Stumbling Upon Jerome, Arizona

I’ll be honest: while I’m somewhat of a nerd for history, odd details, and general facts and trivia, I have scant details on the town of Jerome. If you want the basics, hit up The Google.

What Brooke and I did instead was visit Jerome purely on a whim, while autumn still had a tight grasp on Arizona. We experienced it with fresh, unassuming eyes, free of any preconceived notions typical of most excursions. We hadn’t even planned on coming to Jerome (not this day, at least), and didn’t even realize its proximity to Tuzigoot until the ranger mentioned it (OK, the road signs may have hinted, too).

We felt as if we stumbled upon some kind of hidden treasure.

From Tuzigoot to Jerome you must first drive through Clarkdale, a small town born of the mining industry- copper, hence the since-oxidized welcome sign- yet still hanging on to plenty of charm and vibrancy.

Vintage VW Airstream

Clarkdale is obviously much less active since its glory days, but based on our drive down the main drag, it’s worth a visit. The town’s central square, complete with gazebo, seems to be pulled right out of Gilmore Girls. Classic cars survive from past eras, adding genuine nostalgia to the aesthetic. Vintage steel decorated the roads of Clarkdale, with a noticeable prominence of budget adventure vehicles; Beetles, including that Baja variety you see peeking in above, as well as Volkswagen vans and old American pickups abound. The camper from decades past, a patina’d panel van, and even that nondescript old Saturn hint at an eclectic yet purposeful, if subtle, car culture.

The psuedo-fall weather- breezy, crisp, yet still in the 50s and 60s- made for quite a memorable jaunt through town. Clarkdale’s mountainside location completes the setting.

But Clarksdale ain’t no Jerome.

After leaving Clarksdale, the signs pointed us farther up the mountain. Warm fall colors dominate the hillsides, punctuated by humble homes perched on the edge of the incline. The weather, the elevations, and the general aesthetic reminded me of Seattle, though that’s not a comparison you’re likely to hear again. The surroundings seemed foreign, even if we were only a couple hours from home.

The speed limit dropped from 45 to 35 to 25 to 10mph as we rounded curve after curve, hairpin after hairpin, all on a steady incline towards Jerome. The entire town seems to be spread across the side of the mountain, and I’d love to know the elevation span of the whole settlement.

Prius Jerome Arizona

If you have a fun car, this is where to bring it. No, the speed limits don’t encourage spirited blasts (and neither do i; plenty of hidden driveways, blind curves, and a million ways to plummet to your death should be all the reason needed), but curve after curve complemented by panoramic (literally) views of the surrounding peaks and valleys and all that lies within them made me wish for our Miata over the Prius more than a few times. Don’t be afraid to pull over and get a few photos- in fact, I encourage you to do so, because there’s just too much to take in while piloting a vehicle.

The entire drive- Phoenix to essentially anywhere around Flagstaff and Sedona- is stunning, but Jerome takes the cake so far. Still, we were excited to ditch the whip and explore on foot what stands out to me as one of the most genuine tourist towns I’ve ever explored.

Yes, Jerome has plenty of art galleries, wine shops (and tastings), and a smattering of souvenir stores, but for the most part it seems to exist just as it did during the copper boom.

No, it’s not a reconstruction of the glory days, and there seem to be scant few structures preserved to museum quality (if any). That, however, is what made Jerome so perfect. Tucked upon the mountainside, Jerome flaunts its dilapidation, its descent from the Billion Dollar Copper Camp to the humble travel destination it is today. Most of the structures in and around town (the historic quarter we visited, at least) seem to be original or at least not stemming from any recent decade.

Successfully operating businesses sometimes neighbor only shells. Remnants of the past preserved passively. It’s a bit difficult to put into words, actually; it’s as if the town of Jerome simply understands and appreciates its history and its appeal, and simply lets those things speak for themselves without much help or hindrance. Often, boarded up or dilapidated former establishments neighbor thriving and modern shops, restaurants, hotels, and the like.

Autumn in Jerome, Arizona

Obviously, there are tours, museums, and the like, but a noticeable lack of the modern, tacky staples of most tourist destinations: fast food, gimmicky advertising, and tasteless promotions. It’s simply Jerome.

And Jerome’s sincerity, its innate humility, was evident in the few businesses we did explore. I wholeheartedly recommend you come to Jerome and allow yourself to wander and discover naturally.

We first ventured into the Spirit Room, a bar around the corner from the main gravel parking lot, seeking dining with a view (can you see why?). The bartender recommended the barbecue joint back down the street the way we came, whose patio had seemed empty and, frankly, without the views we were seeking. Still, we departed to give it a shot after Ms. Barkeep informed us that the other patio-donning restaurant, Grapes, served “mostly frozen food.” Ack.

For unknown reasons, the barbecue joint was closed for two weeks. Annoyed, and eager to find somewhere to calm or growling stomachs, I searched for the Jerome Brewery that we had heard passersby comment on. Unfortunately, the brewery has closed, but it seems the aforementioned Grapes moved into the space.

Grapes is where you must eat in Jerome. Multiple people recommended other restaurants, but I have no reservations in saying that Grapes will satisfy.

The space is cozy but well decorated, with a massive Old World-style bar anchoring the back wall and patio space for four tables adjacent to the dining room, which is where we dined. The server seated us in the only open patio table, which happened to be next to a large window looking directly onto a table inside. A bit awkward, but nothing that really detracts from the experience.

Jerome Arizona

Especially with that view. While not the widest range of sight is afforded, the colorful valleys and peaks spread out below and beyond the town to provide some of the most memorable vistas around. Those who visit in the fall and winter months are rewarded by the snow-capped San Francisco Peaks of Flagstaff peeking out over the horizon. Truly gorgeous.

So far, Grapes exceeded our expectations based on the not-much-of-a-recommendation given by the Spirit Room. I can say wholeheartedly: that bartender is a monumental fool for not recommending this place.

Order the Baked Goat Cheese and Jam for an appetizer. It strikes the perfect balance between sweet and savory, and even the bread served alongside it was phenomenally prepared: light and fluffy inside with a thin, crispy crust. Tomato Basil soup, a meatless Italian sandwich, and the restaurants famous Reuben followed our appetizer. While nothing that followed had the “wow” factor of that goat cheese and jam, it was undeniably delicious and easily the best meal we’ve had in the Phoenix area thus far. Grapes has an extensive wine list, too, and even number codes menu items to wines, allowing diners to accurately pair their entrees with the perfect varietal.

I’m still savoring that meal. Seriously, it was that good.

Now, after a lunch like that one craves coffee. Good coffee. But first, fudge.

Every tourist town worth its salt will have a fudge shop. This is just a fact. I have no idea how or why fudge became the go-to artisan dessert, but I’m glad it did. Jerome’s local fudge shop armed us with a hearty pound of the good stuff. It won’t disappoint, but after the pounds of fudge I’ve ingested in various locales, it doesn’t necessarily stand out. On to the coffee.

We were recommended to The Flatiron, a cafe in the crux of the wedge-shaped building that splits the main drag into two one-way streets. Inside, the cafe is essentially one room serving as dining space, coffee bar, prep area, and kitchen. Surprisingly, the whole operation ran smoothly and we hardly noticed we were in a space the size of some people’s bedrooms.

Flatiron’s espresso is wonderful. The cafe reminds me of the small neighborhood cafes of Chicago’s neighborhoods, with character and charm straight out of Friends’ “Central Perk.” Brooke’s capucino was a bit on the latte side, but my americano was spot-on and there’s no reason to complain. Another essential stop in Jerome.

My Queen and I savored our coffee and fudge upon a picnic table as we breathed in the fresh mountain air and let the peeking snowcaps and endless hills covered in autumn foliage emboss themselves forever in our memories.

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