Welcome to Bisbee, AZ

Sunday morning we woke up and hit the road out of the Walmart parking lot in Deming, driving west across the bottom of New Mexico on the border road of NM 9, with clumps of mountains rising out of the desert in all directions.

The previous night, passing through El Paso and finally out of Texas around sunset, we had a moment of ambition and tried to push on all the way to our final stop of Bisbee, Arizona. We called the RV park and told them we’d be arriving around midnight, but an hour into the final push I got cold feet and we dropped anchor in Deming.

We were fresh in the morning, and finished the audiobook of The Girl on the Train and started a new one, a mystery set in the rural west called The Disappeared. Driving deeper into the desert we saw wild pigs along the brush, roadrunners scurrying around, lots of spiky yuccas, thorny mesquites, prickly pears, and long spindly plants covered in tiny thorns, with orange flowers on top. One of my first goals here is going to be to get a field guide to desert flora.

We crossed into Arizona heading straight toward the Chiricahua Mountains, and took a left into the very bottom southeast corner of the state. We passed through the border town of Douglas and up to the foothills outside of Bisbee, then down Double Adobe Road to Desert Oasis RV Park, our home for the next while.

We pulled up to the quiet, sun-blasted entrance and looked around for somebody to check us in. After a few minutes a guy drove up in a pickup and welcomed us. He was slim, maybe in his 40s, and seemed like a groundskeeper type. He asked if we were the ones who called and said we’d be in around midnight. He told us that someone named Paul would come around shortly on the golf cart, that he was “dicking [digging?] around out back.”

Paul came around on the golf cart with his thick, wrinkly-faced dog. He was a medium height man in shorts and a cap, probably in his 60s, with no wedding ring. He was friendly but very precise in his words, and radiated a sense of authority, like the captain of a ship. He remarked on us not making it in at midnight like we’d called about.

Paul led us into the office and explained the lay of the land, describing the natural wonders nearby and all the restaurants and things to do in Bisbee and beyond (“Santiago’s is the best Mexican food in the area, by my estimation”). He told us about a flag dedication on the property set for 3pm with homemade pizza to follow.

Paul led us outside and pointed out where the sun rises along the far ridge to the east, pointed out where we could see the lights of Douglas and Agua Prieta across the border. Pointed to the airfield where the 9/11 hijackers learned to fly.

We told him we were just going do a week at the RV park for starters instead of a full month. He made a face and said we could just think about it and we could settle up later.

We pulled into the campground and found our way to our site, number 19. Another guy in another golf cart with another dog rolled up. He motioned for us to roll down our window and asked, “Are you Courtney?” and remarked that apparently we didn’t make it in by midnight after all. This whole campground seems to have been awaiting our arrival.

The man introduced himself as Len (maybe Lynn?). He was a little heavier, mid 50s, with a cap depicting an embroidered RV. He had stooped shoulders and was kind of gruff, but not unfriendly. The dog was a tiny poodle mix named Mystique (after the X-Men character, we’d later learn). If Paul was the captain, Len seemed to be the first mate. Len invited us to the flag dedication. There would be homemade pizza there, he said.

We unhitched, leveled, hooked up our utilities, and started setting up our home. The sun was blazing, and we felt dehydrated and a little fatigued from the elevation (around 5,000 ft). We changed into shorts, walked outside, and immediately got run over by a swirling dust devil.

We went up to the RV park clubhouse to check out the vibe and the internet connection. It was a big corrugated metal building with a fire pit and a soon-to-be dedicated flagpole out front. The inside felt like how a clubhouse ought to feel. A large bar dominated one side of the room, behind which was a full kitchen. At the other end were laundry machines and a little library, with paperbacks, DVDs, boardgames, and lots of puzzles (mostly 1000-piece). In the middle was a pool table, with two gentlemen playing a game. One was from Georgia, and mentioned that we’re all family here. The Georgia man’s wife and her twin sister were set up at a large table in the middle of the room, picking away at a 4000-piece puzzle depicting the Battle of Alexander at Issus.

We drove up the valley into historic Bisbee to scope the scene and find some lunch. The first sight was a massive, decommissioned open pit mine—the Copper Queen. The highway (AZ 80) snaked along its upper rim. We couldn’t see the bottom.

We made it into the old town, parked and went straight to Santiago’s for lunch. The salsa was spicy and the tomatillo sauce was excellent. We were so hungry we filled up on chips couldn’t eat a full meal.

We walked around the town, popping into some cafes, a used book store, antique shops, and jewelry stores. There were lots of art galleries and lots of tourists. A biker gang (Iron Breed, California) was hanging out at St Elmo’s bar. Hippie drifters sat in the shade of a town square park.

We noticed a barricaded opening that led into a dark passage beneath Main Street. A sign on the entrance warned of loss of life for trespassers. We deduced this was part of the drainage system of the town, flowing into a large concrete swale behind the theater, then underground until it reaches the Copper Queen mine, where the culvert opens up again and goes along the rim of the mine, at one point dumping down the pit. We followed that culvert back out of town and stopped at an overlook of the mine and learned of its history. From there we could see to the bottom, some 800ft below us. It was a lake the color of black rust.

This strange small town was dripping with spooky history, imposing natural beauty, and warmth. We decided to pay for the full month at Desert Oasis.

Back at the RV park, I went up to the Clubhouse around 5:30 to make an appearance at the flag dedication party. There were lots of folks of all stripes (though almost all of retirement age, and many wearing VFW-type hats or shirts). Mostly I was invisible. I had a small slice of pizza and a beer. Paul appeared, wearing slacks and a dress shirt. He asked me about our day and was pleased to hear we enjoyed some of his suggestions. He was also pleased (and unsurprised) to hear we’d decided to sign on for the full month.

I went back to the camper and we finished setting up. One of our neighbors was a woman about our age. We couldn’t tell if her camper was an Airbnb (there was no tow vehicle in sight), or if she was a long time permanent resident. She was biding her time breaking rocks.

Around sunset we took a walk down one of the nature trails (rabbits galore), then came back and made dinner. After doing the dishes I went outside and sat on a camp chair and gazed at the stars. It was already cool enough to require a jacket. I could hear the TVs of the other campers quietly murmuring away. After all the dreaming and planning for our Airstream lifestyle, we had finally, blissfully arrived.

One thought on “Welcome to Bisbee, AZ”

  1. Loved this tale of settling into one of your many new communities! Keep them coming! We want to live vicariously through you! And thank you both for the many thoughtful expressions of thanks…the joy was all ours! Happy and safe travels!

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