Nearby town of Chloride gives a glance back in time

It is hard to wrap your head around Chloride. The last echo of a mining boom died long ago in this old village in Northern Arizona, yet it’s no ghost town, still boasting roughly 250 residents. But it’s not your stereotypical small town, either, for individualism runs rampant, and there’s even some important public art here. It defies definition, and that’s all the more reason to spend a few hours experiencing it.

Chloride is best known for its complex of murals, located in a quiet canyon in the foothills of the Cerbat Mountains east of town. With a high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicle, you can drive almost up to them, but it’s really more enjoyable just to drive to the point where the road becomes too challenging for an ordinary car and walk the rest of the way.

You won’t see the murals until you are upon them, as they lie around a bend in the canyon. The artwork covers about 2,000 square feet of granite boulders and cliff faces. The artist, Roy Purcell, labeled these murals, “The Journey: Images From an Inward Search for Self.” To understand the murals, Purcell told me you need to read them right to left. They are richly colored and full of recognizable objects but portrayed in contexts not easily understood unless you were able to go back some 40 years ago into Purcell’s mind at the time. The first mural depicts the Tennessee Mine and is enjoyable, yet the one immediately to the left depicts a large claw that seems to be destroying the mine.

The Tennessee Mine was the largest in the area and produced $7.5 million in gold, lead and zinc before it closed in 1947. Purcell painted the murals depicting it in 1966, retouched the color of the murals in 1975 and then vibrantly repainted them again in 2006, in honor of his 70th birthday.

There is plenty of other art in town, albeit some of it quite funky. The best way to see Chloride is to park your vehicle and set out on foot. Look closely at many of the private residences, and you’ll see homemade yard art. Some front yards showcase collections of bottles, cowboy boots or license plates, while others are full of old farm and mine machinery.

Because times got slow in Chloride, there wasn’t much reason to tear down older buildings to make way for new ones, so a high percentage of those still standing are historic in some way or another, and nearly all bear the aura and charm of earlier times.

So you don’t miss any of the historic buildings, be sure to pick up a free map at the Mineshaft Market on the main drag of town at 4940 Tennessee Ave., which serves as the town’s visitor center.

You’ll want to see the abandoned two-room jail, built in the 1890s, and the train depot, which served the spur line of the Santa Fe Railroad from Kingman and was used from 1898 to 1935. The famous Butterfield Stage came through here as well and ran from 1868 through 1919, stopping at what is now Yesterday’s Restaurant. The old bank building is also worth seeing, as is the vintage gas station.

There are a few great antique and gift shops in town as well as a silversmith, and Yesterday’s Restaurant is an excellent place to eat. It serves good home cooking, with a wide variety of food choices that appeal to all ages, including children.

Deborah Wall is the author of “Great Hikes, A Cerca Country Guide” and “Base Camp Las Vegas: Hiking the Southwestern States,” published by Stephens Press. She can be reached at deborabus@aol.com.

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