Phoenix Day Trip to Jerome, Arizona

“There’s gold in them thar hills…” or there was, way back in the early 1890’s, along with a whole mountain of copper. Jerome, Arizona went from an empty stretch of desert and mountain to a thriving boomtown, and then became a ghost town. Now this ghost town is shared by inhabitants and tourists alike.

Jerome Arizona

Jerome sits on the slopes of Cleopatra Hill, about 30 minutes south of Sedona and 30 minutes north of Prescott. In the boomtown days, well-to-do residents turned the mining town into a thriving community, set in between the switchbacks that thread through the town. People of all backgrounds collected in Jerome: Americans, Mexicans, Croatians, Irish, Spaniards, Italians and Chinese. The mix made for some great stories, told in the pages of several books published on the history of this colorful town.

As we walked down the narrow, winding streets, I imagined what it might have felt like, living in one of these homes being rocked by dynamite blasts during the open-pit mining days. There were over 88 miles of tunnels that served as avenues to reach the copper, but when fires ravaged the tunnels, the miners gave up and blew up the mountain piece by piece. Jerome felt those blasts, with the town jail sliding over 225 feet.

Jerome makes a good detour on the way to Sedona from the Phoenix area, or for just a day trip from Phoenix all by itself. The small-town atmosphere and pleasant weather beckons visitors to slow down and savor the simpler life.

Jerome is truly built on the side of the hill, making everything close by simply walking up stairs to get to the next set of shops and restaurants. Weekends can be rather crowded, so some patience may be required while looking for a parking spot. Old mining equipment is sprinkled in with the quaint stores, so it’s difficult to really separate shopping with learning about the lore of the town. Stores run the gamut from curio shops to art galleries. There is a hand-made pottery store, “Made in Jerome Pottery,” where the artisan makes the pottery on a wheel while you watch. “Nellie Bly” has unique Kaleidescopes and glass art. The “Arizona Discoveries” store has rocks and minerals from all over the state at reasonable prices. Our kids paid $1.00 for a “grab bag”- a paper back full of rocks that were previously on shelves in the store. Besides the thrill of wondering what they might get, some of the rocks were pretty cool.

After an hour of walking around town, stomachs grumbled. We asked a few locals for their restaurant selection, but the response was: “They’re all good, honey.” Did the whole town have a meeting to discuss the answer to this question, or was it really true? With advice lacking, we settled on the restaurant with a great view and the most unique name: “The Haunted Hamburger.”

The sign posted on the wall set the stage for our lunch experience: “No Sniveling.” After seeing the sign, I was intimidated out of asking for a table out on the enclosed patio. Instead, we sat at one of the best tables inside, right in front of a large picture window with a stellar view of the valley and the red Sedona rocks in the distance. No sniveling required.

The Haunted Hamburger turned out to be a great family place, with large portions of some of the best “regular food.” Ribs, hamburgers, and even the roasted vegetable sandwich were done well here. So are there ghosts? We didn’t have to look far for a story – our waitress said that the previous owner of her Jerome home swore it was haunted, but she says, “I think it’s just drafty.”

After lunch, we headed to the center of town for a quick stop at the local playground to expend some energy, and then it was off to the Gold King Mine.

One mile north on a dirt road is the old town of Haynes, Arizona, where the Haynes Copper Company dug a 1200 foot shaft in search of copper. They missed the copper, but hit gold instead. What’s left of Haynes is now the Gold King Mine. Some people’s junk is other people’s treasure, so if you can approach this museum with the right perspective, it is worth the small admission price. The museum is host to a working saw mill, which the attendant runs when anyone who’s interested walks by. You can walk in a mine shaft, feed and pet the barnyard animals, pan for gold (for an extra fee) and peer into several old structures. Kids get a big kick out of seeing an old school room with the authentic desks, and also the “Painless Dentist,” complete with the old dentist chairs.

For a little cleaner exhibition of Jerome history, head over (by car) to the Jerome State Historic Park and the Douglas Mansion, which has been turned into a museum by the State of Arizona. The museum has exhibits of photographs, artifacts, minerals, and a 3-D model of the town

Mining ceased in the early 1950s, spelling doom for the town. Or was it? The population went from over 15,000 to somewhere around 50. But the “hippies,” the art crowd, and a few die-hard residents turned the city around in the 60’s and 70’s, promoting the town as a historic ghost town, and providing Jerome with the character and charm it still holds today.

Phoenix Day Trip to Jerome Links