Chuck enjoys traveling, and over the years, has had the opportunity to visit many fascinating places in the U.S. and the world.
Bisbee's Pirates of the High Desert Event Resumes After COVID
August in Arizona is hot which results in keeping tourists to a minimum. However, few tourists mean few events and festivals leaving nothing to do on weekends other than sitting home and binge-watching Netflix and Hulu.
Fortunately, my wife found an announcement that the Southern Arizona town of Bisbee was resuming its annual Pirates of the High Desert event this August after having to cancel it due to COVID last year.
My wife loves to dress up in costumes and the Pirates of the High Desert event is an opportunity to put together her own version of a glamorous and unique pirate outfit. She has a good eye for fashion and always looks stunning despite paying bargain basement prices for most of her clothes. For costume events, she goes through her wardrobe and occasionally to a store for an item or two if she needs an additional item to complete the outfit.
The Inn at Castlerock
We have previously been to Bisbee, a town with many artists, numerous times just touring the city as well as attending many of the city’s events including annual visits to the Pirates of the High Desert event.
However, since Bisbee is only about 100 miles from Tucson, all of our visits have been day trips down and back home the same day. On a few occasions when a visit to Bisbee included visiting other places in southeastern Arizona we have tended to stay in nearby Sierra Vista which is a larger city with a wider choice of hotel chains.
Due to my wife only having Friday and Saturday off and with the Pirates event starting on Friday night we decided to not only make this an overnight trip but to spend the night in Bisbee rather than nearby Sierra Vista.
Logging into my Hotels.com account I was able to find a couple of hotels in Bisbee and choose the Inn at Castle Rock which we have both walked past many times as well as having viewed it from the top of Castle Rock, the towering rock formation across the street from the Inn.
Bisbee’s Unique Geography and Quirky Culture
The Inn at Castlerock is located at 112 Tombstone Canyon Rd in Bisbee. It sits in a ravine in the Mule Mountains directly across the street from the towering Castle Rock and backs up against the hill opposite Castle Rock. Bisbee itself is nestled within the mountains with homes and other structures built up the sides of the mountains in which the city is located.
Like many old towns in the American West, the discovery of a rich vein of metal resulted in their transformation from a small mining camp to a rich and booming city overnight. Unfortunately once the mines were depleted or demand for it declined most such towns quickly became abandoned ghost towns.
However, Bisbee appears to have had the good fortune of attracting artists seeking to take advantage of fire-sale property prices offered by displaced miners seeking to leave. Bisbee soon became home to the then young artists with their 1960s hippie culture.
Bisbee's Great Stair Climb
The city has many narrow, winding roads leading to many of the homes and other structures that cling to the city’s mountainsides. In addition to the narrow roads and trails, there are also stone steps leading up the mountainsides. In fact, there are a total of 10,000 steps leading from the downtown area up the sides of the mountains where they connect to trails and roads.
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Among the city’s many annual events is the Great Stair Climb which occurs every October with hiking enthusiasts descending on Bisbee to climb up and down the numerous stairs as they race up and down the mountain trails surrounding the city. While we have climbed some of the stairs on our visits, however, we have never joined the masses racing up and down the stairs during the annual day of the Great Stair Climb.
The Inn at Castlerock Is Almost as Old as Bisbee Itself
The history of the hotel is closely tied to the history of Bisbee. In the Spring of 1877 after hostilities between the United States and the Apache tribes in southern Arizona had ended, an Army patrol led by Lieutenant John A. Rucker accompanied 15 troops from Company C of the Sixth Army entered the pass where the Inn at Castlerock is now located. A civilian tracker, named Jack Dunn was with them. Some area Apaches had told Rucker and Dunn about the pass with a spring in the area where they could find water and rest. (Note: The Inn was built over the spring which can still be viewed through an opening in the floor in one of the ground floor areas).
Both Rucker and Dunn, while they were getting water from the spring, noticed a light green stain on some of the rocks which indicated the possible presence of copper or silver. Rucker and Dunn’s Army duties forced them to postpone filing a mining claim and setting to the work of mining their discovery. However, they did share their information about the possible mineral discovery with a local character and part-time prospector named George Warren who hung out in the area around Ft. Bowie where Rucker and Dunn were stationed.
Rucker and Dunn not only made Warren a partner but financed (grubstaked is the Old West term) him by providing Warren with a couple of burros, food, and other supplies needed while searching for and filing claims on lands with potential minerals. George Warren did find and filed mining claims on a number of sites in the area which became very valuable but he didn’t include his partners Rucker and Dunn on any of the claims he filed.
Built in 1895 as a Boarding House for Miners
Like similar mining towns that grew from a mining discovery to a major city in less than a decade, Bisbee grew fast which resulted in a need for more housing for miners. In 1895 the Muirhead House was built over the spring where Rucker and Dunn had stopped while on patrol with the Army in 1877. It was built by John Muirhead (who was also Bisbee’s first mayor) as a boarding house for miners.
The Muirhead house continued to be run by John Muirhead until his death whereupon his wife ran it until her death in 1948. Following Muirhead’s wife’s death, the Muirhead house changed its name a few times as well as being turned into an apartment house for a while followed by becoming a hotel run under different names by different owners before being closed and left standing idle prior to being purchased by its current owners.
According to the Inn’s website, the current owners are a New Zealander named Chris Brown and a partner named Kirt Dodd. Before our stay on this trip, I often wondered why there was a New Zealand flag flying with the American flag when we walked past the hotel. Now I know why.
Our Stay at the Inn at Castlerock
In addition to art, the hotel appears to be furnished with items from the past hundred years or more. In our room, we had an antique brass bed with a very comfortable modern mattress and an old-style dresser. The sliding door to the small closet was papered with early 20th-century theater handbills while one of the walls was papered with old maps. The room was small with no room for a TV but we did have free WiFi and there was a new large screen TV in one of the lounges on the first floor. Each room has its own bathroom with a shower.
There is a small breakfast room on the first floor with a couple of tables and a small kitchen next to it stocked with coffee, a refrigerator with creamer, milk, and hard-boiled eggs. A counter with a microwave and toaster along with bread, bagels, packets of instant oatmeal, and a couple of varieties of dry cereal. The small kitchen was open from 4 a.m. until 11 a.m.
The breakfast room was open round the clock as was the adjoining lounge with the big screen TV, couch, chairs, books, and a piano. There were a couple of other lounges as well as outdoor porches on the second and third floors running the entire length of the building’s front as well as a couple of smaller outdoor porches and patios in the back.
The Inn at Castlerock is a short walk to Brewery Gulch and the center of Bisbee making it convenient for us to park the car at the Inn and not have to use the car again until we left town the next day.
Pirates of the High Desert Event This Year Was Disappointing
The Pirate Event usually runs from Friday evening through Sunday afternoon (this year it was just Friday night and Saturday). Because of my wife’s work schedule, we had to attend just Friday Evening and Saturday.
Unfortunately, except for my wife who wore her full pirate outfit, we only saw a couple of other people in the streets dressed as pirates.
We ended up going to the Old Bisbee Brewing Company where we had some bratwurst for dinner while sampling a selection of their craft beers and then went down the street to the Copper Queen Hotel where a local area band, the Rooks, was playing on the broad front porch of the Hotel. I enjoyed the performance despite the fact that few people, and no pirates, showed up.
It was an uncommonly quiet Friday night for Bisbee and we ended up walking back to the hotel and calling it a night. However, the Inn at Castlerock, with its eclectic collection of rooms, porches, antiques, and art more than made up for the disappointing pirate event.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Chuck Nugent