The boom-town-turned-artist-colony of Jerome, Arizona, is worth the mile-high drive
By Laurie Davies
It’s fitting that Jerome clings to Cleopatra Hill in northern Arizona for dear life. When boom town turned bust, this once-roaring mining camp held on hard simply to survive.
No one is mining copper here anymore, but Jerome still boasts an embarrassment of riches. Reinvented as a bustling arts enclave, the mountainside mecca of art galleries and specialty stores plays Pied Piper to the single file queue of cars that flow into town every weekend.
History buffs are at home here too, relishing tales as tall as the town’s mile-high elevation. Locals tell of a 1930s mining blast that sent the jail skittering a full block downhill. Tones turn hushed as true believers describe the ghosts of prostitutes who worked the “Wickedest Town in the West.”
Jerome’s once indiscreet streets are safer now. Here are eight things to do.
1. Sneak through the back door
Most weekenders make a surgical strike into Jerome on Highway 260 from Cottonwood. Don’t be like them. From Prescott, take Highway 89A for a white-knuckle jaunt though alligator juniper and ponderosa pine up to the top of Mingus Mountain. On the descent into Jerome, shameless views into the Verde Valley are your reward.
2. Wine Down at the Jerome Art Walk
After navigating 158 curves in 12 miles on Highway 89A, you’ll be ready for wine. It flows generously during Jerome Art Walk, held 5-8 p.m. on the first Saturday of each month. Visit with local artists at open galleries and studios that showcase jewelry, pottery, watercolors and hand blown glass.
3. Buy at Nellie Bly
Housed in what was notorious Madam “Belgian” Jennie Bauter’s brothel, Nellie Bly’s modern-day wares flaunt plenty of color too. Elegant, hand-crafted wood, metal and glass kaleidoscopes make the optic nerves dance at this high-end, try-before-you-buy specialty store. (Incidentally, co-owner Sally Dryer was the voice of Lucy in “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” and other Peanuts specials until producers replaced her with someone younger. Those blockheads.)
4. Picture the Powderbox
Literally, snap a picture, but only from a distance, please. The Powderbox Church earned its name when Mexican miners banned from local churches used empty dynamite boxes to build their own house of worship in 1939. It is now a beautifully restored residence on private property. (Ask any local to point it out. Douglas Road toward Jerome State Historic Park offers a good perch.)
5. Slumber at the Surgeon’s House
The Surgeon’s House Bed & Breakfast was once the residence of the chief surgeon of United Verde Copper Company’s hospital. Nuclear engineering consultant-turned-proprietor Andrea Prince bought the home in 1992, and a 24-year serendipitous second act with her renovated property, its freshly manicured gardens, and her guests has ensued. “I always have every guest I’m supposed to have,” she says. Guests are treated to California king-sized beds, private baths and balconies, and fresh breakfasts from Prince’s own cookbooks.
6. Stroll through the Galleries
While all three levels of the town can be conquered in a day, two stops are a must. Raku Gallery showcases a collection of jewelry, pottery and paintings for every budget. The studio out back offers glass blowing demos and second-story windows frame sweeping views of Sedona’s red rocks and Flagstaff’s San Francisco Peaks. At Pura Vida, which means “pure life” in Spanish, fine art, jewelry and sleek ceramics from more than 120 artists converge in a handcrafted collection.
7. Brush up on your art skills
Oil painter Cody DeLong helps aspiring artists unlock their creativity with half-day intensive studio and Plein Air sessions. Registration is a must. DeLong also does painting demos 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. each Wednesday through Saturday. “I try to push color. I take what Mother Nature offers and redesign it in a way that I would like to see it,” he says.
8. Eat at the Haunted Hamburger
No weekend in Jerome is complete without a bite of 80/20 seasoned beef at Jerome’s venerable Haunted Hamburger. With its decks and views, local craft beers and boozy milkshakes, and chocolate cake that weighs a pound per slice, the Hamburger has cultivated a cult-like following.