11/21: Jerome, the friendly ghost town

Today I had the pleasure of almost visiting my first ghost town. I say almost because Jerome, Arizona is still very much alive. Although some buildings lie in ruins in the middle of this small town, the place is vibrant with history, culture and activity.

Esteban and I drove in via 89A north, which took us from the comparatively flat steppes around Sedona into some of the steepest mountain passes I’ve seen this side of Colorado. The scenery was gorgeous, if a bit hair-raising: Our rental car handled like a wooden vegetable cart on those hair-pin curves.

In spite of the constant risk of plummeting 1,000 feet to our deaths, Esteban and I still marveled at the incredible diversity and changeability of the plant life. In one hour’s drive, we saw flat scrub that stretched for miles, cactus-lined mountains, barren peaks, and finally dense coniferous forests. Talk about microclimates!

Jerome itself was both a pleasant surprise and a disappointment. Built into a steep cliff, it reminded me of San Francisco’s vertical construction. Some of the houses were built on stilts and hovered precariously over the cliffs, with only their front doors attached to the rock.

I was pleasantly surprised by the art galleries that lined Jerome’s narrow, steep streets, and by the plaques on the walls that told almost every building’s history. I was also pleasantly surprised by the friendliness and historical knowledge of the locals, who seemed to genuinely enjoy the tourists rather than begrudge them.

One shopkeeper told me and Esteban about the local jail, which now sits in ruins near the bottom of a steep hill. During one earthquake in the early 1900s, it had slid about 200 yards down this hill, taking its sole prisoner (or should I say passenger?) for the ride of a lifetime.

We toured a gallery with a breathtaking view — and an equally breathtaking collection of art — before settling down for lunch at the tiny, unassuming Flatiron Cafe. Here’s my one-word review: WOW. Esteban told the owner that we hadn’t had a meal that good since Paris, and he wasn’t exaggerating.

So, why was I a bit disappointed? I’d hoped to tour an actual ghost town. I’d imagined dusty ruins and weather-beaten wood. Still, I can’t complain. There are other ghost towns. But there’s no place else quite like Jerome.

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