By Marilyn Noble
When I was growing up in Bisbee, 4th of July was my favorite holiday, coming as it did between my mom’s birthday and mine. It meant a whole week of celebrations, but the 4th was special. We started early in the morning with the coaster race down Tombstone Canyon, then we would move to my aunt’s house in Warren for the parade, go back uptown (sometimes — many years we needed naps) for the hard rock drilling and mucking contests, and then head back to Warren for the variety show and fireworks. This was pretty much the routine from the time I was born all the way through my college years and until I moved to Colorado in my 20s. I was bitterly disappointed to find out other places don’t make nearly the big deal out of the 4th that Bisbee does.
The celebration has calmed down a bit since the rowdy mining camp days, but Bisbee on the 4th is still a magical place where people celebrate the heritage of the old mining town. The day starts with the coaster race, a Bisbee tradition since 1914. Kids build Soap Box Derby-type cars powered by nothing but gravity and then ride them one at a time down the Canyon. In the old days, adults in two man teams riding coasters built of bicycle tires and scrap wood careened through the streets, but after a series of tragic accidents, the race has evolved into its current tamer version. Castle Rock is the most popular place to watch because of its thrilling S-curve.
After the coaster race, move down to the Warren District for the parade at 11. When I was young, I was fascinated by the enormous dump trucks and other mine equipment that lumbered by, but since there’s no more mining, you’ll have to manage with floats, bands, horses, and Shriners in their funny cars. Spend the afternoon up the Gulch (Brewery Gulch) where modern-day strong men try to emulate their hardrock mining forebears with the drilling and mucking contests. While you’re there, visit historic St. Elmo, the oldest continually open bar in Arizona, where miners have been whetting their whistles since 1902. You’ll also find plenty of places in the historic district for lunch or dinner, but be sure to check their schedules to make sure they’re open on the holiday.
Finish the day back in Warren at the Vista Park next to the Warren Ballpark, the oldest professional baseball stadium in the country. This year there will be entertainment in the park beginning at 5:00, and the day will end with fireworks at dusk.
Bisbee is located about 90 minutes southeast of Tucson, and at a mile high, it’s a nice respite from the desert heat. Learn more about accommodations, shopping, dining, and more at the Bisbee Visitor Center.