Ahhh Bisbee. I hardly know where to start or what to say about the place but I’ll give it a try. It is a truly unique place on this earth and I’m glad we got to spend a few days exploring and getting to know it. But first… let’s catch up on the trip there.
We left the Palm Springs area relatively early Monday morning for the long trek to Tucson, AZ. There was no easy way to transverse the 379 miles of mostly empty desert so we programmed Google maps for the fastest route and were soon cruising at 80 mph down Interstate 10. It was hot, long straight and boring. For the first time I got to try out the cruise control on the new BMW. Wow, never rode a bike with one before and it took some getting used to. Our reward for the day was an overnight at the JW Marriot Starr Pass Resort in the hills just east of town.
Usually that place would be above my price range but I checked my Marriot rewards points and I had enough for a free night, oh yea. We’ve stayed there a few times before and it’s always a nice treat after a hard day of riding.
Our favorite seat was available next to the fireplace. We didn’t move for the evening while the wait staff brought us drinks and food. We soon forgot the long days ride.
After the sun set we decided to go for a walkabout. The hotel has a small convention space and that evening they were hosting an event for the dealers of Doosan heavy construction equipment. Deby and I crashed their outdoor banquet and took a few pictures with the big machines. I suppose with the US ramping up infrastructure building this type of equipment will be in big demand.
Deby really wanted one of these for moving rocks at home!
It was funny that nobody really seemed to care that we were there, then again, we didn’t try to snag any food or drinks. We joked about making lanyards out of our plastic encased vaccination cards so we fit in better.
Tuesday morning the BMW motorcycle dealer in Tucson opened at 9:00 and we were there at 9:30 to have them take a look at the oil leak on Deby’s bike. We walked into Iron Horse BMW with no appointment and talked to the service manager. He came right out and looked at the bike and saw oil over the top of the engine. Within 5 minutes they had Deby’s bike on the lift.
This is one really nice thing about riding BMW motorcycles, their dealerships give special priority to travelers and go out of their way to accommodate them. I never had the same luck with Honda, Yamaha or KTM dealers. I will say Harley dealers give their riders the same priority service. Nice.
The prognoses was good. It seems like oil found it’s way into the air box that sits above the engine. Somehow all at once it drained from a vent in the bottom of the airbox onto the top of the engine. Maybe heat? Hard riding? Both? How did the oil get into the airbox? There can be a number of reasons for that, none very serious. The “fix” was to clean out the airbox, replace the air filter and wipe the oil from the top of the engine. We were on our way towards Bisbee by noon with smiles on our faces. Big thanks to everyone at Iron Horse BMW!
As is my custom from time to time I programmed Google Maps to “avoid highways” on our way to Bisbee. This is dangerous because Google maps is not always that smart and sometimes routes us on non-existent roads. We had time and took a chance. After an hour of great riding on twisty and hilly back roads we came to a locked gate. Mr. Google said we could pass through, the security warnings for the Fort Huachuca said otherwise. It was an unmanned military post and we could gain access by holding our military IDs up to a camera. Hmmm, would my laminated vaccination card work? I didn’t try, so we backtracked about 50 miles to the main highway to Bisbee.
It was mid afternoon when we arrived at the Jonquil hotel on the main drag of Bisbee within an easy walk to downtown.
The owners are a couple that are “friends of friends” Sterling and Eva. We parked right in front next to Eva’s BMW F850GS. So in a row we had BMWs F750, F850 and my 1250, all close to the same color scheme. Before we left another guest arrived on a grey and black F650. It seemed like a BMW motorcycle dealership. The hotel has a “telepoem booth” near the office.
You dial a number and get to listen to a poem on an old-fashioned telephone. Maybe the younger generation wouldn’t know what to do with the dial thing…
I managed a nice picture with the sunset capturing the mural on the side of the hotel and the neon sign. Hmmm, not bad for an iPhone.
We had a brief few minutes to chat with Sterling and Eva. Sterling is a filmmaker well known in the adventure motorcycle world. He lived in Seattle before moving to Bisbee. I highly recommend spending time viewing his videos ,you can learn more here: https://www.norenfilms.com/
Before dark Deby and I set out on foot to explore this quirky town. Bisbee is wedged in the crook of a mountainous area almost like debris that fell from a different era. There is no flat area and the houses climb up each side of the main street hanging on to steep hills connected by a myriad of stairways. Closer to downtown the stairways are decorated with local art.
It soon became clear that either most of the restaurants didn’t survive the pandemic or were working on reduced hours. We found a Mexican restaurant near the hotel that was open with a 45 minute wait. Could we wait in the bar? No. We would have to wait outside in the now cool evening. We walked some more in the dark and circled around a nearby church where there was more art on display.
So, you would think that being only a few miles from the Mexican border there would be good Mexican food. Well, not the case at this place. Nobody working there even seemed Mexican. It was starting to sink in what a really quirky place Bisbee was. I mean, not even a taco truck nearby? According to the menu the specialty of the house was stuffed potatoes. Deby wisely deferred but since I never saw a stuffed potato in Mexico I thought I would try something new.
The presentation was authentic Bisbee, foil shaped like a bird of some sort. Hmmm. It was stuffed with chorizo that was not really very impressive. That was Tuesday night, the rest of the week the restaurant was closed. Not sure what was up with that. Next door was a pizza place that we were told to try…. it wasn’t open all week either.
The hotel had a list of things to do in Bisbee and on the list was a mine tour. I went online and made reservations for Wednesday afternoon. Deby didn’t really want to go as she thought it would be too touristy. Me, I’m a big sucker for all of that stuff. I would have gone on the golf cart tour of the city but Deby drew the line there.
Our usual morning routine is to drink coffee first thing while reading the paper and then go for a walk before breakfast. The Jonquil had an instant hot water maker and they supplied with Starbucks Via instant coffee. No problem because we actually like Via’s and it was good prep for all the instant coffee we would be drinking in Mexico.
I assumed our morning walk would take us by somewhere that served food… not. We walked the town end to end and couldn’t find anywhere that served breakfast. Interesting. Bisbee is basically a tourist town with a lot of locals who are artists. There are art galleries in every other shop and what seemed like a lot of hotel choices. We learned that the community is in an uproar about all the Airbnb’s in the town so there must be some demand for beds. I get the impression (just me) that Bisbee wants tourists to support the galleries but then go stay somewhere else. An odd vibe for sure.
We learned about a place called the Bisbee Breakfast Club just outside of town in Lowell. Ok, Lowell is technically a ghost town as told in this entry in Atlas Obscura. Click HERE to read the very interesting story.
VISITING ERIE STREET IS LIKE WALKING into a 1950s post-apocalyptic landscape. From all that is immediately apparent, it could have been abandoned in a hurry and forgotten for half a century. Rusting cars, trucks, and an old Greyhound bus sit deserted along the street as if their passengers had suddenly vanished (or worse).
It was too far to walk so we rode a couple of miles and had a pretty good breakfast. Back at the hotel I caught up on my last blog post before walking to the Queen Mine tour.
You can’t miss the ginormous open pit copper mine that bumps right up to the edge of downtown Bisbee. Technically it name is the Lavender Pit but the locals somewhat affectionally just call it “The Pit.” As far as open pit copper mining goes, this is small but it’s still impressive. There is a sign coming into town for a “Scenic Overlook” with a viewing area for the pit. I suppose the meaning of “scenic” is in the mind of the beholder but it’s an impressive place to stop.
Before open pit mining was viable they mined copper in tunnels, that is what we were going to explore. The 2:00 tour was sold out like most of the tours for the day but with reservations in hand we were soon suited up in protective gear and ready to get into the mine.
We loaded up on a 100 year old electric trolley that was used to take miners down in the day. We had a super interesting tour guide that had worked for mine company all his career. He really knew his stuff.
We’ve been on mine tours before but this one seemed better than most, maybe it was our guide or the awesome fact that it was a copper mine. We made the obligatory stop where they explain the modern drilling machines that eventually replaced using sledge hammers and iron rods.
Soon we were back on the surface and I had to wait around while Deby searched around the back of the giftshop building for any interesting rocks that were in the tailing pile. Sure enough as we walked back she showed me some treasures she found and shoved in her pockets.
We made the long trek back to the hotel looking for open restaurants, and didn’t see much. Close to the hotel was a Vietnamese Noodle place that was open so we ducked in for some Pho. It was good and filling, that would be our last meal for the day before a very eventful evening.
It was starting to get dark when we left the Jonquil for our evening walkabout. We wandered for awhile when we came across a Bisbee landmark, The Grand Hotel. We read somewhere that is was worthwhile to stop in and have a beer so we wandered in only half paying attention to a younger crowd milling around the door smoking some high octane stuff recently made legal (I think).
(Ok… time out….. as you may have noticed I like to include links for places we’ve been. Just now as I’m writing this clicked on the link for the hotel. You have to check it out… true Bisbee. https://www.bisbeegrandhotel.com/ hey, I’m just the messenger).
We ordered a couple of local IPAs and found a seat along a short bar that faces a stage. There was band equipment setup and a guy who looked like he might be with the band looking at a clipboard. I went over to ask when the band was supposed to start. He said they were supposed to start at 6:00 but it was now 6:30 and nobody was around. He asked if I was there to jam. What? A jam? Really? Umm, sure I said. Just then the crowd that had been imbibing outside the door came in and asked what I played… ummm, bass. Ok, your on! I glanced at Deby and before I knew it I was up on stage strapping on a very old and neglected Fender bass.
So… some of you might not know I’ve played professionally for years and semi-professionally for decades and know my way around the instrument but I really didn’t know what to expect. I played a whole set while different guitar players, harmonica players and a vocalist alternated between playing on stage and going outside for a smoke. It was a very eclectic set of music that tended towards being a Jerry Garcia stream of coconscious drifting jam. Clearly I was at a disadvantage having not joined the outside crowd, silly me. I thought I would be important for everyone to play following the same chord progressions or have in tune instruments. But, I was having a total blast. This was the Bisbee music scene at it’s finest. Towards the end of the set the outside door next to the stage opened and a woman walked in followed by a billow of smoke. They immediately invited her onstage and asked here to sing a song that I didn’t hear the name of. The guitar player turned to me and simply said “Pink Floyd.” He started playing “Us and Them” without calling out any key or chords but since I was familiar with the song jumped in with no problem. After a few measures the song morphed into “The Great Gig in the Sky.” What?? The girl did a respectable job on the vocals. I couldn’t believe I was part of the Pink Floyd stoner jam band at the Grand Saloon. Deby managed to take a rather blurry photographic proof. Quite appropriate.
Too soon the set came to an end and the other musicians bee lined it out the door for a smoke while I went back to Deby and my warm beer that was only down by one sip. We stayed the rest of the night and watched a stream of locals come and go on the stage. The Pink Floyd girl went up with an acoustic guitar and did a pretty respective version of “The Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin.
This morning I came across this meme that seemed to sum it up nicely.
I suppose I should wrap up this post, but not before I tell one more story. A man and a dog walk into a bar…..
The dog curls up under the chair against the wall not sure about the bar or the people. The guy walks up on stage…. all the musicians clear out while the man opens a case and pulls out a violin. He briefly says something to the crowd that was somewhat inaudible because of the background noise. I caught that he was down from the ranch after a hard day with the cattle.
He starts to play and the bar gets quiet… you guessed it, he’s good and everyone knows it.
He played a few songs, some ballads and a few foot stompin’ tunes that got everyone up dancing. By 10:00 it was time for the music to end and everyone filtered out for the night. We had a good walk uphill back to the Jonquil in the brisk air. A night we will not soon forget.
More to come,
Donn and Deby