Final days in the Sonoran Desert- AZ

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Our winter stay in the Sonoran Desert this year began in January and seemed to just fly by. After my birding excursions at Patagonia, we returned to Tucson recently to wrap up a few appointments, hike with friends and socialize before beginning our slow migration north.

Mount Lemmon was dusted with snow when we returned to Tucson at the beginning of March

While setting up camp we heard the military ‘birds” overhead, giving us a free air show that went on for the entire weekend.  I attempted to get good photos of them flying in formation as they flew right over the highly-populated city.  We learned that nearby Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and the Arizona Air National Guard were practicing maneuvers, and it looked to us like they were doing a great job!  It was fun to watch, but the noise did get a bit old after a while.

I wouldn’t want to be the enemy and see this coming at me!

They even practiced some large explosions on the ground

We got a show of our own, as Betsy received her annual professional wash and power wax:

This team seems to have a lot of supervisors

Something we like to do when friends visit us here is show off our favorite cactus, the awesome saguaro.  When Mike and Jeanie came to town we drove over Gates Pass and into Saguaro National Park (west).

At Gates Pass overlooking Saguaro National Park

Jeanie and I tested our new “Peak Finder” app by pointing our iPhones at the mountain peaks.  It identified them just like the plaque in front of us!

We made a stop at Old Tucson Studios, which remains an active filming location for Western-themed movies, television, cable shows and commercials – also dubbed “Hollywood in the Desert.”  Here is my post about our first visit in 2016.

Old Tucson Studios

Gunfight on the street

This is a fun stop if you’re into old Westerns (Steve is a big Gunsmoke fan)

On another day when Steve was getting some work done on the car I joined John and Pam on their last hike at Tucson Mountain Park.  A nice thing that happened on this particular hike was that they named a crested saguaro after me! (little pleasures 🙂  Are they the coolest or what?

John urged us up to a nice spot for a lunch break

The Mona Liza Crested Saguaro!

Knowing we won’t be here again for a couple of years, we tucked in two more hikes – one on Star Pass Trail and the other on Ventana Canyon Trail.  Following recent rains, the desert had awakened.  The saguaros were plump, the ocotillos were budding and the rest of the desert plants perked up ready for spring.  Happily, we had the trails mostly to ourselves as we enjoyed the quiet scenery and said goodbye to our thorny friends.

And he says I’m a ham!

A saguaro forest basking in the morning sunshine

View of Tucson from the top of the ridge along Ventana Canyon Trail

We spent our last evening in Tucson with Gay and Joe of good-times rollin.  They prepared delicious beef fajitas, which Joe and Steve cooked while exchanging notes about their cancer journeys.  We were so happy to hear that Joe is now cancer free!

Beef fajitas – yum!

About 164 miles north of Tucson is the small town of Black Canyon City, our last stop before exiting the Sonoran Desert.  It’s where the Sonoran Desert transitions to the coniferous Arizona mountain forests at higher elevations.  This was a revisit for us, as we had discovered a couple of nice hikes here a couple of years ago.

We were excited to meet up with the Wandering Camels once again for a fun hike.  Dave and Faye joined us for our swan song hike in the Sonoran Desert.  It’s always a hoot hiking with this great couple whom we have trekked with in southern Utah and Banff National Park.

A hike with Dave and Faye is always fun!

New River

Dave caught us bidding goodbye to the saguaros

But we were itching to move on, even if it meant missing the desert in bloom and the flowering saguaros.  We experienced it last year, enjoying a whole different desert during the spring and summer months.

Just for smiles 🙂

We spent so much time hanging around the saguaros that I imagined personalities for some of them.  What do you think?

Dave and I created a “human” saguaro



Next up:  So much to do around Cottonwood!


Hollywood in the desert – Tucson, AZ

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Chinese Alley, Old Tucson Studios

Old Tucson Studios

Another attraction we checked out while hanging in the Tucson area was the Old Tucson Studios, a movie studio / theme park.  The complete western town spread out over 300 acres in the beautiful Tucson Mountain Park and the incomparable Saguaro National Park. It was built by Columbia Pictures in 1939 on a Pima County-owned site as a replica of 1860’s Tucson.  It was originally configured for the movie Arizona starring William Holden and Jean Arthur, and since then it’s been the backdrop in hundreds of western movies, TV shows and commercials.

Chinese Alley, Old Tucson

The Chinese Laundry and Hop Sing’s Restaurant in Chinese Alley have appeared in several western movies and television shows, including Bonanza

As usual, we joined a guided historic tour and were shown several buildings and other locations where movies featured the likes of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.  This tour is interesting for folks who like westerns, and the town consists of several streets with old west buildings including a spanish mission, courthouse, old Indian village, schoolhouse, blacksmith shop and railroad depot.

Steve couldn’t wait to ask the guide which areas had been featured in his favorite series, Gunsmoke.  Unfortunately, the only structures used in that series were destroyed in the studio’s major fire of 1995.

Old Tucson Studios

Main Street

More than 300 films and TV productions have been filmed here, but it was hard for me to imagine casts and crews making well-known scenes amongst these western facades, as I was not into westerns in the past.  However, I did recognize a few buildings, such as the chapel seen on Little House on the Prairie (yes I did watch that one).

Old Tucson Studio

The little chapel used for Little House on the Prairie

The mock-up mission church facade built for Arizona was also used for the introductory wedding sequence of the 1993 film Tombstone, and was featured in the movie Three Amigos.  It was the stage for a stunt show involving several young cowboys that we watched during our visit.

Mission Church at Old Tucson Studios

A lady in red wants to be in a western gunfight!

 “The Quick and the Dead”

The mountain overlooking Old Tucson Studios is Golden Gate Peak, an often-filmed background in many western movies.


Set from the TV series “High Chaparral”, with Golden Gate Peak in the background

Old Tucson Studios

Cowboys planning their next shootout

Saloon entertainment

The ladies in the saloon show were quite entertaining

While still considered a functioning studio, Old Tucson doesn’t draw big Hollywood productions as it did in its heyday.  And if you are not a western movie buff this may not be the place for you.  However, the shows (indoor and outdoor), rides (stagecoach and train), and games could keep a family occupied for most of a day.

Old Tucson Studios

For a list of movies filmed at this studio, click here.


Next up:  Hiking around the mountains of Tucson