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- Finding Water in the Sonoran Desert
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- Nocturnal Scottsdale
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- Unexpected Arizona
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- Chilly Drinks and Cool Eats in Scottsdale
Jerome is a rough-and-tumble town with a colorful history and penchant for surviving disaster. Once dubbed the “Wickedest Town in the West,” the hillside community has endured the ravages of fire, landslides, and an influenza epidemic—not to mention Prohibition and the boom-and-bust business of mining.
There is a whole lot of history packed into Jerome, despite its small, walkable size. The town was founded in 1876 after prospectors Angus McKinnon and M.A. Ruffner filed the first mining claims. Six years later, the United Verde Copper Company mine was established by entrepreneur William Andrews Clark. It became the richest individually owned mine in the world, and Clark made a fortune. Workers arrived in droves, and the city became a melting pot of cultures, with Irish, Greek, and Chinese immigrants appearing in search of jobs and opportunity.
In its heyday, the city’s population topped at 15,000. Saloons, opium dens, and brothels lined the streets and transformed the mining camp into a lively boomtown. Jerome flourished like this for decades, but after more than $1 billion had been milked from the mines, the bust came to town. The UVCC mine closed for good in 1953, having producing enough copper to put 13 pounds of it into the hand of every person living at the time. Jerome became a ghost town overnight. It wasn’t until the 1970s that settlers started to return, but this time they were hippies and artists who found the quaint atmosphere and cheap rent appealing.
Small shops, bars, and hotels still cling to the side of Cleopatra Hill, though today they mainly cater to tourists. The winding streets are filled with visitors on the weekends—and they’re not alone. Jerome is rumored to be haunted by a slew of ghosts, including the spirit of Jennie Banters, a former madam, once considered the wealthiest woman in northern Arizona. She was murdered by her opium-addicted boyfriend in 1905. Banters was a beloved figure in Jerome—at least in part because she was often the first to rebuild after the repeated fires that often consumed local businesses.
Plan to spend a couple of hours in Jerome, a National Historic Landmark. Explore the narrow streets and alleys that climb the steep slopes and pop into its small galleries and stores. The must-see Mine Museum (200 Main St., 928/634-5477, www.jeromehistoricalsociety.com, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, adults $2, children free) is small but jam-packed with information, giving a great overview of Jerome’s sordid past. Exhibitions trace the complex hierarchy of prostitutes, immigrants, and shopkeepers who made their home in Jerome, and the displays of rusty old tools quickly school onlookers in the rigors of life in the mines.
Out front, bikers frequently park their hogs on Main Street while, inside the saloons, they compete with tourists for space at the bar and a view of the band. Jennie Banter’s old brothel has been replaced by Nellie Bly (136 Main St., 928/634-0255, 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m. daily), a small store selling jewelry and arty gifts. Down the street, Laughing Mountain (116 Main St., 928/634-8764, 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m. daily) offers expansive views of Verde Valley, along with Native American leather goods, wind chimes, and Southwestern sculptures and wooden crosses.
A National Historic Landmark, the haunted Jerome Grand Hotel (200 Hill St., 928/634-8200, www.jeromegrandhotel.com, $120–205 d) sits high above town on Cleopatra Hill.
The 12-room Hotel Connor (164 Main St., 928/634-5006, www.connorhotel.com, $90–165 d), built in 1898 by David Connor, offers respite from the high-spirited happenings in the Spirit Room saloon below.
The Miner’s Cottage (553 Main St., 928/254-1089, www.theminerscottage.com, $950 per week) is a sophisticated throwback to Jerome’s Victorian past, with two master suites available for rental by the week. Shorter stays are available upon request.
The Asylum Restaurant and Lounge (200 Hill St., 928/639–3197, 11 a.m.–3 p.m. and 5–9 p.m. daily, $16–28) at the Jerome Grand Hotel has earned rave reviews for its Southwestern-inspired dishes, like prickly pear barbecue pork tenderloin and the vegetarian sesame tofu and roasted butternut squash. The New American cuisine is complemented by a terrific view of Verde Valley and an extensive wine list, which has earned kudos from Wine Spectator magazine.
Though the hours may be a bit scattered, the casual Mile High Grill & Spirits (309 Main St., 928/634-5094, 8 a.m.–4 p.m. Sun.–Mon., 11 a.m.–4 p.m. Wed.–Thurs., 8 a.m.–9 p.m. Fri.–Sat., closed Tues., $6–12) is one of Jerome’s best bets for a good meal. Breakfasts range from cinnamon oatmeal to Mile High Eggs, an English muffin topped with crab cakes, eggs, cheese, bacon, and a red pepper aioli. At lunch and dinner, you’ll find delicious sandwiches, salads, wraps, and burgers.
Belgian Jennie’s Bordello Bistro & Pizzeria (412 Main St., 928/639-3141, www.belgianjennies.com, 11:30 a.m.–8 p.m. Thurs.–Mon.) fixes hearty pastas like fettuccine alfredo, lobster ravioli, and tortellini carbonara. The wickedly good thin-crust pizzas live up to the restaurant’s namesake, the infamous madam Jennie Banters. Next door, the Flat Iron Café (416 Main St., 928/634-2733, 8:30 a.m.–3 p.m. Wed.–Mon., $4–9) serves breakfast and lunch, as well as a decent cup of joe for a quick pick-me-up.
You can’t leave Jerome without having a drink at The Spirit Room (166 Main St., 928/634-8809, 11 a.m.–1 a.m. daily). Beers and bands abound at this Jerome mainstay, which feels every bit as bad as the old saloons that used to serve up whiskey to miners after a long day underground.
Getting ro Jerome
To make the easy road trip to Jerome from Sedona, take Highway 89A west to the Cottonwood. The highway drifts south before looping north through town. You can stay on Highway 89A straight through to Jerome, where it winds up the side of Cleopatra Hill, or you can opt for the more scenic drive through Old Town Cottonwood on Highway 260, which is also called Main Street. Highway 260 passes by exits for Dead Horse Ranch State Park and Tuzigoot, as well as through the town of Clarksdale, where it rejoins Highway 89A to make the ascent up to Jerome.
© Jeff Ficker from Moon Phoenix, Scottsdale & Sedona, 1st edition