Sedona is famously beautiful, with red cliffs and vistas that can seem otherworldly. An outdoorsy Sedona vacation is easily had, but the last time I traveled to this part of Arizona, I took a short detour west to Jerome, Arizona. For its art and historic significance alone, Jerome is absolutely worth a day trip from Sedona.
Jerome is a fun little town with an interesting history. Originally settled as a mining area in 1883, it saw many of the archetypes of the Wild West: Rough cowboys, hardworking miners, gamblers, armed robbers, and a succession of sheriffs holding down the fort. The most successful (financially, anyway) were the town prostitutes – it was a hard place for a lady to make money legally back then, after all. Many of the century-old buildings sport the long second-floor porches from which these women would, let’s say, advertise their wares to passers-by.
When the copper and silver mines dried up, so did the money. It’s a common theme of Western America’s history; people moved away, and Jerome came very close to becoming a ghost town. Instead, something happened that not only saved Jerome, but gave it a unique feeling among old towns that survived the 1800′s Wild West. As the townsfolk like to say, “the hippies moved in.” Artists, poets, and other free-thinking types discovered Jerome – this was in the late 1960′s, when it was designated a Historic District – and set up studios and stores. Today, Jerome is quietly thriving: It has a terrific balance of old Western America architecture, and funky, absolutely unique artist galleries.
The mellow culture in Jerome is especially striking. There is no sense of close-mindedness at all. Instead, it’s not uncommon to wander in to a gallery, coffee shop or store, and find that the owner has left for a while to visit a neighbor. In fact, we left five dollars on the counter at the tiny Jerome Chamber of Commerce, after picking up a couple of maps – and never saw a soul there. I guess that’s what the old-timers mean by “hippies;” a sense of relaxed trust in neighbors and visitors that I can’t say I’ve seen anywhere else in our country.
We didn’t stay in Jerome overnight, but we saw two hotels there. The Jerome Grand Hotel looked authentic to the history of Jerome, and the Connor Hotel (circa 1898!) had several couples hanging out happily on its front steps. There are also a handful of B&Bs. The next time I take a vacation in Sedona, Arizona, I’m definitely going to take a day to re-experience Jerome. The blend of preserved American history and the generous, warm nature of its creative community, make it worth the trip.