The town of Bisbee, Arizona has been on our list for quite some time as we’d seen other full time travelers pass through and really enjoy it. Though we would typically take the Airstream and spend a few days there, we weren’t able to get reservations at the only RV park in town. Instead, we visited in a day trip from our boondocking spot near Tombstone (about a 30 minute drive). The main attraction for us here was the Queen Mine Tour, but the city itself was an added bonus.
When We Visited: February 27, 2015
Ages of Kids: 9, 7, 4
Where We Stayed: Dry Camping spot outside of Tombstone, AZ
We had made reservations a few days earlier at the mine, and confirmed them upon arrival. We showed up early and attempted to get an earlier mine tour, but they were sold out. Apparently, reservations are definitely recommended! With more than an hour to spare, we wanted to explore town a bit. We learned from the Watsons that a yearly event in Bisbee is the Bisbee 1000 Stair Climb. Though the event is held but once a year, you can follow the route that weaves through town.
We procured a pamphlet from the rather reluctant lady at the visitor center desk (isn’t it her job to be helpful? We were confused), and set out to find parking closer to downtown. Really, we could have walked as it was that close, but since we were about to climb hundreds of stairs, we figured we’d give the kids a break.
The 1000 Stairs route was wonderful. Bisbee was founded as a mining town, not as a convenient place to build. The town sits mostly up and down the hillsides surrounding a very small downtown area. The roads weave chaotically up and around the houses and buildings. The many flights of stairs provide vertical connectors between the roads. Most of the staircases have nearby paintings marking the route, painted right onto nearby buildings or retaining walls.
Following the route led us through parts of the town we otherwise would have never seen. It was a great little introduction to the town, passing through both residential neighborhoods and along downtown shopping streets.
Before we knew it, we were out of time. We only completed 6 or 7 of the stair segments before we headed back to the truck and to the mine for our scheduled tour.
Getting ready for the mine tour was a process of production line gear fitting. We were each dressed in a raincoat, a leather belt, hardhats, and lights. The men handling the gear were both efficient and friendly, easily handing our undersized minors size needs.
The tour starts by riding a train into the mine itself. Straddling the train was easy for all of us, and left our hands free to point our lights wherever we wanted. The kids loved having their own lights, and none of them was scared riding the train or walking around inside the mine.
The tunnel we entered was an old main entrance. In preparation for public tours, the spaces we visited had been augmented with additional safety precautions, but it did not destroy the experience. In places, mining drills and gear had been set up for the tour in places not used during active mining. I felt the tour/authentic balance was perfect. It gave us a real sense of what mining was like, but I never felt that we were in any danger.
The tour was given by a former miner of that very mine. He was both entertaining and informative during the stops we made inside the mine. We learned how dynamite was placed and the fuses were timed to produce the best possible explosion for mining operations. We even got to ‘demonstrate’ the toilet cart that they had inside the mine, though Cara was a bit nervous to sit up on the seat with me.
We all loved the mine tour, kids and adults alike. If you happen near Bisbee, I would highly recommend the tour!
For some added entertainment, watch the video we recorded and posted to the CurrentlyWandering YouTube channel!