QUEEN FOR A DAY: Dug into the rugged Apache Leap foothills about 30 miles east of Mesa, Superior was originally named Queen upon its founding in 1880, in homage to the profitable but short-lived Silver Queen mine in the nearby hills. COPPER MESSIAH: Renamed Superior, the struggling township was handed a lifeline by industrialist William Boyce Thompson, who purchased the mine in 1910, correctly predicting its potential in copper ore. EMBRYONIC ART COLONY: Though copper exploration continues in the surrounding mountains, Superior is slowly converting to a leisure economy, with that distinctly funky mixture of disuse and craftsman brio that we Arizonans love in our rehabilitated mining towns.
Photos by Craig Outhier
3 Places To Eat
A Casa Doña Lola
Located off the main highway, this unprepossessing mom-and-pop shop is a great place to refuel with Sonoran fare after a morning hoofing it at the arboretum (see Things to Do). The salsa is house-made and the chilaquiles sport some of the tastiest chips and richest refried beans in Arizona.
649 Hwy. 60, 520-689-0179
B Porter’s Saloon & Grill
A longtime Superior favorite, Porter’s recently moved into sleek new digs down the street, with a cast-concrete bar and expansive patio overlooking the highway and river valley below. Pleasant views, scrumptious honey-hot chicken wings and the most complete tap list in town.
695 Main St., 520-689-5003
C Superior Barmacy
The brainchild of Scottsdale horse breeder Miguel Sfeir, this converted 1913 drugstore in Superior’s resurgent downtown area is manna for hipsters. Lap up craft cocktails and small-plate snacks where miners used to get their strychnine prescriptions filled, and enjoy the café-light-strung patio.
101 Main St., 480-636-6965
3 Things To Do
D Boyce Thompson Arboretum
Thompson did more than make a mountain of money in Superior – he also endowed the town with its main tourism draw, and one of Arizona’s most beloved state parks. Boasting more than 12,000 species of desert plants, this 392-acre oasis is the largest public garden in Arizona and a bonanza for photographers and nature walkers.
37615 E. Arboretum Way
E Ruin Tour
Such Hollywood films as U Turn, How the West Was Won, Blind Justice and The Gauntlet were filmed in Superior, with filmmakers drawn by its close proximity to Phoenix and singular air of ghost-town desolation. Despite the recent surge in improvements, you can still breathe it in while driving or strolling around the hillside neighborhoods. Consult the city website for a list.
F Rolling Rock Gallery
Main Street is home to around a half dozen antiques stores and art boutiques, but the one that feels most like a microcosm of Superior itself is this all-in-one storefront, which trades not only in local art, games and gifts, but mining supplies for nearby Resolution Copper and other ore-seeking outfits. It’s Superior’s past and future rolled into one.
160 Main St., 520-689-2425
Mystery swirls around this house of worship – also colloquially known as the Great Pyramid – and its peculiar architecture. Are the Masons involved? UFOs? What about the eccentric televangelist who preached from its pulpit in the 1980s? Google it and go down the wacky rabbit hole. 4633 E. Shea Blvd., Phoenix
The other half of Barmacy owner Sfeir’s hospitality empire, this 21-room historical hotel underwent a remodel in 2018. With a grand staircase, tearoom and other period flourishes, it’s a time machine and a tasteful boutique overnighter.
100 Main St., 520-689-2300, hotelmagmasuperior.com