Those interested in experiencing the American West seem to be after impressive rock formations, untamed wilderness, powerful rivers and scorching (but not so barren) deserts.
I will like to pursue any of those at any given time. To make it a perfect day, I will add one or two towns with character. You know, towns that give you that “Wild West” feeling (like in the movies).
Seems like Arizona is home to some of the most famous (and baddest) towns in the West. These towns had a lot in common: a mine, people from all over the place in search of riches, unlawfulness, crime, saloons, gunfights, disasters (natural or caused by man) and bandits roaming around.
You have probably heard about Tombstone, home of the O.K. Corral and nicknamed “The Town Too Tough To Die” or Bisbee, which is famous because of the Queen Copper Mine and its motto, “An American Original.”
And then, to complete the triplet of notorious towns, we have Jerome, “The Wickedest Town in the West.”
To start the list of facts that makes this town unique, we can point out its setting. The town is located at the skirts of the Cleopatra Hill at more than 5,000 feet above sea level (making it a mile high town). The town owes its existence mainly to two ore bodies that formed about 1.75 billion years ago along a ring fault in the caldera of an undersea volcano. Interesting, right?
Wait, there is more! In the late 1800s, several investors filed the first mining claims in the area. They created the United Verde Copper Company. With time an entire infrastructure (train, tunnels) was build to move the 33 million tons of copper, silver, gold, zinc and lead extracted from the mine.
Now, remember we are talking about a nearly vertical location. Flat areas appropriate for construction did not exist. So, in effect, you had a (peak) population of 10,000 to 15,000 living in tents and shaken cabins in the skirts of a mountain.
The only brick buildings were located “downtown.” Most of those businesses were associated with alcohol, gambling and prostitution (think about an 80% male population). Add to that fires and landslides and you can see why the New York Sun called the town the wickedest in the West.
Most of Jerome’s turbulent past is buried in history books. After the Great Depression, mines closed (ore deposits become exhausted) and the population dwindled to less than a hundred. The few remaining residents were able to attract residents by opening galleries, restaurants and shops and by sponsoring festivals, celebrations and home tours.
Basically, we have a place that went from depraved mining camp to ghost town to thriving arts center in about 150 years.
Below, I give you some ideas to spend a day in town.
I suggest you start your day by visiting the Audrey Headframe Park. Remember I mentioned Jerome had two ore bodies. One was exhausted by the abovementioned United Verde Company and the other was exploited by the United Verde Extension Mining Company (UVX). Their mine, which can be seen at the Audrey Park, is called UVX mine or Little Daisy Mine.
At the park, you can see the largest wooden headframe still standing in Arizona, equipment from the era (including a huge generator) and, the impressive 1,900 feet deep shaft. The Empire State Building, to put things into perspective, is 1250 feet tall. Now, tell me if that is scary or not!
If you are brave enough, a piece of glass has been placed over the mouth of the shaft so that people can stand over it. I couldn’t do it.
The Jerome State Historic Park is located a few feet from the Audrey Headframe Park. The site features the Douglas Mansion, built in 1916 by a family of influential mining entrepreneurs (the owners of the Little Daisy Mine).
A museum, inside the mansion, features exhibits of photographs, mining artifacts, and minerals in addition to a video presentation and a 3-D model of the town with its underground mines.
Even if you are not interested in entering the museum, great views of Jerome and of the Verde Valley can be spotted from the parking lot.
After learning about the mining past of the area, it is time to explore the town per se. Once you enter the historic core, you will want to go ahead and take a trillion pictures. The buildings in Jerome are incredibly charming. In fact, the town was declared National Historic Landmark in 1966.
Take your time walking around and taking a good look at the pleasant hotels, restaurants and shops.
Also, remember Jerome is an artist enclave. Therefore, be prepared to encounter high quality, original, unique and, even, bizarre works of art.
Even the fire house make an impact.
Because of the mining accidents that took place in the past, the fires that consumed many buildings and the people that were killed in strange circumstances, many places in town are believed to be haunted (for example, the Grand Hotel).
You can join a walking tour to learn more about the ‘spirits” that roam the area. And, the ghost references all over around. You can even eat a haunted burger.
Since the surroundings are vertical, you can think about different sectors of the town being in different levels. To go from one level to another, you have to climb stairs or ascend a hill. Make sure to go to the highest point so you can look at the Verde Valley from above.
In addition, many establishments have gigantic windows affording views of the valley.
After satisfying your pupils with everything that there is to see in Jerome, you can visit the Gold King Mine (a mile from town, go in your car). This place gives you a good idea of how miners used to live in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Or, you can continue your excursion thru the Mingus Mountains.
- There is no need to spend a lot of money to enjoy Jerome. Walking around town, admiring the views, window shopping and the Audrey Headframe Park are free.
- The fees to visit the Jerome Historical State Park and the Gold King Mine are reasonable.
- Parking is free.
- The town gets crowded during the weekends. Try to arrive early, in order to get a good parking spot, if you are visiting Saturday or Sunday.
- As you have already figured out, the town is hilly. Make sure you go prepared with comfortable shoes.
- For lunch, I can recommend The English Kitchen. This restaurant serves to die for BBQ fare. The smokers and grills are behind the establishment. The food was delicious!
Have you been to Jerome?
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