Standing in a funky little kaleidoscope shop perched on a near vertical hilltop in Jerome, it came to me: Jerome is a lot like a kaleidoscope.
Holding the optical toy to my eye, the broken fragments of glass swirled and morphed until coming to rest in a beautiful display of patterns.
Somehow everything in that tube came together to form a picture, just like the town, which offers its own delightfully skewered view.
While the remnants taken alone would not add up to much, together they offer a unique perspective on reusing what once was long forgotten.
And what better place than Jerome to house what its owners claim is the world’s largest gallery of kaleidoscopes as well as a haunted hamburger stand, hospital turned inn, and a few wacky residents.
Tucked just off Main Street, the Nellie Bly has hundreds of scopes on display, each with its own pattern of swirls and colors.
This shop is one of many helping Jerome resurge after nearly becoming extinct.
Originally a mining settlement, the town went belly up when the mining dried up.
But today, the town is riding a wave of prosperity, appealing to both the wide-eyed Sedona-esque tourists and bikers.
With wine bars, artisan shops and what’s left of half-standing buildings lined up side by side off narrow, one-way streets, the town offers a unique juxtaposition of the new and the long gone.
Sitting on a picturesque 5,200-foot precipice, Jerome offers an eagle’s eye view of the mining hills that made it, but now pull buildings to their death.
Jerome is a good place for walking and half the fun is discovering its oddities.
While one corner may house a freshly painted, newly remodeled storefront, next door may stand the façade of a crumbling building just barely hanging on to the 30-degree incline of the hillside.
People still own these “buildings” and take care to preserve their rundown state. One shop is even housed behind one such façade. It’s amazing any buildings even stand today.
In earlier years, the town was leveled by at least four fires, earning the title from one newspaper as the “Wickedest Town in Arizona.”
The town’s Web site now proudly declares Jerome “America’s Most Vertical City” and the “Largest Ghost Town in America.” High up on Clark Street, a number of businesses have made their home in some of these haunted spaces.
The appropriately named Haunted Hamburger, at 410 Clark Street, offers more than good prickly pear margaritas.
The former boarding house is now home to at least one ghost. “Claire” is reported to occupy the upstairs dining room.
Although I did my best to tune into the “other side,” I didn’t feel any ghostly aspirations. What I did taste was delicious fare.
From the mushroom and cheddar burger to the Haunted Burger with guacamole, grilled onions, bacon, cheese, mushrooms, and green chiles accompanied with beer-battered onion rings, the amazing twice-baked potato or coleslaw. From a small outdoor deck, the Verde Valley stretches out below including the red cliffs of Sedona in the distance.
Farther up the narrow asphalt street waits the Jerome Grand Hotel. Once the area’s hospital, the large, four-story building has been refurbished.
While there aren’t any hospital beds left, one tourist said he stayed in the hotel years back and could still smell the formaldehyde.
Anywhere you look in Jerome, nearly every building has been repurposed at least once. Just south of the Haunted Hamburger, the Jerome Winery resides in an old apartment complex.
Jerome is home to a few wineries, most recently the Caduceus Cellar.
Owned by a popular musician, several of the wines come from grapes grown near Jerome.
The shop’s hip atmosphere offers a great place to stand around and have a few tastings.
Nearby is the Sprit Room Bar, a popular place for bikers. There always seems to be live music thumping from the historical corner bar with rows of Harley Davidson’s lined up outside.
Other popular destinations in Jerome include the city park, vertically located between Main and Clark Street, the Gold King Mine, Made in Jerome Pottery, Raku Gallery and Mile High Grill.
Founded originally in 1876 with a few mining tents, the town exploded to as many as 15,000 residents in its heyday before dwindling to 450.
A day spent wandering through town offers a glimpse of what an Arizona town looked like 100 years ago.
The road leading into Jerome, the only egress to the north, is where the journey starts.
After speeding through the streets of Cottonwood, motorists arrive at the base Cleopatra Hill. The road immediately narrows as Jerome towers on the southern slope.
The roadway winds through several 180-degree turns, before the first dilapidated and fully refurbished mining shacks, bed and breakfasts and homesteads emerge.
In one hairpin corner, a trio of plastic flamingos dolled up in custom outfits bobble on the edge of a driveway.
More buildings emerge with each curve drawing visitors into town. Finally, the highway empties into the main retail district.
The roads through town are a series of one-way streets that many motorists find themselves circling in a quest for a parking space.
On the weekends, Jerome becomes a bustling place of motorcyclists and tourists, with the parking pattern of minivan, motorcycle, minivan, motorcycle trolling up the side of the mile-high town.
For more information, visit www.azjerome.com.