Like Tombstone, Bisbee was a mining boomtown, but its wealth was in copper, not silver, and its success continued much longer. The gnarled Mule Mountains aren’t as impressive as some of the other mountain ranges in Southern Arizona, but their rocky canyons concealed one of the richest mineral sites in the world.
Jack Dunn, a scout with Company C from Fort Huachuca, first discovered an outcropping of rich ore here while chasing the Apaches in 1877. By 1900 more than 20,000 people lived in the crowded canyons around the Bisbee mines. Phelps Dodge purchased all the major mines by the Great Depression, and mining continued until 1975, when the mines were closed for good. In less than 100 years of mining, the area surrounding Bisbee yielded more than $6.1 billion of mineral wealth.
Once known as the Queen of the Copper Camps, Bisbee was rediscovered in the 1980s by burned-out city dwellers, and the cool but scruffy vibe, hilly terrain, and Victorian architecture conjure up a sort of 1960s San Francisco scene. The locals are an interesting mix of retired miners and their families, aging hippie jewelry makers, and enterprising restaurateurs and boutique owners from all over the country. Milder temperatures (about 10 to 15 degrees lower than Tucson), plentiful lodging (quaint inns, cottage rentals, and vintage trailers), and the town's history and natural beauty make for a rewarding visit.