If you drive on 89A for about 30 minutes away from Sedona, you'll wind your way up to Jerome, a quirky former mining town that's now an odd mix of ghost town, artists' galleries, boutiques and frontier kitsch. (89A is the key to everything; coming from Sedona, you'll go through Cottonwood to get to Jerome.)
Once a copper mining town, Jerome had lost population steadily into the 1950's. Gradually, however, the town remade itself into an artists' haven and tourist attraction. So, even though one portion of the town has been made into the official "ghost town" section (see photo), which consists of lots of interesting and old abandoned vehicle, the living part of the town combines shops, galleries and eateries in and inbetween some very old buildings. Many of the restored buildings have plaques that will provide you with history (for example a brief story about the old jail that literally slid across the street because of all of the mining blasting).
So you can wander in and around buildings, some of which are bustling meccas (the art galleries, for examples) and others which are now just facades (like the old JC Penny building in the photo).
Make your first stop the visitors' center (see photo), a decorated trailer staffed entirely by volunteers. Even if the "be back later" sign is up, you'll still be able to get a map of the town that will allow you to wander. Look at the map and you'll see where the old jail was; the old JC Penney Building (now just a facade) and a pioneer-era movie theater, where an old movie camera parked on the sidewalk sits at the door.
Jerome feels like the kind of place that people choose because of the challenge and the desire to get away from malls and chatter.
We were told by a local resident that the houses, which seem to cling to the mountains, can be purchased by cash only-no banks will issue mortgages.
Travel by car up the twisty roads,following the hand-lettered signs directing you to the "ghost town." Along the way you'll pass all sorts of abandoned cars, trucks and school buses (including one that had one been converted into a home) that are, oddly enough, neatly arranged along the road. Eventually you'll reach a parking lot adjacent to a trinkets store.
The store is staffed by a white-bearded man who could easily have stepped right out of a pioneer movie. He can talk to you about a wealth of subjects, and judging by his conversations with the tourists, he knows detailed information about every state in the union. If you want to wander through the ghost town part of Jerome, you'll need to pay this man $4.00 to pass through the back door of the trinkets store and into the abandoned part of town. If you like to poke through and around old cars, buses and the interesting discards of lives from long ago, pay the $4, go through the door and you're there.
If junk heaps aren't your thing, fear not. Drive back down the windy roads and park in town, where you'll find galleries, 2 stores selling fudge and a several blocks of stores tucked into centuries-old buildings.
The art galleries feature a range of talent and prices, and you'll be able to find everything from hand-carved wood wine stoppers ($10) to hand-decorated fabric eyeglass cases (also$10) to photographs, acrylics and oils on every subject imaginable.
Most folks will recommend the Haunted Hamburger for lunch, a bustling place perched into the mountain. The service was friendly, the place was crowded, but the food wasn't nearly as haunting as the name. We had burgers that were overcooked and a big slab of carrot cake--relatively dry and forgettable.
We wish we had tried Grapes, owned by the same folks who own the Tavern Grille in nearby Cottonwood. Next time! Still, an afternoon of wandering the streets and the galleries was time well spent.
Unfortunately we made the mistake of taking the Verde Canyon Railroad train ride from nearby Clarksdale (see our entry), but in hindsight we should have just headed straight for Elote and dinner and drinks.
Next stop: Elote for dinner and margaritas!