Old Mining Town Turned Artist Colony
by Gordon Burhop
Sometimes gems are found that are not of the mineral kind. One of these is Bisbee, Arizona, an old mining community turned artist colony, located in the southeastern part of the state, just above the border with Mexico. I don’t think a new structure has been built there in past 50 years.
Bisbee, along with intriguing nearby communities, came as an unexpected benefit when my sister and her husband moved to Green Valley, south of Tucson, a drive of about an hour or so, to the west. Along with the family camaraderie came an additional base of operations for our explorations.
Southern Arizona, of course, is replete with attractions known well to many tourists. Everyone has heard of Tombstone, the OK Corral and comical headstones of Boot Hill. There are many other ghost or semi-ghost towns left over from the age of mining glory and labor strife. Roxy and her husband, Larry like my wife, Judy, and I are the adventurous type, so naturally, all of us collaborated on some trip ideas. We decided on a two-day trip over to Bisbee and some nearby attractions. We would stay overnight in Bisbee and return to Green Valley the following day. There are bed and breakfast establishments in Bisbee but those were not in our plan. There is also the venerable old Copper Queen Hotel, but that is the subject of another story. There are the Lavender Pit, the Copper Queen Mine and the quaint shops, but those, too, are reserved for yet another tale. We had something different in mind.
We had heard of a retro trailer park Shady Dale directly in Bisbee, just off the roundabout, and since Roxy and Larry are Airstream aficionados, we decided stay there, just for the experience. Shady Dell offers about a dozen wildly varying accommodations, which can be rented overnight like a motel room. Rates vary from $45 to over $100 per night. The trailers date from the 40’s and 50’s, and they are wonderfully preserved and restored. Also on the premises is a 1940’s original equipment Dodge taxi. One of the attractions is The Tiki busa 1947 bullet-backed Airporter bus fitted out in a Polynesian theme; its bar resembles an outrigger canoe.
Another accommodation is a dry-docked 38-foot, Chris Craft yacht complete with a statue of Harbie, the harbor seal. Most of the Shady Dale accommodations are equipped with restored wood paneling, original equipment and vintage radios or modified tape players that only play the oldies, whether music or films. The larger units have built-in showers, kitchens and other amenities. The smaller units have a well maintained, clean and secure bathhouse and rest room facility available. Located at the east end of town, next to the cemetery, we were guaranteed quiet neighbors, although the chirping birds did wake us up. Other campsites are available if needed. On the premises is an old ‘silver’ diner Dot’s Diner hauled in from Los Angeles. The hours are limited and it only seats ten. The food is excellent and ambience fitting to the entire experience. Jeff, the superintendent, was helpful in steering us onto other attractions in the area.
One nearby attraction, Rattlesnake Crafts, is just 15 miles east of Tombstone just off Gleeson Road. Run by John and Sandy Weber, admission is free and anything purchased is by the honor system. Just write a check for the item and put in the box provided. They have a state license to hunt rattlesnakes, and they create over 150 different rattlesnake crafts, from snakeskin belts to rattlesnake jerky, all for sale in a trailer. Worth examining on the premises are thousands of relics collected or traded from nearby ghost towns and ranches. Rattlesnake Crafts is an eclectic reflection of pioneer activities now abandoned. Everything from antique washing machines to carnival glass to guns is on display. These items are not for sale.
Nearby, still served by a well-maintained dirt road, is the ghost town of Gleeson. Once a copper mining community, the adobe walls of residences and concrete jail and processing buildings still remain. On the hillsides nearby, head frames and adits are in still in evidence. This is the southern end of the hill complex running north to the sister community of Courtland. Both of these towns were known, not only for copper, but also for their fine turquoise, which gave the hill complex, Turquoise Ridge, its name. I should mention at this point that although many of my trips require high impact four wheel drive capability, this one can all be done in your grandmother’s Buick. After exploring a reasonable amount of the Gleeson and Courtland ruins, we proceeded north to the blacktop.
As an added bonus, we ran upon a local car get-together with restored vintage automobiles and hot rods in the little town of Dragoon. This pleasantly topped off our weekend foray into the past. From Dragoon we took the interstate back to Tucson and Green Valley.
Information about Shady Dell can be found on the Internet. You can get all the directions you need in the area from an Arizona Highway map.
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