Jonquil Motel

By Roger Naylor | Photo by Paul Markow

Ever notice when someone gives you directions that include the phrase "you can't miss it," that's usually what happens? That won't happen when you're looking for the Jonquil Motel in Bisbee.

It's the mural that grabs you. The mural mesmerizes. It pulls your car to the curb with its gaudy colors and it slaps you across the eyes with images of mermaids, ships at sea, the gypsy girl on her balcony and the lover who floats toward her across star-laden skies. The dramatic artscape is 60 feet wide by 15 feet tall and blankets an entire wall of the Jonquil at the edge of a narrow street. So, no, you won't miss it.

Painted by Rose Johnson in 2004, the mural is called Sleepwalking, and it's based on the 1928 poem Romance Sonámbulo by Federico García Lorca. The poem is a vivid, compelling story of a doomed love affair — sort of a Romeo and Juliet set in pre-Civil War Spain. Lorca's haunting surrealistic images spill effortlessly from Johnson's brush.

The poem has no connection to Bisbee. It's simply art for the sake of art. So in that way, it has everything to do with Bisbee, a former mining town that reinvented itself as a hamlet for artists and free spirits.

Tucked into crevasses of the Mule Mountains, Bisbee zigzags up cliff faces and spills in and out of gulches to create an unforgettable backdrop. Art galleries and shops fill the downtown. Homes have been refurbished, often set ablaze with color. Sculptures, murals and other art pieces have sprouted throughout the hilly burg.

The Jonquil Motel was built in the 1930s. Although the jonquil is a lovely flower, a member of the daffodil family, the little motor court actually takes its name from the original owner, John Quill. Like many businesses in Bisbee, the Jonquil closed in the mid-'70s, when the copper mines were shut down. But it reopened a few years later. Steve and Marijane Relth purchased the property and undertook major upgrades beginning in 2005.

Today, the Jonquil offers seven rooms in a picturesque setting. The motel cradles a lush little courtyard, and a private backyard nestles against the rising hillside. Rooms are cozy, painted in soft, earthy tones. While maintaining a definite vintage charm, each room features plush pillow-top mattresses, flat-screen televisions and eclectic décor, like Old-World furnishings and local art adorning the walls. Staying at the Jonquil feels like you're bunking in the guestroom of a friend's house.

Despite the comfortable accommodations, you might find yourself drawn outside. Stand in front of the mural in the soft blush of twilight as the colors grow even richer and the images leap off the wall. It holds you. It seduces you. It squeezes your heart.

Driving through Bisbee, you can't miss the Jonquil Motel. More importantly, you shouldn't miss it.

The Jonquil Motel is located at 317 Tombstone Canyon Road in Bisbee. For more information, call 520-432-7371 or visit