By happy coincidence my detour to the hot springs was more of an alternate route and I was soon on I-10 heading west from Bowie (pronounced “boo-ee” out here). In Benson, AZ I turned on to AZ 80 towards Tombstone and Bisbee. I stopped in Tombstone (yes, that Tombstone) for lunch and walked around long enough to determine that it was a tourist trap of the purest kind. I’ll be your huckleberry.
Not long after lunch I cruised into Bisbee and immediately found a most excellent parking spot with no limit in a lot right downtown. I took this to be a good sign. My legs got stretched with a short jaunt around the main downtown area and I noticed a general air of hipness emanating from the art galleries and boutiques that lined the main streets. I stopped in at the grocer’s to replenish my supplies but to my surprise they didn’t have any beans (canned or dried). I brought this up with the clerk and he muttered something under his breath about the passions of youthful jealousy. I knew better than to press him further; small towns like this have deep secrets and long memories.
After a dinner of leftover rice and beans I decided to treat myself to some sweets at a nearby gelato place. The couple running it were very welcoming and friendly and gave me a lot of advice on things to do/see in town. At the time I thought they were exceptionally hospitable; little did I know this was the norm in Bisbee.
Feeling fine with a belly full of honey and coffee gelato I sauntered over to the Old Bisbee Brewing company to sample the local grog. Without planning to I, over this and tomorrow (new year’s) evening, ended up drinking all of the beers they made and can easily say there was not a dud among them. Not every beer at every brewery needs to try too hard; not every beer needs to be exceptional or unique and I think the best thing I can say about the Old Bisbee Brewing Co. is that all of their beers were simply good. Their divine Mayan Stout and interesting Salut (a “wheat wine”) stood out, as did their home brewed (!) root beer, but every choice on the menu was easy to drink, easy to like, and easy to make new friends over. Nice job, folks.
The bartendress at OBBC sensed the dirtbag vibe and gave me and my drinking companion all of the leftover food from the kitchen. Upon further inquiry it was revealed that she too lived out of an old Astro; a true kindred spirit. Her van’s paint job was arguably flyer than mine (white with blue pinstripes), but, although she claimed it was also a ‘99, the headlight style gave it away as a more senior member of the venerable Astro family. We’ll call it a draw.
As I stumbled out of the OBBC I soaked up and appreciated the vibe that hung in Brewery Gulch (the local “strip”). Live music echoed down the canyon walls from multiple venues and mingled with the lively conversation and laughter of people hanging out on the streets in between. I was reminded of a very very tiny slice of Nashville and was filled with excitement for the following night’s revelry.
The next morning began with the pitter-patter of a light drizzle and after I was convinced it had passed I woke up and went exploring. The streets in Bisbee are amazing in their chaotic arrangement; the whole town drips down a mountain canyon and its layout is dictated by nature rather than man. Hidden among the streets are a legion of staircases that run along the sides of houses and through backyards as they connect streets at different levels. It seemed that there are a lot of houses that can only be accessed by these steep staircases. The whole effect was not something you seen in America very often and was very pleasant. On the recommendation of a local chicken farmer I left the streets to hike up a canyon to the ridge above town. I took the ridge all the way back to downtown and arrived just in time for a lunch I felt I had earned.
After an afternoon working at a local coffee shop I prepped for the evening by having a greasy dinner at The Quarry. The local favorite was grilled cheese stuffed with meatloaf and bacon; a dish I’m not sure needed to exist, but that was adequate for my purposes. I started the imbibement at Room 4, a tiny tiny bar that claimed to be Arizona’s (the country’s?) smallest bar. I met a nice couple from L.A. who were camping around and looking for things to do near Tucson. I recommended the incomparable Sonoran Desert Museum and they made the correct choice by being interested. After this it was back to OBBC where I met a local photographer named Roland. He was extremely nice and interesting and became my companion/ambassador for the night. I say ambassador because everywhere we went people were saying hi and having conversations with him. Now that I mention it, this was a common occurrence during my stay in Bisbee; everyone seems to know everyone and all the locals are very welcoming to outsiders.
In any case, we greeted the new year with the bleary eyes and stupid grins of a town content with its place in the world. The crowds thinned slightly in the first hours of 2017, but I, imbued with the power of 101 wild turkeys, danced until the band gave up and made us go home. I went to bed drunk and happy.
My first act of the next morning was to head out of town towards Texas. As the miles between me and Bisbee grew longer I realized that it might be my favorite town so far. It is just big enough to have a good variety things to do, but was small enough to be approachable both physically and spiritually. Add to that a wonderfully friendly populace and interesting architecture and you’ve got yourself a real winner. It strikes the perfect mean between Sedona and Jerome; not a trace of snoot in its hipness but big enough you might actually live there. Or maybe it feels like Santa Fe when the Sun is up and a tiny Nashville when the Sun is down. Or maybe it just feels like Bisbee.