Arizona: Cowboys, Miners, and the Devil's Highway

Arizona: Cowboys, Miners, and the Devil's Highway

The red-sashed cowboy welcomed us to Tombstone, AZ. The outlaw challenged the Earp brothers as the O.K. Corral standoff began. “Wait, there are motorbikes in the street!” Joshua Manning and I were parked at Tombstone’s main street, the first stop of our epic Arizona route. The tour included Tucson, Tombstone, Bisbee, and the White Mountains, as well as a brief visit to historic Route 66 in the Petrified Forest National Park.

We toured eastern Arizona via US 191, formerly known as the Devil’s Highway. The road began as a footpath for prospectors, missionaries, immigrants, and traders traveling to the silver and copper mines of Arizona and California. The historical route took us north from near the Arizona-Mexico border to I-40, also known as the old Route 66. We crossed through the old western towns of Clifton and Morenci, arriving at the Morenci copper mine. From its top, we headed north into the ridgetops of the White Mountains.

A somewhat egg-shaped loop, Joshua and I chose this route to see the different ecosystems, beautiful scenery, and twisty roads of northern and eastern Arizona. Tucson was our starting point, with Tombstone, Bisbee, and Douglas as our first-day destinations. SR 80 took us south from I-10 to the historic Tombstone. We narrowly escaped the shootout at the O.K. Corral and mounted our steeds for the mining town of Bisbee.

The red-sashed cowboy greeted us outside the O.K. Corral in Tombstoone. "There's go'n to be trouble with the Earp brothers."

Tourists and ghost seekers alike travel to Bisbee. Founded in 1877 as an army camp, this village has seen copper booms and busts. Now, the arts, music, restaurants, and motels line the narrow streets. A short but harrowing ride on the Copper Queen Mine train takes you 1,500 feet into the mine shaft and work rooms—hard hats and safety vests are required. Copper production began in the 1880s and the Phelps Dodge Corporation was the main operator.

From Bisbee, we rode 1.5 miles parallel to the open pit mine to the one-street town of Lowell, home of the Bisbee Breakfast Club. Unfortunately, the cafe was closed, but a nearby burger truck served us a fantastic lunch with a backdrop of old cars, storefronts, and a motorcycle repair and parts store, Arizona Thunder.

Motorcycles & Gear

2018 Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak
2022 BMW 1250 GS Rallye

Helmets: Klim Krios Pro, Arai XD-4
Jackets: Tourmaster Trek, Fly Racing Terra Trek
Pants: Tourmaster Trek, Reax Alta
Boots: TCX GORE-TEX, TCX Drifter WP
Gloves: Alpinestars Drystar, BMW GORE-TEX

Post-lunch, Josh and I motored south to Douglas at the U.S.-Mexico border. Alas, daylight did not allow us to fully inspect the town. We topped off our tanks, hydrated, and navigated our first miles on US 191. A future trip to Douglas must include a tour of the Slaughter Ranch. A few short gravel miles east of Douglas lies the fork to the ranch and the start of the Geronimo Trail. The manager will ask for a small donation and give you a personal tour of the buildings and unique history of the border property.

Our lodging for the night was Yaqui Hideout in Pearce. The village is officially registered as an authentic ghost town. This property offers bed-and-breakfast lodging, a lavender farm, horse boarding, and a basket-weaving studio. Just 70 miles north of the border, the owner/operators Bob and Patrick greeted us at the gate and led us to our rooms, which were nicely appointed with four lodging units. The property is surrounded by high fencing—security walls are common in Arizona due to roaming wildlife.

Bob gave us a quick tour of the 50-acre property, which included feeding the sheep. Bob and Patrick’s vision to blend lavender, birds, baskets, animals, and lodging gives visitors a complete experience of southeast Arizona. We enjoyed an early dinner at the immediate area’s sole restaurant, Sandy’s. Great food and local hospitality.

Dry grass covered the high-elevation plateaus on top of the Devil's Highway near Alpine.

The Mountains

The next morning brought sunny skies and an early start north. We stopped for a quick photo on Ghost Town Trail and motored up to I-10. We rode east for about 30 miles before rejoining US 191 north. The Sonoran Desert gave way to the Coronado National Forest near the towns of Clifton and Morenci. The Morenci Copper Mine has one the world’s largest copper reserves, with an estimated 3.2 billion tons of the ore.

“Hey Josh, they have Starbucks!” Morenci was a well-appointed town, catering to the mining staff who live here. The desert landscape is characterized by large saguaro cacti that eventually gave way to sage and pine forests as the elevation rose. It took nearly 30 minutes to ride through the mine property, eventually leading to the towering White Mountains. At 11,420 feet, Mount Baldy is the highest peak in the range.