An overnight excursion to the towns of Tombstone, Bisbee, and Lowell in Southern Arizona: A taste of the wild west, the artsy old mining town of Bisbee, a ghost town frozen in the 1950’s, and a night in a 1947 tiki bus in a vintage trailer park.
A quick overnight trip to Bisbee was part of our California and Arizona trip including San Diego, Tucson, and Phoenix. We only had one night in Bisbee, and we wished we had been able to stay at least one more night. An artsy small town community in an old copper mining town, Bisbee turned out to be an unexpected hidden gem.
We checked out of our Airbnb in Tucson and headed south. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stop in in the wild west town of Tombstone along the way.
Tombstone is the old mining town famous for Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, and the gunfight at the OK Corral. It is, as you would expect, a corny tourist trap doing what it can to separate you from your money. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth a stop. If you haven’t seen it and you’re on the way to or from Bisbee, I would recommend checking it out.
We opted for a tour of the Bird Cage Theater, an old theater that used to entertain the miners with magic shows, wrestling matches, and other acts, as well as poker games in the basement. As with any old west town, prostitutes provided the miners with a bit of “entertainment” as well. Tours cost $15 and have a lot of old artifacts on display.
Next, at the recommendation of my parents who had been in Tombstone a few days prior, we did the stagecoach tour of town. For $10 per person, you sit in an old horse-drawn stage coach for a dusty 20 minute tour around town narrated by the driver. It’s a good way to get an overview of the town and it’s history, and the guide was very animated and had some good stories. Stage coach leaves from the main street of town.
If you want to see the OK Corral, you have to pay a fee. They have staged shootout re-enactments a few times a day. We opted to pass on this, seeing it from the outside was enough for us.
The last and cheesiest thing we did before leaving Tombstone was Ike Clanton’s Haunted Hotel tour. It was a self-guided tour through a few scenes with animated props and screens, and for $15 per adult I think I would recommend just skipping this one. It was mildly entertaining but pretty corny.
There are saloons where you can get a drink or something to eat, as well as old time photo studios where you can dress up and take those sepia toned wild west portraits with costumes. We were getting hungry but the saloons were pretty packed, so we decided to head on to Bisbee.
Bisbee is only about a 25 minute drive from Tombstone. We parked in a lot at the entrance to town and were pretty hungry, so opted for the first restaurant we stumbled upon, Bisbee’s Table. There was a little bit of a wait, but the food was good. We both had the Frick’N Chicken sandwich.
After lunch, we explored the small town. There were a lot of cool little shops to explore. We definitely noticed the elevation change as we walked around. For us sea-level dwelling Seattlites, Bisbee’s hilly streets and 5,538 ft elevation had us a little winded.
We enjoyed Classic Rock Couture, with new and vintage clothing. records, and gifts. Very desert/rock n roll/retro seventies chic. Red Bone Vintage was a cute vintage clothing spot. Miners & Merchants Antique Center was fun to explore, and Black Sheep Imports had lots of fun novelty gifts and unique Bisbee souvenirs.
We passed the Bisbee Social Club, a speakeasy style cocktail bar that hosts live music. We planned on coming back there later that evening, but ended up being too tired and our accommodation was a little ways out of town. It looked right up our alley though, and we hope to come back someday and stay in town so that we can enjoy more of what Bisbee has to offer.
Losing steam, we moved on to our last stop–the preserved 1950’s ghost town of Lowell.
Lowell is another old mining town about a 6 minute drive from Bisbee. According to Atlas Obscura, the residential areas of Lowell were demolished in the interest of expanding the copper mine, and less residents lead to the abandonment of the town. Lowell is now incorporated into Bisbee, and the volunteers of the Lowell Americana Project have worked to preserve the town. The lone open business on Erie Street in Lowell is the Bisbee Breakfast Club, an old diner that serves a hearty breakfast.
Vintage cars, trucks, and even an old Greyhound bus line the eerily empty streets of Erie Street in Lowell. If nothing else, it’s a fabulous photo op. I’m not sure who the owners of the cars are (individuals or a preservation society?), but letting them sit on the street in Lowell and be part of the ghost town experience is really awesome.
Adjacent to Lowell is the Shady Dell Trailer Park, which would be our home for the night. Full disclosure: it was the 1947 Tiki Bus at the Shady Dell that brought us to Bisbee.
The Shady Dell is the perfect compliment to Lowell. Full of vintage trailers, buses, and even a boat that you can rent for the night–it is a campy, unique vintage experience.
We arrived and went to the office to check in. No one was around, but a sign on the front door with our name on it instructed us that the key to the Tiki Bus was in the bus, and to make ourselves at home.
The quarters were tight, but the attention to detail was fantastic.
The bus came equipped with a kitchen including a fridge and a sink with running water and dish soap. No cooking is allowed due to food smells that can permeate the bus, but a cold fridge is ready and waiting to store your beer and tiki cocktail ingredients. Tiki mugs are included as well for your use.
The bus also had a record player with some vintage Hawaiian records. We tried listening to them but the records were in pretty poor shape and scratchy. It would be nice if they got a few that are in better condition. We almost wanted to go buy some and add to the collection ourselves.
The bus had a bathroom with a toilet only, but campground style free shower stalls are available in the center of the trailer park.
We thought about going back into Bisbee that evening, but the long day and the elevation wore us out. We opted to get some takeout sub sandwiches from Dylan’s Pizza Bistro and beer from the Safeway nearby instead. The sandwiches were decent, and the restaurant was nice enough to give us two cups of ice to take back to the Tiki Bus for cocktails. One way the Shady Dell could be improved: offering ice for sale or an ice machine on the property.
Dusk fell, and lights came on around the park. I made some grog in the tiki mugs with rum, lime juice, and demerara syrup that we brought. We sipped our cocktails on the little porch, taking in the atmosphere. It was quiet and pleasant.
The bus was charming, but the bed situation was less than optimal. There was a twin bunk with a spongy, springy uncomfortable mattress, and a slightly smaller than a full size bed double bunk. It was pretty tight for two people, and the bus leaned a little bit, so whoever was on the outside of the double bunk would end up rolling towards the other person and smushing them. Paddy took the twin bunk and slept fairly uncomfortably. I slept okay in the double bunk by myself. He’s a gentleman.
Overall, a super fun experience and we were glad we did it, but we were also glad we had only one night there. Perhaps the other trailers have more comfortable beds.
The next morning, we couldn’t leave Bisbee and Lowell without breakfast at the Bisbee Breakfast Club.
Breakfast was good, your classic diner fare. We were sad to say goodbye and wished we had one more night in Bisbee to get to know the town a little better.
If you’re into kitsch, art, and old desert history, Bisbee, Lowell, and Tombstone are definitely worth visiting. If it’s your first visit, I would recommend two nights–one at the Shady Dell for a fun kitschy experience, and one in the town of Bisbee so that you can get the feel of the town and maybe some nightlife.