A trip to Tucson hardly seems complete without a day spent 70 miles southeast of the city. In Tombstone, famed shootouts of the Old West are regularly re-enacted and the cream-of-the-crop saloon, theater and gambling parlor is open for touring. Twenty-five minutes down the highway, mining history is proudly highlighted in scenic and friendly Bisbee, a history-laden town set among hilly green landscapes just above a mile high. And both offer plenty of shopping distractions for Western-wear fashionistas, jewelry collectors and fine-art admirers.
Set the alarm clock, fuel up the car, plug in the GPS (though you’ll barely need it) and escape the city for a day in cooler temps around small-town charm and the artistic and Western flair of Southern Arizona’s mining towns.
Begin in Bisbee
The farthest of the two towns from your starting point in Tucson is just over an hour-and-a-half drive. Take Interstate 10 east to Highway 80. Along Highway 80, about 20 miles south of Tombstone, landscapes begin to change into rolling green hills. Enter a mountain tunnel and the town of Bisbee is just on the other side nestled between the hills.
Plan to arrive no later than mid-morning for a bite to eat at Bisbee Breakfast Club at the south end of town. After filling up on potato cakes with applesauce or huevos rancheros, make your way to Bisbee’s Queen Mine for a tour.
Though no longer in operation, the mine produced millions of pounds of copper, gold, silver, lead and zinc in its nearly 100 years of operation. Visitors are dressed with a yellow jacket, brown leather belt, hard hat and flashlight before boarding the miniature open-sided train that enters into the mine. Once inside, a guide (often a former miner) explains the history of the mining operation and the equipment used throughout the decades. Pay attention for fun anecdotes about the miners’ sense of humor, and don’t be afraid to ask your friendly guide questions about the mining lifestyle.
Next up is Main Street, located just a half mile east (on the other side of Highway 80) from the mine tour. Park along the street or in designated lots and spend an hour or two peeking in and out of quaint shops and galleries. It is not uncommon to be serenaded by talented street musicians while wandering this part of town. Enjoy the free-spirited vibe and, if time allows, stop in for a coffee at Bisbee Coffee Company or lunch at neighboring Bisbee’s Table, and take a tour the Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum across the street.
An Afternoon in Tombstone
By mid-afternoon, it’s time to retrace Highway 80 back to Tombstone for a blast from the Wild West. Park at the corner of 6th and Allen streets and take a selfie in front of the “Town Too Tough to Die” sign. It’s one of Arizona’s many selfie-friendly works of art and may prove to be the perfect album cover for your Southern Arizona trip.
Between 6th and 3rd streets, Allen Street remains a historical Old West town—a dirt road, horse and carriage transportation (no cars allowed), saloons and gunfights (albeit staged).
Top must-visit stops for the afternoon are the O.K. Corral, where visitors get a glimpse of the Old West through staged re-enactments, and the iconic Bird Cage Theatre, said to be the most elite theater, gambling hall and saloon during the days Allen Street’s red-light district was in full swing. The theater remains intact with relics from its operating days in addition to many town artifacts. Bullet holes from past shootouts are visible and tales claim the building to be haunted—“Ghost Hunters” filmed an episode there in 2006.
Afterward, shop for Westernwear and Southwestern jewelry at Bronco Trading, Spur Western Wear, Arlene’s and other neighboring shops.
Drop by for a wine tasting at Silver Mine Winery and settle in for dinner at one of the street’s historically intact saloons, such as Big Nose Kate’s or the Crystal Palace.
If time allows, the Rose Tree Museum just south of Allen Street on 4th Street houses plenty of interesting Tombstone artifacts with accompanying stories, and what is claimed to be the world’s largest rose tree has taken over the courtyard. And before leaving Tombstone, stop by the Boothill Graveyard. Tombstones and a corresponding map tell of the cowboys, miners and passerby victims who experienced the Wild West days of Tombstone but never made it out.
The drive back to the city may be just long enough to jog minds back to present day. Though Tucson’s historical sites, Western shops and cultural attractions are an obvious choice for any vacation itinerary, don’t miss the opportunity to road trip to these small towns for unique mining-day and Wild West experiences.