By: Brian Passey

Given that Bisbee, Arizona, served as a muse for two of my favorite musical artists — Tucson’s Calexico and singer-songwriter Courtney Marie Andrews — I figured the old mining town probably had a few alluring qualities. When my wife, Cammie, raved about it, I was sold.The SAM•POE Gallery and other Old Town businesses glow in the twilight along Tombstone Canyon Road in Bisbee, Arizona.

It’s mid-September and we’re driving along Arizona Route 80 from Tombstone to Bisbee. We’ve just spent a few hours touring the somewhat kitschy western town of Tombstone. It was fun but Cammie says Bisbee is much more interesting. We agree on most things, so I’m excited.

An afternoon storm just left and now the sun has managed to break through the dark gray sky to the west, dropping angular streams of light down on the Huachuca Mountains along the Arizona/Mexico border. Bisbee itself is only about 10 miles north of Sonora.

Bisbee, Arizona, is famous for its long staircases, which are part of the 4.5-mile Bisbee 1000 race.

I fall in love with the town as soon as we exit Route 80 and begin our leisurely drive southeast along Tombstone Canyon Road. It’s comparable to Jerome, Arizona, near Sedona, and they share a similar story. Both were mining boom towns that withered away with the mining activity but were saved as the hippies and artists began to move in during the 1960s and 1970s.

Our first stop is the Inn at Castle Rock, where we are staying for the night. Also like Jerome, Bisbee is a quirky town and the Inn at Castle Rock is right in line with that quirkiness. Constructed in 1895 as a boarding house, the inn was built directly over the historic Apache Springs Well. That means, you can gaze down into the depths of the old well while checking in.

I could probably write an entire story on the Inn at Castle Rock itself. It’s definitely a … unique … experience. Each of the 14 rooms has a different theme but we appreciated what we found outside our room even more.

The Inn at Castle Rock on Tombstone Canyon Road was built in 1895 as a boarding house and still provides an interesting lodging experience.

Built along a hillside, the structure of the inn connects to winding paths that circle the building. We discover what must be the world’s tightest staircase and a journal where all the guests jot down their ghostly experiences at the supposedly haunted inn.

With evening coming on we decide to walk down Tombstone Canyon Road and explore Old Town Bisbee. Most of the businesses are now closed but while looking for a place to eat we do a little window-shopping, deciding which stores to visit the next day. The SAM•POE Gallery is still open, so we stop to take in a nice dose of contemporary art before dinner.

We manage to make it through the evening without any supernatural happenings at either establishment. The next morning Cammie decides to go for a run while I take advantage of the large balcony outside our room with a view of Castle Rock across the way. It’s always fun to see the sights while on vacation but it’s also nice to just kick back with a book and breath it all in.

A fierce rain falls in Old Town Bisbee, Arizona, sending shoppers running for cover.

After a Mexican-style breakfast at Ana’s Seasonal Kitchen near the inn, we check out and set off to truly explore Bisbee. It soon begins to rain so we duck into Optimo Hatworks. Cammie had been in this fine hat store before and knowing my affinity for hats, she made it a priority stop.

Optimo Hatworks is a milliner, meaning the store designs, makes, trims and sells hats. The really nice, custom-made rabbit and beaver hats start around $900 but you can get more affordable hats pre-made from other materials but custom-fit to your head for as little as $300 or $400. Cammie must have seen my eyes widen at all the glorious hats because she quietly suggests she might be open to purchasing one for me as a birthday/Christmas present.

An employee from Optimo Hatworks in Bisbee, Arizona, uses an antique tool to measure reporter Brian Passey’s head for a custom hat.

For the fitting process, she places a large metal contraption that is more than a century old on my noggin. There is newer equipment but it doesn’t work as well, she tells us. Once she has the exact shape of my head, she sends us off to do more shopping while my hat goes through a two-hour steaming and fitting process.

So off we go to spend more money. Bisbee has such interesting stores we decide to try and get all of our Christmas shopping done early. At The Killer Bee Guy — a narrow store only about four feet wide — we find dozens of flavors of honey butter and at Bisbee Olive Oil we discover myriad varieties of both olive oil and vinegar. Then we pick up a metal art piece for my dad, a stone knife for her dad and a few other items. Our Christmas shopping is complete.

We return to Optimo Hatworks to pick up my own present — it fits perfectly — before making the walk back up Tombstone Canyon Road to our car. Before leaving Old Bisbee though, we have to stop at Spirited Chocolate, where we pick up a few truffles and sip some of the most robust hot chocolate I’ve ever tasted.

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