We’ve spent the last several days exploring Bisbee, AZ, one of the great centers of copper mining, and home to the Copper Queen mine. (Pictures to follow.) I must admit that I have always thought of strip mining as one of the iconic environmental evils: it destroys mountains, leaves new mountains of tailings, pollutes rivers and riparian communities, belches smelter smoke into the sky, and sometimes buries whole towns. I’m not sure my impression of mining has changed because of Bisbee, but my understanding of what happens to mining communities has changed. It’s been decades since the smelters ran around here, though the tailings may soon be reprocessed to extract every bit of metal from the soil. In the meantime, Bisbee has changed from mining town to hippie kingdom to tourist destination. I find it surreal to witness boutiques and antique shops only miles away from a baseball field where, not a hundred years ago, striking miners were deported at gunpoint in cattle cars. It’s even more interesting to see the museums, bookstores, and businesses incorporate that history into displays and merchandise. Bisbee’s proximity to Mexico, and its history as a working town that attracted immigrants from Europe and Asia, and investment from Wall Street, makes it a temple to labor with a big fat cosmopolitan streak.
Attention, New Yorkers: there are already New Yorkers here!