Tucked in a valley in Arizona’s majestic Mule Mountains, Bisbee was founded in the late 19th century after the discovery of enormous mineral resources in the area. Having little flat land to work with, the town grew up along the surrounding mountainsides — meaning that stairs were often more sensible thoroughfares than streets in this pre-automobile town.
Most of the staircases found in Bisbee today actually started as dirt paths traversed by mules to carry supplies to the houses perched on the dramatic inclines. Over time the hoof-worn paths were replaced with wooden stairs resembling ladders, which were in turn replaced with concrete stairs by the WPA in the depths of the Great Depression (in fact, the WPA stamp can still be seen today in various places on the stairs). There are many houses in Bisbee that are only accessible by stairs; for this reason, moving companies will often check the location before agreeing to deliver.
Each year Bisbee hosts a road race / stair climb called the Bisbee 1000, a 5K that includes a total of 1034 stairs spread over nine different staircases and a total overall elevation change of 1175 feet. An additional event has also been added called the Ice Man Competition, involving carrying a ten-pound block of ice up 155 steps with antique ice tongs in homage to the ice delivery men of yesteryear.
After mining operations stopped in 1975, Bisbee became a popular place for hippies and artists to resettle. Thus, if strolling and sightseeing are more your style, the stairs are a great way to see Bisbee’s own version of outsider art, with frequent street art (and stair art) installations. Every house along the path offers its own unique twist, incorporating found items into their gates, yards and homes.
With thousands of steps scattered through the town, Bisbee is a maze of staircases and desert mountain vistas. There is a wonderful book called “The Bisbee Stairs” by David Ryan which describes 82 stairways with an average of 78 steps each, although some reach over 100. Do note, however, that some stairways are in better shape than others, so step carefully.
Know Before You Go
The Bisbee Stairs are interwoven throughout Old Bisbee. 10 stairways are numbered for the Bisbee 1000, with the amount of steps indicated.