Rock Jail

The rock jail, built right into a mountain, was used from 1881-1906.


The town of Clifton is about two and a half hours northeast of Tucson. It sits along the San Francisco River, surrounded by huge cliff walls. Clifton is one of the oldest towns in Arizona, and by looking at its main drag one can see that it’s also one of the most well-preserved. 

It all started in the 1880s when prospectors were lured to this now-sleepy town with the promise of gold and striking it rich. People from all over the country spent hours, days, weeks, and months panning for gold. Yet instead of that precious metal, they discovered copper veins, and that’s when the mining in the area exploded. Clifton and the neighboring town of Morenci were booming. At that time, there were more people in Morenci, Clifton and Metcalf than in Phoenix.

The area was so large they even proposed it become the state capitol. Of course, like many mining towns, there were tremendous ups and downs. The town almost went bust but somehow survived the copper strike and a devastating flood in 1983. 

Today, when visitors walk down Chase Creek Street, it’s like a time capsule of the 1900s – especially when walking inside Ray West’s Vintage Market. When Ray retired from the heating and cooling business, he and his wife searched for a small town, and they never found anything they loved until they came to Clifton. 

The couple saw a gorgeous town with great weather and friendly people. So Ray bought a couple of buildings, one for his shop and one for his wife’s business, and he came out of retirement.

The vintage market is full of unique items with a rich history. For instance, Ray loves typewriters because of their historical significance. One of his all-time favorite pieces is a Remington (yes, the gun manufacturer) typewriter from 1910. His primary focus, however, is furniture – specifically oak pieces from the turn of the century to 1920-1925. He calls them solid and sturdy pieces that have stood the test of time. 

Ray calls his pieces special rather than rare, even though shoppers can find very few items like his anywhere else. For Ray, it’s a life-long passion. He’s been tinkering with antiques since he was a teenager. He spends all his time at yard and estate sales and antique shops. 

Ray buys everything, even if it needs some work, because he claims, “I can fix anything.” He refers to himself as a hoarder. He said the only difference is he likes to spread all his favorite finds out in one big shop and put price tags on them.  

The town of Clifton has proven it has that Old West grit. Guests looking for a bit of history, beautiful scenery, and architecture can check out this unique Arizona town. 

Visitors can get a selfie in front of the original “Devil’s Highway” or the rock jail, which was literally dug out of the mountain. It had just two rooms so criminals could be shackled to the ground. The Clifton Cliff jail is open for tours and is part of the National Historic Register. Don’t forget to drop in at Ray’s Vintage Market, where he’s happy to share his knowledge. More than likely, you’ll go home with an Arizona treasure!

— Robin is the host and executive producer of the Arizona HighwaysTelevision, Saturdays and Sundays on CBS.