Just before leaving the Phoenix area, we took a day trip to the towns of Wickenburg and Jerome, Arizona. Our first destination, Wickenburg, lies 75 miles NW of Scottsdale and you can get there by a couple of different routes. We went through Surprise and Sun City on US-60 W.
If you read my earlier “birds and the bees” post, you’ll recall that en route to Wickenburg, we stopped at the Hassayampa River Preserve for a few hours of bird-watching.
The highlight of that visit was the “swarm” of hummingbirds that greeted Mary and I as we approached the visitor’s centre.
A series of feeders had been mounted and tucked under the eaves and there were anywhere from 2 to 5 hummingbirds at every feeder. The noise was almost hypnotic. There was both a steady hum and a buzzing noise that sounded like an entire fleet of tiny motorized airplanes. It was one of the most incredible things either one of us have ever seen or heard.
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit (well documented in my earlier post), but it was soon time to move on as there were other places we wanted to visit that day, starting with the town of Wickenburg. Now Wickenburg wasn’t a destination in and of itself but rather a stopping place (for lunch) en route to Jerome, a historic mining town that several of our friends had told us we absolutely had to visit.
In researching Wickenburg before our day trip, I found out that it referred to itself as the “Dude Ranch Capital of Arizona”. That name relates to the fact there are four ranches in the area that are said to offer a unique western experience. Of greater interest to me was the fact that the town had a rather irreverent attitude toward it’s history and to that end had commissioned 6 large bronze sculptures that were strategically placed throughout the town – all depicting scenes from its western past.
Upon arriving in town, we parked the car and began to walk the downtown streets (it is not a big place), and we had no difficulty find the sculptures in question. The first one we came across was called “Jail Tree Felon”, and it was a recreation of a place where prisoners were chained in the early days of Wickenburg, until they could be transported to the nearest jail.
The next one we came upon was called “Vaguero with Guitar”.
The man who took this picture of us had been walking along the street with his wife, and when he saw Mary standing by the statue, he nonchalantly walked up to her, grabbed her hand and started dancing with her, cracking up both me, and his wife. After we chatted for a few moments, he was kind enough to take our picture.
Across the street, we encountered “Cowboy and Dance Hall Girl”. They appeared to be chatting each other up outside the local saloon, so Mary pretended to be eavesdropping on their conversation.
While she was posing for the picture, two local cowboys in a pick-up slowed down to give her a thumbs-up and a big smile for her pose. You have to love the people in small towns.
We took pictures of a few more of the sculptures and after a so-so lunch at the Horseshoe Cafe (Mary really liked her quiche, my mac and cheese was awful, and really, come on people, how do you screw up mac and cheese?), we were on our way to Jerome.
This next leg of our trip (96 miles through Prescott and the Verde Valley on US-89) started out with what we had begun referring to as “mindless miles of nothingness” during our holiday. Literally nothing but prairie cactus and sagebrush as far as the eyes could see.
The one highlight in the early part of the drive was an outcropping near Congress. It had been painted bright green, and it has been that way since 1928 when a local homesteader’s wife observed that the rock, when viewed from the proper angle, resembled a frog. She painted it, and town’s folks have been giving it frequent refreshers ever since.
As we entered the Verde Valley, the scenery began to change from the nothingness I referred to a moment ago, to a much rockier and more interesting backdrop.
We finally reached Jerome, but unfortunately because of the time we had spent bird-watching, then wondering the streets of Wickenburg, combined with the sheer time and distance to get there (171 miles), it was nearly 5 PM in the afternoon when we finally arrived.
Jerome is situated high up on the side of Cleopatra Hill (5246 feet above sea level according to the sign), and it is another one of the historic mining towns we encountered on our trip, in this case copper. As an aside here, we had no idea there was such a deep mining history in Arizona, having mostly heard about the “California Gold Rush” while growing up.
In its’ heyday, Jerome was known as the “wickedest town in the west”, as it grew from a settlement of tents to a roaring mining community that was once the fourth largest city in Arizona. Its’ population peaked at around 15,000 in the 1920’s, but the depression of the 1930’s slowed the mining operation, and while there was a brief resurgence due to the demand of copper during WWII, by 1953 the mine was closed. The population dwindled down to just 50-75 hardy souls who stayed and began to promote Jerome as a historic mining ghost town.
Today, Jerome is a tourist destination (the streets were packed with cars, motorcycles and people when we there) and the permanent population of about 450 includes a thriving artist community who have chosen to settle in the area.
The main street is still home to many buildings dating back to 1899, but instead of banks, law offices, brothels and saloons, they are now home to raucous pubs (not that much different than saloons now that I think about it) restaurants, small hotels, and retail shops packed with items to make a healthy dent in visitor’s pocketbooks and wallets.
One store that absolutely captivated Mary and I was Nellie Bly and it exclusively sold Kaleidoscopes. There were thousands of them – countless different shapes and styles, and made from every kind of material imaginable, and believe me they weren’t cheap. We picked up a couple of smallish ones, and they were priced at well over $100. There were a couple of large ornate ones carrying price-tags of between $15 and $20 thousand dollars! I don’t know how many they sold in a day, but with the exception of the bars, this was far and away the busiest shop on the main street.
At it’s peak, the Jerome copper mine produced an astounding 3 million pounds of copper per month, and men and women flocked from all over the world to find work. Today, the mines are silent, and Jerome is the largest ghost town in America.