A wrench leaving Patagonia Lake, but a short and spectacular drive through Sierra Vista to Bisbee and beyond. Here another apology is needed, since this posting is heavy on history and you can dig into the links for even more detail if this interests you! But you really do not have to read these ramblings, and you can always get a visual fix on this stretch by watching Western movies!! We missed Tombstone, Arizona, largely because we had been there before, and, after all, how many shootouts were there at the OK Corral?
Bisbee is most interesting, since it was a booming mining town in the early nineteen hundreds, and actually the biggest town between St. Louis and San Francisco. The attraction was mainly copper, with labyrinths of tunnels, plus a huge hole where thousands of tons of ore were mined. Gold, silver and turquoise, plus a host of other minerals assured Bisbee’s prosperity.
Then the richer ore ran out, copper prices came down, and the mine closed in the nineteen seventies. It became successively a ghost town, a hippie haven, and then a tourist town with a strong emphasis on art and culture. Indeed it is very much like Elora … minus the river, choir and gorge, but with the addition of magnificent mountains and more jewelers, who work the local minerals into high-priced trinkets!! Not for me to comment on the similarity of some of the more colourful characters.
There is a “dark side” to Bisbee, when a union dispute in 1917 turned nasty, and resulted in the deportation of over 2,000 striking miners to Columbus, New Mexico. This in cattle cars in 120F heat. But, as always, there are two sides to this history, and if you are interested you can link to Bisbee in Wilkipedia. For sure it is not a good idea to bring this subject up in conversations with old miners!
The old town remains, as does the “big hole”. Perched on the very edge of the hole is a little plateau with about 25 RV sites arranged in a circle like the covered wagons of old. The Queen Mine campground is reached via two hairpin bends and a steep hill. Not for the faint of heart, but worth the adventure, since the site is close to the Queen Mine and its wonderful underground tour, and one can actually walk to Old Bisbee.
There one finds the quirky stores, galleries, and, best of all, the Bisbee Coffee Shop, where they roast their own beans, and produce a brew surpassed perhaps only by Planet Bean in Guelph, Ontario. (Grandson Harley works as a roaster at Planet Bean!).
This year, our visit was a disappointment, since our arrival coincided with one of the coldest winter days in Bisbee history! It was actually over 20C warmer in Toronto that day! The water in the trailer froze, as did we, but we bundled up and walked down for coffee anyway!!
In the hope of warmer climes, we headed downhill a couple of thousand feet, and East to New Mexico, and another interesting spot … Columbus. Three miles from the Mexico border, the famous Mexican revolutionary, Pancho Villa attacked and burned the town in 1916. This provoked the USA to attempt to wreak terrible revenge, and General “Black Jack” Pershing, complete with his Cadillac and a mechanized army journeyed into Mexico to bring Pancho Villa to account. This was unsuccessful, as the Mexicans rode off on their horses into the severe mountains in Mexico.
This is now commemorated in the excellent Pancho Villa State Park, where one can see some remains of the American headquarters, and also an old film with some elderly ladies giving a first hand account of their town being burned.
The first time we visited Columbus we could not believe the endless expanse of desert, and the amazing cacti that surrounded the camp sites. Sunsets to die for, and darn near die of cold as the desert chill descends!
The road between Douglas, Arizona and Columbus, New Mexico is interesting in other ways.
Historically, there is the Geronimo monument, remembering the final surrender of the Apaches to the U.S. forces, effectively ending the last of the wars with the Native people.
The little mining town of Hachita played its part in the Pancho Villa expedition, and this whole border area is full of fascinating events. Nowadays it is heavily traveled by the U.S. Border Patrol, since it is only a brief stroll from Mexico, albeit through some wicked country, especially in summer.
It warmed up in Columbus the next day, and after a long but good drive into Texas, we luxuriated in wonderful sunshine in Alpine. No pictures or accounts of this favourite town of ours, since we will be revisiting it in February. Suffice to say that the little radio station announces that it is “1240, Alpine … Voice of the Last Frontier”!!
It is also the last frontier of the Internet and cell phones, as we head south to Big Bend National Park, where nothing works except satellites and a quirky pay phone. So our next post will be after this wilderness excursion, and we just hope that our batteries will hold out long enough!
Hopefully there will be one more post before the holidays, but in case we do not manage this, Elaine and I would like to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Successful New Year.
John (with help from Elaine)