Monday, February 9, 2009

Exploring Bisbee, Arizona & surrounding area

South on Hwy 80 about 50 miles from Benson lies the town of Bisbee, Arizona. This mining and western town sits a mile high in the Mule Mountains. Founded in 1880, Bisbee was once the largest city between San Francisco and St. Louis. Located on one of one of the worlds largest mineral deposits (mainly copper), Bisbee reached a population of 20,000 people at its peak. The town is built upon the walls of a narrow and steep canyon with turn of the century buildings that line the narrow streets and passageways. Walking through the main streets of Bisbee you will find a unique blend of antique, artesian and interesting eclectic shops. There is also a museum focused on the mining history of this area. We got the feeling that we were stepping back in time because the town is so well preserved and seemingly frozen in time. The better part of a day could be spent exploring this town and enjoying its history. In addition to the town, the hills and mountains surrounding Bisbee take on the colors of the minerals contain within which adds to the uniqueness and beauty of this area. Just outside of town is one of the deep open mining pits which illustrates the terraced approach to mining. The mining operation has slowed significantly due to the economy.

Copper Queen Hotel

In the heart of downtown Bisbee is the historic Copper Queen Hotel. Open since 1902, this is the oldest continuing run hotel in Arizona. The hotel is well preserved and with the interesting historic photos in the lobby and Copper Queen Saloon restaurant you get a small taste of the hotel’s colorful past. Here we decided to have lunch – Brad’s Miner’s Steak sandwich (with grilled sweet onions) coupled with a locally brewed Dave’s IPA beer was very good, where Suzanne’s chicken Caesar salad was just okay. The chicken seemed to be reheated instead of freshly prepared, but the croutons were great. (Suzanne loves her carbs!). The restaurant has a full menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Whitewater Draw State Wildlife Refuge

Northeast of Bisbee in the large Sulphur Springs Valley is the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Refuge. This wetland lies in the center of the Chihuahuan desert grassland habitat. The refuge is the winter home for many waterfowl including ducks, doves and the main attraction sandhill cranes. Built in the center of the two main wetland areas is a large viewing platform. This gives you great up close viewing opportunities. We were told the best times to see the sandhill cranes are in the morning hours and late afternoon. Unfortunately, the cranes weren’t there when we visited around 3:00pm. Also on the site are primitive restrooms, picnic areas and trails with information signs that educate you along the way. If you are an avid bird enthusiast then this might be up your alley. It’s a remote location making it a challenge to frequent often which it seems is needed to see the cranes.

To get there: go north to the town of Double Adobe on Central Highway Road. Turn left on Bagby road and travel 1.5 miles on a good dirt road to the refuge.

Cochise Stronghold in the Coronado National Forest
5 miles (last 2 miles is good dirt road) west of the town of Sunsites (located on Hwy 191) is the Cochise Stronghold. This is an area at the entrance of a canyon at the base of the Dragoon Mountains that the famous Chiricahua Apache Chief, Cochise led his people against the white settlers for over 10 years. Granite rock formations and steep canyon walls provided the Chiricahua people strategic and very effective raiding positions. Today, the area provides hiking and primitive camping. We were expecting sites and information of various battles but were disappointed to find nothing when we got there. The naturally beauty of the area is the feature. If hiking and camping is your interest then this would be an interesting place to explore, however we regretted spending the time finding this place for the purpose of history sight seeing.

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