October 18 – 27
We left Tombstone on a clear morning with blue skies that would follow us all day. We decided not to stop in the downtown area (if you could call it that) to see the tourist street, multiple blocks of recreated late 1870’s cowboy town playing off the famous shoot out at the OK Corral, in favor of just putting in the miles.
The first part of the ride was brilliant, mostly flat terrain after some miles of gentle downhill with no discernable wind allowing for good speed. Halfway through we turned off the paved road to ride a couple of miles on dirt to stop for lunch at the Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area. Once a cattle ranch, it was purchased by Arizona Game and Fish Department in 1997 to preserve its marshland, open water and mudflats so that in the winter, it is home to thousands of sandhill cranes.
It was a nice break from riding, a change for this tour as there aren’t any formal breaks (rest or lunch stops) like on the fully supported versions. We ate our sandwiches, downed a couple of cold drinks and hit the road again for a tough final 15 miles ascending 1,500 feet into Bisbee.
We entered the outskirts of this former mining town and wound our way up its main street to the top of a steep hill to finish at Higgins Park and the Bisbee City Pool, our home for the next two nights.
We set up camp and hung out there for the rest of the day and evening, venturing down the hill and into town for a late breakfast the next morning at the High Desert Market, an eatery with an attached small market and gift shop.
Ordering at the counter, Joanna selected a breakfast burrito while I went for a quiche like layered egg dish with sausage and vegetables.
Victor with our group had arranged for a golf cart tour of the town at 11am so we dawdled after finishing our food, then we walked back up to the park to meet our tour guide.
We’d spend the next 90-minutes with him, driving up and down narrow streets and alleys, stopping at various buildings of interest like the original high school, one of the first churches in town, and the former YMCA (now a hotel) before heading uphill to a summit where we found ourselves at the Continental Divide.
We returned to town and along with Molly and Victor, by now thirsty and a bit peckish, visited Old Bisbee Brewing Company where a cold beer apiece, along with the hot dog with vegetarian chili Joanna and I split, provided us with the fuel needed to tackle our next stop, the Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum.
Founded as a copper, gold, and silver mining town in 1880, it was named in honor of Judge DeWitt Bisbee, one of the financial backers of the adjacent Copper Queen Mine.
Mining here proved quite successful: Incorporated in 1902, by 1910 its population had swelled to 9,019, and it sported a constellation of suburbs. In 1917, open-pit mining was successfully introduced to meet the copper demand during World War I.
In 1917 Miners attempted to organize to gain better working conditions and wages. Then mine owners, Phelps Dodge Corporation, using private police and deputized sheriffs, transported at gun point over 1,000 striking miners out of town to Hermanas, New Mexico in an action that would come to be known as the Bisbee Deportation, due to allegations that they were members of the Industrial Workers of the World.
A presidential mediation commission investigated the actions in November 1917, and in its final report, described the deportation as “wholly illegal and without authority in law, either State or Federal. Nevertheless, no individual, company, or agency was ever convicted in connection with the deportations.
In 1975 copper-mining operations ended and faced with a bleak economic future, then mayor Chuck Eads implemented development of a mine tour and historic interpretation of a portion of the Copper Queen Mine as part of an effort to create heritage tourism to compensate for the financial loss due to the end of the mining industry. This gambit would prove successful and as a result the town would later become a haven for artists and hippies fleeing the larger cities of Arizona and California. We learned a great deal about copper mining in the museum and once finished walked up the main street to land back at High Desert Market where we wiled away a couple of hours reading and working on the blog.
We decided to grab a bite to eat before ascending the hill to camp and our nightly map talk, stopping in at Screaming Banshee Pizza where we encountered five of our cycling mates. Seated at an adjacent table we ordered a glass of wine apiece and split a sausage and mushroom pizza, which was good but not great as the ingredients tended to slide of each slice as you attempted to neatly insert a bite into your mouth.
Our last big day of riding would not start easy as we would climb out of Bisbee up to the top of the Continental Divide. Having ascended this route in the golf cart we were not thrilled about it first thing in the morning but instead it turned out to be easier than anticipated, no really steep grades and not so long as to become painful. This led to a long downhill which flattened out and took us into Tombstone, where we stopped for a cup of coffee.
Home of the famous shootout at the OK Corral, East Allen Street is the center of Tombstone’s tourist attractions, featuring three blocks of shaded boardwalks lined with gift shops, saloons, and eateries. Numerous men and woman dressed in period costume stood outside a number of the saloons encouraging folks to come inside to see some form of a shoot-out, likely for a charge or at least some minimum food or drink purchase.
We passed and continued on eventually landing at Kartchner Caverns State Park. The cave feature 2.4 miles of passages, which long hidden from view, were discovered in 1974 by local cavers,. They kept the location a secret to preserve the site until after gaining the cooperation of the Kartchner family and working with them for ten years, together they decided that the best way to achieve the goal of protection was through development as a tour cave.
The discovery of the cave was finally made public in 1988 when the Kartchner’s sold the area to the state for development as a park and show cavern. Prior to its grand opening in 1999, the state spent $28 million on a high-tech system of air-lock doors, misting machines and other equipment designed to preserve the cave. All of the tours were sold out, so we consoled ourselves with a quick visit through the visitor’s center.
Dinner that night was at a Mexican Restaurant about 20-miles away, a nice meal and good way to finish up the tour. Joanna and I ordered a pitcher of Cadillac Margarita’s but were informed they could only do a normal version as it would be too much alcohol. We then watched others at the table consume pint glasses of Cadillacs featuring as much volume as we had in the pitcher. Go figure. Our last day on the bikes would be just 18 miles as road conditions for the early part of the proposed 50-mile route were unsafe.
We all loaded into the van and drove to the outskirts of Tucson, saddled up and flew back to the KOA, losing 600 feet in elevation, just enough to make you feel like you had a motor on the bike. Upon arrival, we loaded our gear and bikes into the car, said farewell to our new found friends and took off for home, eager to get there as in four short days we turn around and fly to North Carolina to begin more than a month of travel there and to Egypt and Mexico. So, stay tuned, it’s going to get interesting shortly.
Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area: https://www.azgfd.com/wildlife/viewing/wheretogo/whitewater/
High Desert Market: https:///www.highdesertmarket.net
Old Bisbee Brewing: http://www.oldbisbeebrewingcompany.com/
Bisbee Mining and Historical Museum: https://bisbeemuseum.org/bm-museum.aspx
Bisbee Deportation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bisbee_Deportation
Screaming Banshee Pizza: http://www.screamingbansheepizza.net/
Kartchner Caverns State Park: https://azstateparks.com/kartchner/