TUCSON + POINTS SOUTH

Story and photos by Yvette Cardozo

No, I had not heard of Bisbee, AZ.

Such a shame. It’s worth the two hour drive south from Tucson.

“You interested in an underground mine tour?” A friend asked.

Cool, dark, historical ... yes, of course.

Which is how we, and our Tucson friends, wound up at Queen Mine, donning battery operated hand lights and hard hats and welcoming a chance to savor 55 degree temps (summer had come early to southern Arizona).

This was one of the most productive copper mines of the 20th Century. Mining stopped in 1975 when the ore gave out and the tours started three years later.

We climbed aboard a “train,” basically long seats pulled by a guide on an “engine” with a motor. Then, some 1500 feet into the mine later, the tour started.

Guide Don showed us chutes where huge boulders filled with ore dropped into cars and told stories about the early mules (“She would only pull four cars. Tried to bribe her with fruit to add the fifth, but she wouldn’t budge.”)

Powered engines eventually let them haul 30 or 40 cars at once.

We stopped to see where dynamite was shoved into holes, saw fuses hanging from the wall, got to sit atop the metal porta potty that looked more like an old fashioned wood burning stove than a, well, you know.

There is a LOT more to Bisbee ... a downtown art district, restored Victorian homes and hotels, and, oh, yes, the stairs. The Bisbee 1000 Stair Climb is a 5k run that climbs the town’s 1,034 (yep, someone counted them) stairs.

Billed as "the most unique physical fitness challenge in the USA!" by the organizers, the climb includes runners being serenaded by musicians at various locations along the (puff, wheeze) way. Meanwhile, In 2016, Bisbee earned the title of Best Historic Small Town in both Sunset magazine and a USA Today online reader poll.

So we definitely plan to return and spend more time.

After the mine, we took a Jeep tour south to see the open pit mine, antique cars and a brief side trip to photograph the border fence that leads to Mexico. There’s one car that sits in front of the Lowell Police station that says it once belonged to Barney Fife ... the bumbling, wide eyed deputy on the Andy Griffith Show which ran on TV in the early 1960s.

Then it was back to Tucson by way of Tombstone.

Yes, THAT Tombstone ... famous for Sheriff Wyatt Earp, the Gunfight at the OK Corral and now offering a few downtown blocks that have tourist stage coaches, restaurants and souvenir shops. And should you want something cool and wet, there’s Big Nose Kate’s Saloon with stained glass windows and lots of old west character.

My friends knew I wanted to see flowers, so the next day we headed for Tohono Chul in Tucson, a botanical garden that is also a great park.

It’s 49 acres of winding paths, lots and lots of cactus and, in spring (April-ish), lots of cactus flowers. Plus there are tours that cover everything from butterflies to hawks to reptiles.

We caught the reptile talk, where we got to pet (yes, harmless) snakes and learned what NOT to do if a rattler bites you. Basically, forget everything you’ve ever heard ... the cutting, the sucking, the spitting, the tourniquets. Stop, sit down, have someone call for help. And wait (hopefully you are not too far in the bush).

And then, Docent Anita offered to take us around and tell us about the flowers ... yellow prickly pear blooms, purple sage, bright almost orange Mexican sunflowers and a foothills Palo Verde tree in and explosion of glorious yellow.

Our plan the next day was to visit Sabino Canyon but, well, it was Saturday before Easter and the parking lot looked like spring break at Disney World. Instead, we headed up Mt. Lemmon, at 9,159 feet, the highest point in the Santa Catalina Mountains. The last two times we had tried this, it was November and, amazingly, we got snowed out.

This time, it was clear blue skies and visibility that went forever.

The boulder formations on the way up are fantastic ... gnarled, twisted lumps and one that looks like a man’s face. Windy Point is where everyone stops to do a short hike, photograph this cool dead tree and just gawk at the landscape.

The road up winds for 27 miles, ending at the town of Summerhaven with some neat restaurants and a nearby ski hill (200 skiable acres, 22 trails, 950 foot vertical drop and a chairlift that operates year round so you can ride it up for views in summer).

We grabbed a bite at Sawmill Run Restaurant ... good food, decent prices, especially considering it’s a tourist spot.

And our last day, it was off to Saguaro National Park. The park is actually split into two ... one part east of Tucson, the other west of town. In the west district, there’s a really nice visitor’s center where, because it was a holiday, entrance to the park was free and we got 15 percent off our purchases (neat T-shirts, mesquite honey, lots more). Then we went to hike.

But temperatures were already hitting the low 90s, weeks ahead of schedule, so we kept to the half mile Desert Discovery Nature Trail. That turned out, actually, to be far more picturesque than the Valley View Overlook Trail we originally planned, and bailed from, after about half an hour because of the heat.

We were about a week early for the peak of cactus blooms but, still, we found plenty to photograph.

And that was it. We’re leaving downtown, the town’s neat restaurants and museums for another trip.

INFO:

Bisbee: http://www.discoverbisbee.com/

Tohono Chul Park: http://tohonochulpark.org/

Mt. Lemmon Ski Valley: http://www.skithelemmon.com/

Mt. Lemmon/ Summerhaven: http://mtlemmon.com/summerhaven/

Sawmill Run Restaurant: http://sawmillrun.com/

TUCSON PHOTO DIARY: https://goo.gl/photos/vtdPmS5u7HC6wBH77

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