Destinations, February 1999
And for a Little Human Diversity ...
Don't miss Bisbee, the funky desert oasis where left and right have agreed to meet in the middle
The contrast between the sprawling concrete of Tucson and the old-world charm of Bisbee, 100 miles to the southeast, is as great as the change from desert floor to pine-clad mountaintop — and certainly makes the town a worthy detour on the way back from the Chiricahuas. Built with abundant cash from a turn-of-the-century copper mine, Bisbee could be mistaken for early San Francisco, with colorful wooden houses rising up steep hillsides from a main street that feels more like a slot canyon.
Indeed, at times in its recent past Bisbee could also be mistaken for latter-day San Francisco (or at least the Haight): After the copper bust of the '70s, the town was invaded by hippies snapping up $7,000 houses, which led to a protracted bumper-sticker war between burly mining families and existential flower children. These days, however, Bisbee seems to have accepted its dichotomous character. Copper prices have rebounded, and the hippies have matured into respectable businessfolk, replacing head shops with boutiques and record stores with galleries. As in any artsy community, the caliber of offerings varies widely — in this case, from Indian Princess paintings to high-quality western landscapes and antiques — but it's all fun to look at. Probably the best cross-section of local talent can be found at the Subway Gallery (888-632-4716), a 15-member co-op located on Brewery Gulch. Nearby, at 35 Main, is Cafe Roka (520-432-5153), which can beam you right out of the desert with such offerings as langostino and asparagus crepes.
The centerpiece of old Bisbee is the imposing Victorian facade of the Copper Queen Hotel. An elegant lobby and dining room lead to slightly frayed but still charming rooms (doubles, $70-$92; 520-432-2216). Also downtown is the Inn at Castle Rock, an 1890s miners' boardinghouse converted to a bed-and-breakfast (doubles, $59-$87; 800-566-4449). Or for something really different, check out the restored vintage Airstreams at Shady Dell RV Park ($25-$70; 520-432-3567). They're works of art, to be sure, but ones of which those Leary disciples would certainly approve.
Photograph by MacDuff Everton