Arizona

Travel Photography: Going Back to Bisbee

It’s been almost 18 years since my last trip to the mining camp-turned artists’ colony and tourist destination, Bisbee, Arizona. I’m pleased to announce that I broke my Bisbee fast yesterday.

Bisbee is one of those places that’s easy to love — and satirize. Matter of fact, a local bumper sticker describes Bisbee as being “like Mayberry on acid.”

There is more than a little truth to that description…

Travel photography - sculpture house in Bisbee, Arizona

So you say you don’t have a home in Bisbee? Try living outdoors…

Travel photography - outdoor living room in Bisbee, Arizona

Or maybe you prefer more privacy while sleeping under the stars? If nothing else, this mural will inspire some colorful dreams…

Travel photography - mural in Bisbee, Arizona

Okay, time for me to ‘fess up. I’ve made a couple of allusions to camping in the middle of Bisbee, Arizona. Well, I’ve done it.

Happened back in 1987, when I was bicycling from Mexico to Canada. While pedaling through southeastern Arizona, I joined an organized ride that a Tucson-based bicycle club sponsored. Ride made an overnight stop in Bisbee.

Since my budget didn’t stretch far enough for a hotel room, I camped in a city park with some of the other riders. Despite my shoestring budget, I just had to do the Bisbee tourist thing and take the Queen Mine Tour…

Travel photography - Queen Mine entrance in Bisbee, Arizona

I took the above photo yesterday, and, no, I didn’t repeat the mine tour. Quite frankly, I was killing time until the Old Bisbee Brewing Company opened for lunch. I give this place my highest recommendation.

One of the delightful things about Bisbee is that the city didn’t throw away its past. It’s still around — and very much part of the present…

Travel photography - Perfection Bread ad in Bisbee, Arizona

There’s another side to Bisbee, let’s call it the precarious side.

The original reason for the city’s existence is mining. From 1877 until the last of the underground mines closed in 1975, Bisbee’s mountains yielded more than eight billion pounds of copper, gold, silver, lead, and zinc.

After Phelps Dodge left in the mid-1970s, Bisbee’s economy collapsed. And then the artists moved in — nothing like dirt-cheap housing and an agreeable climate.

In 2007, Phelps Dodge was purchased by Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold. Yesterday, I saw Freeport-McMoRan’s trucks all over Bisbee. One of the locals said that it’s only a matter of time before major mining operations resume. Many people aren’t too happy about this.

After all, one doesn’t have to look very far to see what mining can do to the landscape. Here’s Bisbee’s Lavender Pit Mine, which has been closed for decades…

Travel photography - Lavender Pit Mine in Bisbee, Arizona

Another aspect of Bisbee’s precarious existence is its topography…

Travel photography - Houses on steep hill in Bisbee, Arizona

Steep hills with narrow valleys are a recipe for disastrous floods, which this place has experienced. Although this sign isn’t as direct as the one on the Lavender Pit Mine fence, the meaning is the same: Keep out or die.

Travel photography - Ditch with warning sign in Bisbee, Arizona

Finally, there is the precarious existence that comes with an economy that is heavily reliant on tourism. Bisbee is a long way from anywhere. Which means that it has come to depend on money from afar. Yesterday, I saw more Canadian tourists than Americans.

All too often, that tourist money just isn’t enough. I saw more than a few stores like this one. It’s advertising a clearance sale so that the building can be sold…

Travel photography - Going out of business in Bisbee, Arizona

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