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Once a thriving mining town, Jerome, Ariz., is a ghost town for artists

Midway up Mingus Mountain, the town of Jerome effectively hides many miles of mining tunnels that permeate that mountain. From these tunnels millions of dollars worth of valuable copper, silver, gold and other minerals were extracted during the decades from 1900 to 1953. The tunnels are so extensive that much of the mountainside collapsed following one mining blast.

Houses, roads and, especially the jail, slid as much as 250 feet down the mountainside. Amazingly the town survived several major fires in addition to the slides. After the mine was closed in 1953, Jerome became a ghost town with fewer than 100 residents. In recent years the entire town has been revived as a tourist destination and artist’s colony.

Billed as America’s largest ghost town, Jerome is one of my favorite destinations, especially as a day trip. The town is RV friendly and has sufficient parking spaces for many RVs behind the firehouse, but the trip in from either the north or south is not easy for RVs. I have seen no RV parks or campgrounds in Jerome, however, abundant RV parks are located in the Cottonwood/Camp Verde area and a national forest campground is open seasonally high on Mingus Mountain.

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Walking and driving tour guide booklets are available at the Mine Museum, formerly the Fashion Saloon, which was built in 1898. Some of my favorite buildings include the Jerome Grand Hotel, the old Mingus Union High School, the Jerome State Historical Park (formerly the Douglas Mansion) and the Gold King Mine and Ghost Town.

Of course, the Haunted Hamburger and other cafes offer great food and a wonderful view of the town with the magnificent red cliffs as a backdrop in the far north. An interesting and friendly glassblower artist offers daily demonstrations and art just off main street. There are many art and craft shops lining the main streets of this little ghost town. More art shops are housed in the former high school buildings. An artwalk takes place the first Saturday of every month from 5 to 8 p.m.  www.thehauntedhamburger.com

Historically, Jerome was one of the largest, most affluent towns in Arizona during the peak years when the mines were producing millions of dollars worth of ore annually. Some of the most expensive hotels and buildings in the state were constructed in Jerome.

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Today, many of the buildings that remain have been converted to businesses or private housing. It is also likely that some of the most expensive “ladies of the night” were operating in the cribs off Main Street and possibly in these same hotels.

The Douglas Mansion is now a state historical park having been gifted to the state by Douglas heirs. Every room is filled with historical information from Jerome and with data, tools, geological artifacts, and ancillary memorabilia from the decades when the copper ore and associated money flowed freely. Little mention is given about the devastation that resulted from the blowing dust of the copper slag that was spread from the Jerome mines to the smelters at Clarkdale and all the way to Tuzigoot.  azstateparks.com/Parks/JERO

Until the huge, widespread slag piles were covered and revegetated in the early 2000s, the toxic dust and residue had been blowing about for nearly 100 years and had destroyed surrounding vegetation. It had likely also contributed to illness and death of many humans in the Cottonwood/Clarkdale region.

(photo courtesy of Jerome Visitors Center)
(photo courtesy of Jerome Visitors Center)

For me, the Gold King Mine and Ghost Town, replete with old cars, trucks, buses, RVs, sheds, shacks and a multitude of obsolete tools, parts and junk of all types is most intriguing. There is a working sawmill and woodworking shop on site. The owner of this site has been collecting these remnants during the past many years. He is an interesting fellow in his own right.  www.goldkingmineghosttown.com

Having restored various antique race cars, he travels to race meetings with the appropriate race car, usually stored in a trailer pulled behind his motorhome. Upon arrival he compares, exhibits and races his car against other antiques. This friendly fellow gave my daughter and I an informative demonstration of one of his favorite antique race cars.

The town of Jerome remains a fascinating destination for tourists, RVers and casual visitors. There is much to see, do and experience, including several good restaurants, great people-watching and you may even see a ghost or two if you look closely.  www.azjerome.com

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About Dr. Bob Gorden

Dr. Bob Gorden is an RVer, hiker and writer. He has a PhD in microbial ecology from the University of Georgia in Athens. He is a retired research scientist from the University of Illinois Natural History Survey. He has owned and operated more than 55 RVs of various types, and has visited every state, except Hawaii, in his RV. He also traveled by RV in New Zealand, Canada and Mexico. He currently owns and travels in a 1978 GMC 26-foot Class A and 2013 Thor ACE 30.1 Class A motorhome. He has a compelling desire to be “On the Road Again!”

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