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Wandering along Arizona's copper trail.

Wandering along Arizona's copper trail

More than anything else, mining shapedArizona's territorial and early statehood years. No one mineral was more influential than copper, the metal of civilizations, the best conductor of electricity. For years Arizona called itself "The Copper State'; its capitol dome is still copper.

Endowed with one of the world's mostimportant sources of this metal, Arizona for 70 years has led the U.S. in its production --blasting, gouging, and leaching from the earth up to a million tons each year, far more than all the other states combined.

Today if you wander onto Arizona's coppertrail, telltale signs can't help but pique your interest. Miles-long manmade plateaus of tailings dwarf towns built in their shadows. The reds and yellows of huge terraced pits in Bisbee and Morenci are so brilliant on a sunny day that drivers simply pull over and stare.

But most of all it's the little towns--strewn across bony hillsides, bravely astride gaping holes, here decayed, there spruced up, haunted with memories--that tempt us to visit again and again. We report on four of the most interesting: Jerome is a national historic landmark. Bisbee's downtown is on the National Register of Historic Places. Globe and Clifton are making bids to place their downtowns on the national register, too.

This year, as Arizona observes its 75thanniversary, a visit to any of these turn-of-the-century copper centers--two of them still actively producing--offers a far different profile of this state than its better publicized attractions. Any route you choose to get there will be scenic. Most of these towns are pleasant year-round, tolerable even during the summer months. March and April can be gorgeous, or stormy and cold.

Bisbee, Jerome, Globe/Miami, and Clifton/Morenci, all with heydays from the late 1800s to World War I, were born of the flamboyant macho mining era when fortunes were made and lost overnight, when miners--outnumbering women 10 to 1--were mainly bachelors.

Life was tough and spare in these semifeudalmining camps owned by wealthy, powerful individuals or corporations. Miners worked 10-hour shifts underground for $1 to $3 a day. They lived in boarding houses or bunkhouses, and if they treated themselves to dinner out on a Saturday night, they paid 15 cents for standard fare, 25 cents for deluxe. A silent movie cost a dime. It was a time when a hardrock miner arriving in Globe with nothing but a burro could--and did-- become Arizona's first governor, George W.P. Hunt.

Copper mining is investment intensive, soall of Arizona's copper centers were corporately owned; for decades these companies dominated Arizona's economy and politics, not always admirably. Mining magnates "intimidated editors, threatened ministers, bought sheriffs, seduced lawmakers, and bullied union leaders. They rigged elections and manipulated the legislature,' notes historian James W. Byrkit, whose Forging the Copper Collar (University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 1982; $24.95 plus $1 postage) analyzes the state's corporate mining.

And during eras of prosperity, they builthandsome towns.

Visitors will find the areas reported herefeel similar: all are on hills at 3,000-foot to mile-high elevations, all are near outstanding outdoor recreation opportunities. Their populations range from 470 in Jerome to 6,500 in Clifton/Morenci, and 8,000 in Bisbee and Globe/Miami.

Though you'll find some good restaurants,these are not gourmet destinations. But you will find treats in the restored hotel category: Bisbee has the best collection (six), Jerome has two. Clifton/Morenci offers the only tour of an active mine; it's worth a special trip.

Bisbee: mining's gone, but to devoted tourists she's still thequeen

Queen of the old mining camps, Bisbeeearly this century was Arizona's third largest city and likely its wealthiest. When the Copper Queen Hotel opened in 1902, it was touted as the most fashionable stop between New Orleans and San Francisco. Now tourist-dependent, Bisbee is the most renovated of the four towns and has the most for visitors to do-- including its own lively brand of theater several weekends a month, year-round.

From 1877, when an Army scout firstdiscovered rich ores in the Mule Mountains, until 1975, when Phelps Dodge ceased mining, underground and open-pit mines here produced more than 4 million tons of copper ore. The city operates daily tours (about 90 minutes each) underground and to the Lavender Pit, explaining how mining was done. Join both if you can, the underground tour if you have time for just one. (Press a button on the fence at the Lavender Pit mine for a recorded summary of its past.)

Bisbee is a classic company town, withbuildings mainly from 1890 to 1915. Its historic district is studded with architectural gems. Gravity-defying housing spills along the hills, and in the canyons below, a stylish commercial center presses two-and three-story buildings together along Main Street and lower Brewery Gulch. In places, long public stairs take the place of streets. The streets, equally steep, are legend to nationally ranked bicycle racers who must compete in Bisbee's grueling La Vuelta the last week each April. The streets are as idiosyncratic as their names--O.K., Subway, Brewery Gulch, Opera Drive, Tombstone Canyon.

Plan to stay in one of six restored hotels orinns. Biggest is the Copper Queen Hotel, with 43 rooms (many with antique furnishings), a dining room, a lively lounge. Breakfast is included with a room at the others. The 11-room Grand Hotel on Main Street was done up last year in ornate Victorian antiques--most of which are for sale. (It also has a posh lounge.) The 18-room Bisbee Inn (nonsmokers only) is furnished more like a miner's hotel. The red 1895 Inn at Castle Rock, with porches on both stories, has 12 rooms. Two more inns recently opened: the seven-room 1906 Greenway House and the 15-room 1909 Oliver Boarding House. Prices for two range from $25 to $40 or so, up to $125 for a three-room suite with kitchen at the Grand.

Colorful local tales are told on daily bustours through the historic district. Or use a free brochure from the chamber of commerce to guide yoy past 32 historic buildings, including two museums, the state's oldest library, galleries, shops.

Mine and bus tours cost $3 to $4 each;some cost less for children. Get details on tours, events, and lodging from the chamber of commerce, 1 O.K. Street (Box BA), Bisbee 85603; (602) 432-2141. It's open 9 to 5 weekdays, 2 to 5 Saturdays.

A detour to Douglas. If possible, take the25-mile drive southeast to Douglas, where the smelter that refined most of this area's copper has just closed forever. Set piece is the 160-room Gadsden Hotel, rebuilt in 1929 with its grand lobby and a staircase sweeping toward wonderful Tiffany stained-glass panels.

Jerome clings to Cleopatra Hill and its heritage

On its scenic U.S. 89A approach fromFlagstaff, Jerome appears like a New Yorker cartoon, its frame houses a jumble of stilts and stairways attached up and down the 30| incline of Cleopatra Hill. Basements for some houses are reached by climbing up three flights.

No town in Arizona has more dwellingswith magnificent views--all the way to Sedona's red rocks. A 1925 dynamite blast helped send part of the town inching downhill (the old jail still sits 225 feet below its original site), but a host of braces, beams, and concrete blocks now keep the town secured.

Named for an early financial supporter,Eugene Jerome, a relative of Sir Winston Churchill, Jerome today is nearly a ghost town. Phelps Dodge ended mining here in 1953. Few buildings are new; nearly the entire town dates to its early days.

Some two dozen spruced-up enterprisesinvite browsing. Eateries and shops come and go: look for Macy's European Coffee House; stop at Maude's Downstairs for cinnamon rolls. Don't miss Alfredo's Wife, whose designer clothes have a devoted following. Artists sell their wares in the park on summer weekends. Best food is at House of Joy (booked weeks ahead), open only 3 to 10 weekends.

Historic inns include the seven-room 1899Miner's Roost, where $55 a night for two buys a view from an antique-filled room and a complete breakfast. A block up Main, the seven rooms in 1898 Connor Hotel are above a cavernous bar with pressed tin ceiling. Cost: $20 to $45 per room. Ask around town about B&Bs.

Stop at the 1916 Douglas Mansion, now astate park, to see good views of town, copper ore samples, a scale mockup of Jerome's United Verde and Little Daisy mines, and a 15-minute history video. It's open 8 to 5 daily; $1 adults, free for ages 17 and under. The historical society museum, open 9 to 5 daily, also helps orient you; 50 cents, free for ages 11 and under.

For brochures, write or call the chamberof commerce, Box 788, Jerome 86331; (602) 634-5339. It doubles as Arizona Discoveries, 317 Main, open daily 10 to 5.

Globe/Miami: a gallery of mine ruins

These are still old-fashioned Westernmining towns with two active open-pit operations: Inspiration Consolidated and Magma. Both are closed to visitors. But never mind: alongside the 7 miles of U.S. 60 connecting these two towns is a whole gallery of amazing mining debris--including the 6-story hoist house of Old Dominion Mine a mile east of the Roosevelt Dam turnoff. One of the first of the 20th-century large-capitalization mines, it's now a ghost.

Looming over both towns are mountainsof weathered tailings that shimmer on moonlit nights as though snow dusted. Many residents stick to the belief the only "real' jobs are with the mines, but as operations have been streamlined and unemployment has skyrocketed, a push for tourism has accelerated.

Ready for visitors is Globe's 1907 Court-houseon Broad Street, restored as the Cobre Valley Center for the Arts, with a gallery and a resident artist to visit. By summer, converted courtrooms upstairs will stage local theater performances. Antique and gift shops are also opening.

The chamber of commerce, at 1450 N.Broad Street in Globe, is open 8 to 5 weekdays, 9 to 5 Saturdays, 1 to 5 Sundays. It gives out walking-tour brochures for both towns and can suggest other area attractions. Write to Box 2539, Globe 85502, or call (602) 425-4495.

Clifton and Morenci: hard-luck towns with hope

Neighboring Clifton and Morenci are dramaticproof that copper's harrowing boom-and-bust cycles are not over.

One recent afternoon when our editorsarrived, Clifton appeared like an Arizona Brigadoon, the sunlit San Francisco River lazing past turn-of-the-century buildings sandwiched between glowing foothills of the White Mountains.

But boarded-up windows and farewellsigns on businesses told a different story --that of a heartbreak town still reeling from one of the bitterest American labor disputes in the last half-century plus a 1983 flood that damaged or destroyed 330 buildings, many of them old ones.

Half the town's population has left forgreener pastures; two-thirds of the town's businesses have closed for good. But diehards cling to hopes tourism can save this town, as it has Jerome and Bisbee.

The raw ingredients are clearly here. Thisis still a well-preserved mining town of 1870 through the early 1900s. A recent historical survey of the area documents 150 structures worthy of note. And the boarded-up Chase Creek business district, with 48 buildings, is held by some to be the best-preserved ensemble of old mining town architecture in Arizona.

Not boarded up is the chamber of commerceat 251 Chase Creek Road, open 9 to noon and 1 to 4 weekdays. Stop by for ideas on what to see nearby--or write to Box 1237, Clifton 85533; (602) 865-3313. The interested can see grand schemes for a lengthy riverfront park along the San Francisco. The revival could take place and be wonderful. But if economic interest isn't forthcoming, the buildings may soon deteriorate beyond redemption.

Meanwhile, north from Clifton, scenicU.S. 666 winds past an enormous colorful gap in the earth--America's biggest open copper pit currently being mined. (The original town of Morenci stood here.)

Battling depressed copper prices, PhelpsDodge's Morenci Branch runs a lean, high-tech operation. Every 24 hours the mine processes 100,000 tons of ore and 110,000 tons of leach and waste material. Struggling to remain competitive, Phelps Dodge had to lay off almost half the mine's 3,000 workers in 1982. That, plus wage and work rule disputes, resulted in a bitter and sometimes violent strike that dragged on until February 1986, when the union was decertified. Locals, some here five generations, still in shock, still trying to comprehend, will share their stories if you ask.

You can take tours, led by retired employees,town into the pit and over to concentrators and leaching plants. They're free, fascinating, last about 3 hours, and require reservations: call the mine's employee services at (602) 865-4521.

More reading: In addition to the bookmentioned on page 60, a more general book, Arizona, the Land and the People, edited by Tom Miller (University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 85719, 1986; $35 plus $1 postage), covers mining from early Anglo and Hispanic days to modern times.

Photo: Pots and pans for kitchen and hearth: theCopper Shop in Jerome sells a polished array of copper items from around the world

Photo: Saucy Green Tomatoz dazzle guestswith original songs in lounge of restored Grand Hotel in Bisbee

Photo: Lone early-morning tourist strolls down Jerome's Main Street; for the way it looked in the early 1900s, see page 62

Photo: Centers ofpower from the 1880s until the 1920s, Arizona's copper towns are a 1- to 3-hour drive from Phoenix or Tucson

Photo: Hard hats, miners' lights are standardfor daily tours into the rock-hard earth of Bisbee's Copper Queen mine

Photo: Clock tower of 1904 Pythian Castle rises above heart of Bisbee's historic district. At right, breakfast is served at Bisbee Inn

Photo: Horse-drawn ore wagons await departure tosmelter in early 1900s downtown Jerome

Photo: Eroded mountainof tailings is backdrop for Miami's 1909 copper-domed Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament Church

Photo: Tiny band of tourists almost disappearsat base of Morenci's active copper mine
COPYRIGHT 1987 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:copper towns
Article Type:Directory
Date:Mar 1, 1987
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