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Castle Dome Mines Museum - photo courtesy of Yuma Visitors Bureau

Arizona’s Hidden History

By: Suzanne Wright

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August 3, 2016

Visit some of the state’s lesser-known unique attractions.

About the author

Suzanne Wright

Suzanne Wright

Suzanne Wright has written for National Geographic Traveler, Arizona Highways, American Way, Arizona Republic, Elite Traveler, Golf for Women, Men's Journal, The Tennessean, USA Today and Wine & Spirits. A former Navy brat, her suitcase is always packed and her passport up-to-date. She has visited all 50 states and more than 50 countries on five continents. Her home base is in the beautiful Sonoran Desert foothills of Cave Creek, Arizona. Her website is

Arizona has many famous points of interest, but its secret spots are just as fascinating once you find them. Here are a few favorite off-the-beaten path places.

The History and Mystery Rooms at the Arizona Biltmore Resort, Phoenix

The Biltmore’s history stretches back to 1929. The History Room, located on the third floor, was originally a library for the resort’s guests. The only room on the property with two stories, today it features a concrete staircase that leads up to a balcony with historic photos and artifacts.

The Mystery Room was once a Prohibition-era speakeasy that served hotel guests. Today, it’s a Sunday night pop-up bar serving cocktails of the 1920s; you just need the “whisper word” to gain entrance. (Hint: Check Twitter.)

Rusty Spur Saloon, Scottsdale

Slick as Old Town Scottsdale is these days, the area was once a rollicking Western town. The Rusty Spur Saloon’s building dates back to 1921, when it housed the Farmer’s State Bank of Scottsdale. The all-important bank vault remains in use today – as a refrigeration unit for adult beverages.

Sidewalk Prisms, Flagstaff

In the late 19th century, well before electricity was commonplace, some cities installed “sidewalk prisms” embedded in the sidewalks. During the daylight hours, these glass insets turned purple when exposed to the sun and let a surprising amount of diffused light into vaults and basements below. Their use declined as electricity became cheaper; now they are curious relics of a bygone-era.

When you are in downtown Flagstaff, look down – those purple glass shards (installed in 1992) are historically accurate replicas of prisms that were in place when the sidewalks were first built.

Castle Dome Mines Museum, Yuma

The big silver strike in Yuma began in 1864 and continued through 1979. At the nearby restored ghost town of Castle Dome, on a windswept patch of colorful desert in the middle of the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge, you can relive the Old West way of life as you wander through more than 60 preserved buildings, including a blacksmith, a church, a doctor’s office, saloons, a mercantile and a post office. Artifacts include a stamp mill, an antique wagon (one of the largest ever built, in order to haul ore across the craggy land) and the oldest pair of Levis in the world.

UA Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab, Tucson

Beneath the University of Arizona football stadium’s student section lies the UA Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab. Here, a team of scientists and engineers are building some of the world’s largest, most powerful mirrors for a new generation of optical telescopes. Learn why the UA College of Science is ranked number one among observational, theoretical and space astronomy programs in the U.S. during a 90-minute tour.

Elvis Memorial Chapel, Apache Junction

The King lives on…at least in the rugged Superstition Mountains east of Phoenix. The Elvis Memorial Chapel still shows movies that were filmed here over a 45-year period at the on-site Apacheland Movie Ranch, including the movie Charro, starring Elvis Presley. For more history of the area, check out the adjacent Superstition Mountain Museum and its exhibit on the Lost Dutchman Mine in the Superstition Mountains.

Gammons Gulch, Benson

In the high desert of Cochise County in Southern Arizona, there’s a recreated mining town and camp that depicts life from the 1880s through the 1930s. Visitors can travel down memory lane and admire a collection of Western antiques, film memorabilia and old cars at Gammons Gulch. It is also a real-life movie set, so be sure to call ahead for tour reservations.

Casa Malpais Archaeological Park, Springerville

The Spanish term malpais is used in the Southwest to refer to a blackened, rough and barren landscape – literally, badlands – formed from volcanic activity. Casa Malpais Archaeological Park, so named for this basalt rock, is tucked away in the White Mountains of Arizona near Springerville. This unique archeological site and museum, which was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1964, features an astronomical calendar, a great kiva, ancient stairways and rock art from the Mogollon culture.


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