After we finished touring Kartchner Caverns, it was back in the car for a quick trip to one of my favorite little towns, Bisbee, which was a good 45 minutes away. When I first moved to Sierra Vista, I spent my free time either here in Bisbee or 90 minutes away in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico.
By the time I had moved to Sierra Vista, Bisbee was on its last legs. Started as a mining town by the Phelps-Dodge Mining Corporation in 1877, by 1975 when I was there the company had shut down the Copper Queen mine, the world's largest underground copper mine. Copper prices at that point had dropped dramatically and most of the veins had been played out at the Copper Queen to make it a losing proposition for Phelps-Dodge. The town was expected to slowly die, leaving just a few diehards living there in the Mule Mountains. Indeed, P-D starting selling the company houses for $1 for anyone who wanted to have one. Most locals felt it wasn't even worth the dollar to stay as there now was no industry to support the town.
I would drive up there with friends on Friday and Saturday nights to go to the bar at the Copper Queen Hotel - a real cowboy bar if there ever was one. Meanwhile, a few artists and craftspeople started to buy those dollar houses and opened a couple of galleries to show off their works.
By the time that I moved back to Sierra Vista for the second time in 1980, the town was coming alive as a place for those who wanted to live a different lifestyle, be it artistic, anarchistic, countercultural, gay, whatever you wanted to be, with dozens of art galleries were not only opening up in Brewery Gulch, where those first two were when I was here in the early '70's, but up both sides of Main Street. The JC Penney store, which was the second one opened in the US by John Cash Penney and had gone out of business in 1976, had been converted to artists galleries and studios on the second floor with a farmer's market on the first.
Today, Bisbee is one of the few places in Arizona where the housing prices have stayed steady or climbed (yes, they are much more than a dollar today) and is probably as full of life today as it was at the height of the mining operations at the Copper Queen mine.