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A Weekend in Jerome

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It's summertime, which means it's the perfect chance to make an exodus from the Valley, either by hitting the open road or jetting off to somewhere cool. Over the next few weeks, Jackalope Ranch will profile a few unique destinations around Arizona and the southwest that are perfect places for a daytrip or a weekend getaway.

Perched in the hills surrounding the picturesque Verde Valley, Jerome is a quaint and quirky destination around 100 miles north of Phoenix that offers plenty of personality and charm, not to mention more than its fair share of colorful characters (and maybe even some spirits) lurking about.

An old copper boomtown dating back to the 1880s, Jerome is a town with a notorious past, where ornery miners and wicked varmints walked its streets and stalked its alleyways in search of brothels, speakeasies, and other illicit thrills.

More than a century later, the town still bustles with life. It's become a vibrant and artsy landscape and a popular daytrip destination where visitors can explore historic structures, partake in funky art galleries and unique boutiques, and get an eyeful of panoramic views. A number of buildings are also supposedly haunted, so you might just spy a ghost or two.

Drive Time: Located 110 miles from Phoenix, a card ride to Jerome takes around two hours.

See and Do: Part of the fun of Jerome is wandering its streets and searching numerous nooks and crannies for interesting businesses, exotic-looking gardens in front yards, or other unseen surprises. (Heck, we found a verdant waterfall lurking alongside one of the many sets of concrete steps around town.) Bring a good pair of walking shoes, as you'll need 'em.

One such gem is the legendary Sliding Jail somewhere along Hull Avenue, which dates back to the 1920s. Constant explosions from mining caused Cleopatra Hill, on which Jerome is located, to shake and shimmy, which resulted in this box-like concrete structure slowly shifting downhill. Its been reinforced with steel barriers in the intervening years and is now serves as a curiosity for tourists.

The hundreds of historic buildings throughout the town are in much better condition, however, and have been restored via millions of dollars in painstaking renovations over the past few decades. The most prominent is the Douglas Mansion inside the Jerome State Historic Park (100 Douglas Road, 928-634-5381). Built in 1916 by mining magnate James "Rawhide Jimmy" Douglas, the ritzy Spanish-influenced adobe structure is a grand estate that now houses a museum devoted to the area's history.

For more modern-day portrayals of the town, stop by the Jerome Artists Cooperative Gallery (502 Main Street, 928-639-4276). The works of more than two dozen local creatives are on display daily and run the gamut from paintings and photography to sculptures and fabric art.

Another big draw for out-of-towners is the swank Caduceus Cellars and Merkin Vineyards Tasting Room (158 Main Street, 928-639-9463), which is owned and operated by renowned rocker Maynard James Keenan of Tool fame. As we reported in 2008, the musician is a noted oenophile who runs a nearby vineyard and offers visitors samples his vino. More than two dozen varietals are available for tasting or purchase inside the establishment, which is visited by Keenan several times a year.

Shop: There's no shortage of merchants hawking hokey souvenirs in Jerome. Instead of perusing kitschy postcards or scorpion paperweights, however, check out some of the cutesy curio parlors, funky junk shops, and antique stores dotting the streets.

For instance, one of the more colorful shops is Magdalena's Bazaar (154 Main Street, 928-634-2558), which is covered from floor to ceiling with Dia de Los Muertos-inspired works, Mexican folk art, breezy clothing, and locally made pieces ranging from decorated lamps to mixed-media collages.

Just up the hill is the Jerome Twin Star (412 North Clark Street, 928-634-5025), an old-timey general store located inside a former Mountain Bell office. Besides selling a variety wares - including organic foods and upscale alcoholic beverages -- its shelves contain a collection of retro toys, retro rotary dial telephones, and appliances ranging from 1950s Philco radios to old school Viewmasters.

Another shop embracing the past with gusto is House of Joy (416 Hull Avenue, 928-634-5339), a surreal-looking secondhand shop located in an old brothel in the heart of Jerome's onetime red-light district. Whimsically decorated with crimson-colored décor and littered with odd items, its focus is vintage apparel, old timey ephemera, and throwback knick-knacks ranging from pin-up posters, communist propaganda, and other burlesque delights.

Eat: Since you're going to be doing a lot of walking around, starting the day off with a hearty meal might be a good idea. The hippie-friendly folks at the enchanting Alice's Restaurant (403 Clark Street, 928-634-2069) offer a tasty take on the day's most important meal with such stick-to-you-ribs breakfast staples as pancakes or biscuits and gravy, as well as a number of made-from-scratch quiches.

Need some extra boost of energy to climb all those hills? Stop by the postage stamp-sized Mojo to Go (111 Main Street, 928-634-1290, www.mojo-togo.com) for an espresso, chai latte or a variety of other teas, and one of the best iced mochas you'll ever taste.

When lunchtime rolls around, head up to the Haunted Hamburger (410 Clark Street, 928-634-0554, www.thehauntedhamburger.com) where killer views of the Verde Valley and burgers towering with a toppings (such as bacon, green chilies, and avocado) are served. .

Speaking of gorgeous views, the scene inside the popular 15 Quince Grill & Cantina (363 Main Street, 928-634-7087) is quite arty and eclectic as the walls are covered with more than a dozen custom-painted cow skulls and Chicano works. The menu is just as lively and is filled with stylish and spicy New Mexican-inspired cuisine created by Bolivian-born chef Vlad Costa.

And if you're in need of a nightcap, stop by the raucous Spirit Room (166 Main Street, 928-634-8809) on the ground floor of the Connor Hotel, where bikers, rockers, and hipsters get loaded at the antique wood bar underneath a stunning mural and a ceiling lined with pressed copper tiles.

Sleep: The historic residences of Cleopatra Hill, where many a miner laid their heads, now house numerous bed and breakfasts. But if you'd prefer a more supernatural stayover, bunk with the ghosts of the Jerome Grand Hotel (200 Hill Street, 928-634-8200). Opened as a hospital and sanatorium in 1927, it was converted almost 60 years later into an inn filled with antique fixtures, retro furnishings, and -- if legends are to be believed -- phantoms. Room rates start at $120 for accommodations and go as high as $360 for the grand suite.

For something a bit less spooky, try the Connor Hotel (164 Main Street, 928-634-5006) where the vintage, turn-of-the-century décor is just as dapper and the rates are a wee cheaper than the Grand. Cozy standard rooms offer king-sized beds and are only $115 per night.

Go There: -- Because it's a relatively short jaunt from the Valley that's filled with surprises and hidden gems for those willing to do a little exploring.

-- Because Jerome offers a fun and unique vibe with striking scenery and loads of art.

-- Plus, It's also less pretentious than Sedona and closer than Bisbee.

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