and colorful history, which you can read about by clicking here.

I can say that a place has never had the initial impact for me that Bisbee had. It was literally love at first sight. Erin and I had no idea what sort of place Bisbee would be. We were invited to go to a blues festival there by Erin's friend from work, Jaime, but we didn't really look into it.

After arriving we though that perhaps our overly romanticized first impression would give way to a more realistic understanding of the town, but it just kept getting better and better. We drove down through the narrow, one lane streets and eventually found parking (free parking!). We walked down the road, still overwhelmed with the coolness, and arrived at our hotel. Our hotel was called Hotel La More, or the Bisbee Inn. Again, we were transported
back to the mining days of the town. The lobby featured an old fashion phone and beautiful wooden walls. While Erin checked in, I noticed a newspaper article about how the inn was allegedly haunted. Neither I nor Erin believe in such things, but it adds an undeniable dash of atmosphere.
Predictably, our room was adorable and offered a great view of the city. Everything appeared to be an antique of some sort or another. There were many old
pictures of Bisbee in it's heyday all along the hall .
We didn't stay in our room long, because people were waiting for us across the street at a bar called St. Elmos. Many of you from back home now how much I love Vincent's and Ralph's. St. Elmo's is a bar cast in the same mold as our favorite Worcester haunts, only with a distinct western character that added to its charm. While we were approaching there was a fleet of motorcycles and we had that familiar "what are we getting ourselves into" feeling, but once inside we felt right at home among the taxidermy and kitsch art. Jaime and his wife and some other friends of his met us inside. We hung out there for a little bit, then we headed down the road to a saloon in a hotel called The Copper Queen.

Erin and I aren't big drinkers, so after talking some of the Travelers Insurance Crew in the saloon for a little bit, we headed off to find the bathroom and look around a bit. On the way back from the bathroom, I noticed this picture in a case in the hall:
We spoke to a very helpful woman working at the front desk who told us the story. This unfortunate individual was John Heath. Heath was hanged in Tombstone for his connection to a violent bank robbery later dubbed The Bisbee Massacre.

It's been hard to be away from the history and sense of place back in New England, but this, our first encounter with the infamous west and it's history, produced the same feeling. To add to the situation, the same women told us how the Copper Queen is legendary for being haunted and showed us their registry of guests' ghostly experiences. It was even featured on Ghost Hunters on the Sci-fi channel, which is a guilty pleasure of mine. Then she told us we were welcome to explore the hotel. This, of course, was an offer we could not turn down. We checked out the hotel and it was pretty rad. Perhaps we'll stay there next time.

At this point we were pretty much sold on how awesome Bisbee it, but, believe it or not, it kept getting cooler. We ended up going into an art gallery and buying a really awesome art piece for the apartment. While we were paying for it, we started picking the brain of the woman working there. She told us about some really cool things to do in Bisbee, one of which was to go see an African drummer at a club called Kilimanjaro.

After returning to our hotel and almost calling it a night, we decided that staying would probably mean missing out on something, so we sucked it up and headed to Club Kilimanjaro. We were not disappointed. The African drummer was Amadou Kienou.

This dude was an awesome performer. I'll admit that I expected it to be a bit of a low key evening, the virtue of which would lie in my own increased appreciation for African culture. When we arrived, Kienou was playing a stringed instrument, which I think was called a kora. It was a beautiful song and Erin and I sat down to relax. This atmosphere did not continue for long. At the closure of that song, Kienou pulled a drum in front of him and commanded the crowd: "Men! Women! Get up and dance right now!" Instantly Kienou burst into beat on his drum and the room exploded. People hopped up and started dancing, each in his or her own style and it was then that we realized that we were in colorful company. Hippies and free spirits and men and women of all types dancing and letting the music dictate their movements. After that song, Kienou played another in which he actually called various dancers from the crowd to take the center of the floor and dance for a moment, then fade back into the myriad other dancers and relinquish the primary spot to another.

And through it all, we two Yankees sat on their wooden chairs, mouths open, a little overcome. Not that we didn't enjoy the performance, but our enjoyment lies in a more reserved state - we listened and observed until finally Kienou played one encore and we went back out into the night and to a well deserved bed.

The next day we got up and took some pictures of the colorful sights that spoke of the citizenship of Bisbee -

After a little driving tour, we headed over to take a trip through the Queen Mine. They offer guided tours several times a day. After buying a magnet and a pin (a tradition of ours) we waited a short while, got outfitted for our adventure and we were off into the mine.

It was chilly in the mine and we learned all sorts of neat stuff about the history of mining.

The trip lasted about an hour. Our tour guide was an older gentleman who had worked the mine for 25 years before it closed in the 1970's. His first hand experience made him one of the best tour guides we have had. Also, it helped that there weren't any weird women on the tour constantly singing the praises of Mammoth Caves!

So, friends back home (and it California!), be forewarned! If you ever come and visit Erin and I, you will be visiting Bisbee, AZ!

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Blogger Eric said...

PS - Erin never liked taxidermy and still doesn't. Love, Erin.

9:49 PM  
Blogger BillyPru said...

awesome. can't wait to visit

12:05 PM  

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