The caravan of tourist driven rental vehicles snaked slowly up the mountainside toward what was once known as the “Wickedest town in the west”. In the distance, rocks formed a large snow-white letter J which contrasted with the foliage and red rock of the Cleopatra hillside as it overlooked the tiny ghost town. I ran my sandpaper tongue over my dry, cracked lips as we passed an old sign that read, “Welcome to Jerome, Arizona”. The anticipation of fulfilling another bucket list item grew stronger with every passing mile. The intense heat of the Arizona desert only served to increase my anxiety. Our twelve-passenger van proved almost too large for the narrow, winding streets of this abandoned copper mining town. As I laid my eyes on my true destination, a pinch on my arm was necessary to confirm my being conscious.
I hopped down from the oversized vehicle, like a child on his first field trip, full of excitement and anticipation. Four of my five senses were abandoned leaving me to survive solely on tunnel vision. I crossed the single lane meant for two-way traffic in a zombie like state. The cavalcade of tourists and local hippies roaming aimlessly throughout the art shops and the spillover of bikers from the neighbouring town of Cottonwood were merely a blur. Being drawn in closer as if caught in a tractor beam, an invisible wall slammed me to a stop but a few feet from the door.
Breathing deeply, I inched forward, for there was no turning back. I had finally arrived at Caduceus Cellars, an intimate wine tasting room owned and operated by a lifelong idol, Maynard James Keenan. Having been a fan of his bands, art, and philosophies on life, I felt a tangible connection to him and his work.
Floating through the winery, my senses were restored allowing the scent of wine and weathered oak barrels, along with the familiar sound of Maynard’s music to comfort me in this surreal experience. Awaiting the arrival of my group, I squeezed past the other patrons, scanning the inventory of wine, clothing and other memorabilia, which lined walls and covered tabletops.
Trickling through the door one by one, our group was boisterously greeted by an unrefined yet welcoming tattooed woman. She stood no higher than five feet with a larger-than-life personality. She promptly took our order returning only moments later with glasses and our first tastings.
I closed my eyes as I sipped away, allowing the fruit and tannins to fill my mouth and nostrils. For the first time I understood the effort involved in the arduous process of working the land, as well as the years of back breaking labour and mental exhaustion before a single harvest was made possible. Most overwhelmingly I heard the Arizona desert call out in approval of my presence.
Jerome, Arizona holds a permanent reservation in my heart and mind, however any visitor will feel an undeniable spiritual connection to this hidden gem.