Jerome, AZ: The Wickedest Town in the West

After a delay at the Oakland airport, yesterday, we finally arrived in Phoenix, and picked up a Wrent-a-wreck.  The drive up to Sedona is always a treat, as the landscape transforms itself from flat desert, to iconic red cliffs and sandstone to the north.  And for your information, a Sedona nap is a cross between a harmonic convergence, and slight travel fatigue.

Today, I am headed to the ghost town of Jerome.  Just to let you know, last night’s dinner was superb at the Barking Frog.  My companion had their ribs and slaw, and I had the ultra decadent green chili pork belly.  This is the first time I have ever ordered it for dinner, knowing how bad it is for the cholesterol.  But I must say, it was a true taste sensation, and worth a visit if you ever get this way in the future.

Jerome is a mile high town located between Phoenix and Prescott, Arizona.  It was once known for its copper mines, and later as the wickedest town in the West.  Originally a copper mining camp, Jerome grew from a simple tent settlement to a rip roaring mining community on the side of a mountain.  Founded in 1876, it was once the largest city in the Arizona Territory.  The population reached 15,000 people in the 1920s.  The Depression in the 1930s slowed mining and the claim went to Phelps Dodge, the current claim holder.

After Phelps Dodge closed the mine in 1953, the remaining 50 to 100 people decided to promote Jerome as an historic ghost town.  So, in 1967, Jerome was designated as a National Historic District by the Federal government.  It is now a thriving tourist and artist metropolis (artopolis?) of 450 people!

The Jerome copper mine was once the largest copper mine in Arizona. producing over 3 million tons of copper per month.  Men and women came from all over to find work in the copper mines.  But it appears that Jerome has not changed much over the years.  The 30 degree incline of the mountains accounts for many landslides.  Jerome is known as the most vertical city in the United States.   And the area across the street from the English Kitchen was part of Jerome’s famous prostitution row. One of the more interesting restaurant names is Belgian Jennie’s Bordello and Pizzeria.  Unfortunately, it was closed.  Naturally, there is a Yavapai-Navajo casino in nearby Camp Verde.

Jerome is only 20 miles from Sedona, the home base for most travelers.  A few dining and B&B’s are in Jerome to address the tourist trade.  There are some unique shops, along with the Jerome Winery.  This might be a nice drive, and an interesting afternoon away from the bright red rocks of Sedona.

The drive was both uneventful and rather boring.  But once we start to climb the hills up to Jerome, the snow and ice appear as a slight impediment.  The retired set are driving their four door Buicks along at about 5mph.  The Harley guys are blasting past us, despite the numerous signs that prohibit passing on the steep mountain grades.  I did not know quite what to expect from this little town. Once there, I followed the crowds through the various souvenir and T shirt shops.  The highlight was seeing an old movie projector, so large and rusty that it was planted OUTSIDE the make shift theater.  It is hard to envision this town as a bustling and crazy mining town, with miners, hookers, and local merchants, all thriving on copper.  But restoration has been fairly complete, making it at least feel like an old mining town.  After this short visit, might I suggest a quick lunch here, and then the short drive back to Sedona for a massage!

Gerry Kataoka Written by:

Gerry is semi-retired after a career at Kaiser, and lives in Pleasant Hill, CA. He travels as much as he can, between short assignments performing Phase 1 clinical trials on investigational drugs. He also volunteers with two health care related relief organizations. He has traveled to every continent except Antarctica. His favorite places are: Angkor Wat, Amazonia, Hanoi, Laos, Queenstown, Torres del Paine, Penang, and Tokyo. His favorite US places are: Seattle, Washington DC, Pebble Beach, Antelope Canyon (AZ), Napa Valley, Hawaii, and New England. Sporting events and music (rock and classical) are special interests. He has recently taken an interest in Amtrak. Golf, cycling, and yoga are his primary forms of exercise. When home, he enjoys the company of his German Hunting Terrier, Buddy.