There are certain experiences every true Arizonan should have. Things like visiting Grand Canyon in winter when it’s mantled in snow, witnessing a glorious monsoon sunset across the desert, and drinking with bikers at the Spirit Room in Jerome.
A day trip to Jerome should be at the top of your summer to-do list. It starts with a scenic drive, no matter which route you take from Phoenix to Jerome (a 2.5-hour drive). You can make the winding drive across the forested back of Mingus Mountain, or come snaking up from the Verde Valley on a road defined by twisting hairpin curves. With such enticing roadways, it’s no wonder motorcycles roll into town every weekend.
Bikes line up in front of the historic Connor Hotel, which houses the Spirit Room. The door is flung open wide and music spills into the street, full-on rock and roll with a hint of country twang that gets everybody dancing. It’s a small bar but live bands perform most evenings and on weekend afternoons. The wooden dance floor is scuffed dark and shiny as if carved from black onyx. Imagine this scenario: the band launches into the Allman Brother’s “Melissa,” a woman in a tank top shrieks, and a bearded guy who looks like Santa Claus’s shifty cousin buys a round for the house. Now it’s a summer party.
Welcome to Jerome—Arizona’s best day trip.
Days gone by
Jerome teeters a mile in the air, high atop Cleopatra Hill. The vertical burg established its boomtown credentials back when the copper mines churned out a billion dollars’ worth of the gaudy ore. In the 1920s, some 15,000 residents sneered at gravity and called Jerome their home.
Yet blasting in the mines took a toll as buildings collapsed and others slid down the hills. World War II marked the last copper boomlet as Jerome fell into disrepair. When the last mine closed in 1953, citizens scattered. Only a few dozen hearty souls stayed put. They formed a historical society and began patching the scars and knitting the bones of this tumbledown town.
During the 1960s Jerome experienced a counterculture renaissance, a polite way of saying hippies moved in. They snapped up real estate on the cheap, opened shops, restaurants, art galleries and most importantly, injected Jerome with the relaxed, carefree vibe that’s still prevalent. Residents proudly claim the town operates on Mountain “Stranded” Time.
Things to do in Jerome
For a great overview of the town’s vibrant history, visit Jerome Historic State Park, which preserves the lavish home of mining mogul, Jimmy “Rawhide” Douglas. The rambling adobe mansion is filled with artifacts, historic photographs, minerals and memorabilia. A 30-minute video presentation plays throughout the day. One of the most striking exhibits is a 3-D model of the 88 miles of tunnels dug beneath the town—beneath the very ground where you’re standing.
If you want to see how the other half lived in Jerome’s heyday, check out the Mine Museum where artifacts include gambling paraphernalia, saloon equipment, household goods, and exhibits on the roles played by the Chinese and other ethnicities.
Sitting a mile north of Jerome, Gold King Mine & Ghost Town harbors an assortment of ramshackle buildings, a menagerie of friendly animals and an array of rusted machinery that teeters forever between ruin and redemption. Trucks, cars, buses, and nearly every other manner of conveyance lines the pathways, including incredible finds like the 1902 Studebaker electric carriage and the 1914 driveable buzzsaw. Photographers and gearheads will have to be forcibly dragged to the exit.
Of course, nothing beats just prowling Jerome’s hilly streets, with all the families and hand-holding couples. Admire the views stretching across the Verde Valley to Sedona’s red rocks and distant San Francisco Peaks. Dip into the shops and galleries with their funky blend ranging from fine art to elaborate kaleidoscopes, all housed in historic buildings. Grab lunch at the Mile High Grill with its wide-ranging menu, try some slow-smoked barbecue at Bobby D’s, or sit outside on one of Arizona’s all-time great decks as you tuck into a tender slab of beef at the Haunted Hamburger.
And if you end up on the sidewalk outside the Spirit Room admiring all the shiny chrome parked there, don’t be surprised if you start pondering whether now is when you should buy a motorcycle. It’s cool. That’s just the power of Jerome.