Mining was big business in this area, especially copper mining. The hills are riddled with old mines, dried up ghost towns and old mining towns that found new reasons to survive. Mining is still done around Bisbee and Tombstone but they now rely heavily on their history to lure tourists, as well as newer arts, crafts and modern businesses.
Bisbee, the “Queen of the Copper Camps”, is very picturesque and interesting. It was built on the steep rocky hills of a narrow canyon and many of the homes rely on long steep stairways. By 1910, it was the largest, richest and rowdiest copper mining town in America and the biggest city between St. Louis and San Francisco.
Local mines produced zinc, lead, silver, gold, manganese and nearly 8 billion pounds of copper. The Lavender Pit is a large open pit copper mine at the edge of Bisbee. It operated from 1951 until 1975. Lots of high quality turquoise also came from this mine.
Today, Bisbee is alive with small shops, art studios, antique stores and restaurants but small enough to walk and explore in a couple hours.
Tombstone was also a rowdy mining town, but is most famous for Doc Holiday, Wyatt Earp, Big Nose Kate and the 1881 gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which lasted only about 30 seconds.
About 250 of Tombstone’s former residents are buried in the Boot Hill Graveyard, including the losers of the famous gunfight. A list of the occupants showed that very few died of “natural causes.” Most were shot or hanged, some died of unfortunate accidents, and others of illnesses of various kinds. The horse-drawn hearse that carried all but six to Boot Hill is in the museum at the Bird Cage Theater.
We decided to visit Mexico, but wanted to see a smaller town rather than a large border city. So, we drove the back roads through Texas Canyon, the one-horse “town” of Dragoon, the former mining town of Pearce and finally to the border town of Douglas. It cost just $1 to park in a municipal lot a block from the border crossing. From there, we walked into the small Mexican town of Agua Prieta. There was a lot of activity at the crossing. Apparently, a vehicle didn’t make it through the inspection and the border patrol and their dogs were swarming around, had a suspect on the ground, and a CHP helicopter was hovering overhead. We walked right on by with other tourists. Just another day at the border.
We purchased a few small souvenirs before returning to the U.S. We were armed with driver’s licenses, passports and other picture ID, but weren’t asked for anything. The border guard just looked at us, smiled and waved us through. I guess we’re too obviously American tourists. Maybe the Hawaiian shirt, shorts, funny Dakota farm hat and camera around the neck gave it away. It was just too easy!!!