Sunday, January 04, 2009

Ghost Town in the Mist - Jerome, Arizona

It was a grey rainy day so we decided to explore the territory south of Sedona a bit. People who work at the cafes we've stopped at rarely actually live in Sedona proper. They commute from places they claim are "cheaper." Financially cheaper, that is. But I think there's a cost in living in bleak places that dampen the soul. Cottonwood and Camp Verde are the two towns mentioned most often...and ALWAYS with a degree of resignation that breaks the heart.

We drove through Cottonwood pretty quickly and didn't stop to take pictures -- it was too sprawling, ugly and depressing. Inexpensive rundown mobile home parks and an Old Town that wants to be a "tourist" draw but probably has a hard time holding its own, juxtaposed with suburban-style shopping malls, tract houses, and miles and miles of suburban nightmare housing developments, one after another for as far as the eye can see. San Jose/Cupertino and all the other suburban sprawl towns that run into each other and can't be told apart came to mind..but with 1/10 of the "charm". I hate to sound fussy but if I could possibly choose between a place like this and living like Paul's mom and stepdad do I'd choose true county living over suburban tract house hell any day of the week. We continued down the road to Jerome instead and those are the pictures you see.

Jerome, population 476, isn't exactly where we want to live either but it sure is unique. "Depending on how you look at it," one resident said, "Jerome is either an artist's town with a biker problem or a biker town with an artist problem." It's an old mining community built on a steep hill that was known as the "wickedest place" in the West because of the number of brothels and outlaws that could be found there. It had a prosperous copper mine for awhile but became practically a ghost town after World War II.

In the late 60's and 70's hippies and artists rediscovered the place and tried to reclaim the falling down buildings, old hotels and rooming houses. That process is still going on, more or less, today but, to be honest, if this community was in California earthquake fault territory it would have fallen down completely long ago.

Everything looks like it's barely hanging on to the steep hill it's perched on. The buildings are all cock-eyed and falling apart. We both felt dizzy and disoriented while we were there until we gave in to the experience and let our artist instincts take over. I particularly got a kick out of seeing old ruins next to partly reclaimed homes with satellite disks and new woodstove piping sticking out of the top. We also both really loved the artists' cooperative we visited while we were there.

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