The Wickedest Town in the West—Jerome, AZ

The Wickedest Town in the West—Jerome, AZ

Motorcyclists riding into Jerome, AZ, can expect this small, charming mountain town to get the good times rolling as soon as you arrive. Had your visit taken place some 120 years earlier, though, you may not have received such a warm welcome.

At the time, Jerome had the dubious honor of being titled the Wickedest Town in the West.

Jerome’s story begins and ends with copper. Native Americans and later Spanish conquistadors were aware of the area’s rich copper deposits, but neither mined the ore to any measurable degree.

It took until 1883 that the United Verde Copper Co. was founded, leading to the small mining camp on Cleopatra Hill receiving the name Jerome after a company secretary. Copper production ramped up quickly, leading to an explosion in both population and wealth.

Nearly 80% of Jerome’s residents at the time were men working in the mines—and they got bored during their free time. Various saloons, gambling houses, and brothels popped up to entertain the miners (and relieve them of their salaries), prompting The Sun newspaper to give Jerome its wicked title in 1903.

World War I further fueled Jerome’s mining boom, but then October 24, 1929, kickstarted the Great Depression. The mines closed one by one and, by the 1960s, Jerome was well on its way to becoming a ghost town.

Fortunately, the locals made a smart move and pivoted toward tourism, saving the town. Today, Jerome is a vibrant location with plenty to see and do when you’re not in the saddle.

Those interested in learning more about Jerome’s wicked history should head to the Jerome State Historic Park. The highlight of the park is the Douglas Mansion, a museum that was once the home of mining magnate “Rawhide” Jimmy Douglas. The museum space exhibits ore and mineral samples, antique mining gear and equipment, photographs, and even a 3D map of the subterranean mineshafts.

Another historical sight worth seeing is the Sliding Jail, Jerome’s third jailhouse that, according to its name, has slid down the mountainside due to natural and manmade erosion. Today, the building sits roughly 200 feet from its original location.

Jerome averted the fate of turning into a ghost town, but it’s today known as a different kind of ghost town. Its rowdy and often violent past has resulted in plenty of rumors about hauntings and supernatural phenomena. Catch a ghost tour to see if you’ll come face to face with some unfortunate miner’s apparition.

You may not expect it from Arizona, but the Verde Valley where Jerome is located produces some excellent wines. Many tasting rooms and wineries, such as Coronado Vineyards, offer their products for sampling after the day’s ride.

And then there’s the art. Jerome hosts a vibrant arts and crafts scene, and the town is chock-full of galleries and artists’ studios. At the heart of the art scene is the Jerome Art Center, which rents studio space to more than two dozen artists.

Jerome may not be as wicked as it once was, but its wild heart still beats under the surface. If your ride takes you to Arizona, it’s well worth your time to go see this tamed beast.

Facts & Info

Nearby Attractions

  • Jerome State Historic Park
  • Coronado Vineyards
  • Jerome Art Center
  • The Sliding Jail

Nearby Roads

Northern Arizona offers plenty of great motorcycle riding, and Jerome makes accessing these roads easy. The prime riding destination in the area is, of course, the Grand Canyon.

From Jerome, motor east to Verde Village and take SR 89A through Sedona to Flagstaff. There, hop onto US 89 and head north, hanging a left either at SR 64 for the South Rim or SR 67 for the North Rim—or hit one after the other.

Another reasonably nearby option is the Coronado Trail, or US 191 stretching between Clifton and Morenci. This road serves up thrilling elevation changes, together with nearly 500 curves.

If you’re looking to stay in the heart of Jerome, you can’t do much better than the Clinkscale. Built originally in 1899, this hotel lets you sleep in a historical setting (without worrying about an intoxicated miner busting in through the wall).

The well-sized rooms let you spread out your gear after washing it in the walk-in showers. Coffee and tea are available 24/7 in the hotel’s canteen, and express check-in is available for arriving later in the day.

Located within walking distance of everything downtown Jerome has to offer, the Clinkscale is a fantastic home base for your wild Arizona adventure.

Best Time to Travel

If you’re planning to visit Jerome, the best is in late-ish spring when the temperatures are mild yet warm and the crowds of tourists haven’t yet arrived. Fall is a good time weather-wise as well, although you may have to manage some crowds heading for the Grand Canyon.

Summer can be fun, too, but as an ex-Arizona resident, I must warn you that the heat is no joke. Winter may be doable, but this area of Arizona does get freezing temperatures and snow, so take that into account.