US 80 in Arizona was once known as the Broadway of America. Built in 1926, the highway spanned the state going east from Yuma at the California border all the way to Lordsburgh, New Mexico. Because of the number of attractions, historic restaurants and iconic motels along the way, US 80 often draws comparisons to its slightly more famous neighbour to the north – Route 66. As a major transportation route, it connects a number of small towns and served the motor tourist trade. One of those small towns off US 80 is Bisbee, Arizona and there you will find The Jonquil Motel.
Bisbee was a mining town at the turn of the 20th century. But even as the mines have dried up, scratch the surface and see that the town still has a lot to offer. Founded in 1880 with a downtown designed for pedestrian traffic, the town features historic Victorian era homes with an elegant art deco county courthouse. Today Bisbee is known for its thriving arts and cultural scene. As filmmaker Sterling Noren put it “It’s like a cross between Norman Rockwell and David Lynch”.
If you don’t recognize Sterling Noren by name you may recognize his work. Sterling is the producer, director and award-winning filmmaker behind the famous Backcountry Discovery Route (BDR) series. Sterling, like most famous filmmakers, has an eye for finding the perfect setting. Which is why he settled in Bisbee with his partner Eva Rupert. Eva is the star of Sterling’s life and publicly known for her leading roles on the reality TV series Naked and Afraid XL. So, how does a motorcycling documentary filmmaker and a reality TV star come to meet, get together and end up in Bisbee? But at a film screening of course.
It was a week-long first date and we’ve been together ever sinceSterling Noren and Eva Rupert, owners of The Jonquil Motel
In April 2016, Sterling was screening the new BDR film at a theatre in Las Vegas. Cue Eva.
Eva enters the scene attending the event and once the two meet…well, you don’t have to be a director to know that there was way more than screen chemistry there. During that chance meeting they discovered they were both to be in Death Valley the following week for the annual BDR fundraiser. So, instead of just meeting there they just never separated. “It was a week-long first date and we’ve been together ever since”.
Now with Sterling hailing from Seattle and Eva from Flagstaff, the pair decided on Bisbee as the place to settle down. “We were actually looking at houses and, in the process, we found a motel for sale” said Sterling. Working with the seller it took over eight months to close the deal, but they were finally able to make it happen. He continues “Personally I’ve always dreamed of owning a campground or hostel in my retirement…I always thought it would be nice to contribute to others travels in the same way that others have contributed to my own”. The motel they bought was The Jonquil Motel in historic downtown Bisbee.
The Jonquil Motel was originally built in 1930 making it one of the earliest motels still in operation in the country. Each of the seven rooms are beautifully and uniquely decorated and serve as an oasis for travellers after a long ride. Motorcyclists are invited to park their bikes in the courtyard outside their room, so they are never over ten or fifteen feet away from their bike. If you are lucky enough to get room number 7, you can even get exclusive use of a private car port. And, within easy walking distance of The Jonquil are a number of restaurants and bars to relax and unwind after a long ride or touring the town.
As both Eva and Sterling are avid motorcyclists, they can recommend a number of incredible rides around Bisbee. Though because they are working at the motel, they may not be able to go with you. But don’t let that stop you from asking for a picture with them outside their famous mural!
Commissioned in 2004, the mural rests on the back wall of The Jonquil Motel. Entitled Sleepwalking, it measures 60 feet by 15 feet and is one of Bisbee’s most photographed attractions. The mural drew inspiration from a 1928 poem by Federico Garcia Lorca called Romance Sonámbulo. While the poem is a tragedy and tragedies have shaped many of the most famous theatrical productions, not all smash hits need be tragedies. Smash hits are love stories too. And this one between Sterling and Eva set at the The Jonquil Motel is one you can’t miss! Just take the Bisbee exit on US 80 and there you will find it – it’s just off the Broadway of America!
This piece was originally published in my bimonthly Motelorcyclist column in BMW Owners News Magazine. It first appeared in the May 2020 issue of the magazine.