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


Tombstone, AZ – It’s pretty darn cold here!

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Prickly Pear

Tombstone blanketed in snow

Winter blues in Arizona – it was brrrrrr, wet and windy when we arrived at Huachuca City just west of Tombstone.  Somehow we forgot it’s winter and being in Arizona doesn’t necessarily mean it can’t get cold – especially at higher elevations.  Tombstone Territories RV Resort, where we stayed, is situated in the vast San Pedro Valley at 4000′ elevation surrounded by mountains.  Many peaks in this area top out above 7,000′.  Mountain ranges include the Dragoons between Benson and Willcox, Mules where Bisbee sits, Whetstone where Kartchner Caverns is located, Chiricahuas toward Douglas, and the Huachucas in Sierra Vista.  Add rain and wind to the cold and it became  a perfect recipe for staying RV-bound.Kartchner Caverns

So what and where  is a good place to be away from the wind, rain, cold and better still, warmer?   To the cave we go, Batman!   Kartchner Caverns, that is.  Initially we were hesitant to go as this would be our fourth caving experience, but this cave was highly recommended.  It was discovered by two college students in 1974, and they kept it a secret from the Kartchner’s, who owned the property, for 4 years.  Not knowing how best to preserve the cave’s extraordinary variety of colors and formations, the secret continued for another 10 years.  It finally became public knowledge in 1988 and opened to the public in 1999.  For  more stories about efforts to keep the caverns secret until they were protected and how it became a State Park, click here.

A view of the Big Room in Kartchner Caverns

A view of the Big Room in Kartchner Caverns (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Unlike other caves we have visited, getting into this cavern is quite strict.  No items (cameras, backpacks, purses, food or water) are  allowed.  Going into the cave, we passed through 6 airlock doors that keep the cave a constant 72° Fahrenheit (22° Celsius), and 99% humidity.  Lights are kept at a minimum and you are not allowed to touch anything except the handrails.  We took the Big Room tour and with the very knowledgeable guide we were introduced to the many delicate growing stone “soda straws”, “draperies” and “bacon”, which  are spectacular.  The cavern is closed from April to October  each year because it is a nursery roost for over 1,000 female cave bats.  If you are in the area, check out this cavern!  It is definitely unique from the ones we have visited before.

On our second morning here, we woke up with all the surrounding mountains blanketed in snow and very cold.  But no snow could stop us from going to the  most notorious mining town in the west, known as Tombstone.  First stop was the Boothill Graveyard, where outlaws and their victims were buried.  Also, suicides, hangings, (legal and otherwise), and other hardy citizens from Tombstone’s first days.  It was closed when we stopped by so I was only able to capture one picture from outside.

Boothill Graveyard

Our next stop was the  1882 Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Park, where we viewed exhibits recalling the silver rush era, the great fire and illustrations of what really happened at the OK Corral gunfight in 1881.  The next scheduled reenactment of the famous gunfight was not until 2pm, and we chose to skip it.  We will just have to watch the movies Tombstone and Wyatt Earp to relive this history.  Tombstone is a National Historic Site and is known as the  “Town Too Tough to Die”.

After walking down the historic downtown of Tombstone we headed south to Bisbee.  This town is nestled in the mile-high Mule Mountains of southern Arizona, 90 miles from Tucson and 20 miles from Tombstone.  It was once a booming mining community, with copper as the main mineral mined here. The city still reflects old world charm as well as good times from that bygone era.  Many of the Victorian buildings now house antique stores, art galleries, fine cafe’s and great restaurants such as Santiago’s – where we had a delicious dish called “Molcajete.”

Broken windowWe had a little excitement during our trip to Bisbee.  We were driving along – big, dumb and happy – when our left rear window blew out!  At first we thought it was a stone hurled at us or worse.  We couldn’t figure out what caused it, so we just continued to drive on.

Arriving at Bisbee, we discreetly parked away from prying eyes while we did our touristy things.  We boarded the Queen Mine Tour, which took us 1500′ into the copper mine as we donned mining lanterns, hats and slickers. Our guide Pete was a retired miner who has worked in the mine for 30+ years and had amazing insights and first-hand experiences that he shared with us.  It is amazing how much effort goes into extracting copper from the ore!

Our last sight seeing stop at Bisbee was the Lavender Open Pit Mine.  It’s an enormous open pit copper mine which is 1.5 miles long, about 1/4 mile wide and 950 feet deep.  The Lavender pit is not named for the color but rather after Harrison Lavender, who conceived and carried out the plan for making the unprofitable low grade copper into productive ore.  We spotted many colors around the pit – red sulfide minerals, and yellow and lavender stone which is a limestone conglomerate containing no copper and considered “waste rock.”

After an all-day tour checking out the wild wild west, we headed for home.  Just as we turned at the junction for Tombstone, we were pulled over by a state trooper who had noticed our broken window and thought we may have stolen the car.  Isn’t it funny – we hadn’t seen a police car for days, but when our window breaks we are pulled over within a couple of hours!  We had to hold our hands up, then prove conclusively that we own the car.  We were in an area very close to Mexico and the border patrol were making their presence known.  To make a long story short, he made a note of our license plate for the record and let us go.  Wow, we got a taste of what it might be like to be outlaws ourselves!

As we were nearing home, we noticed that most of the snow had already melted, yet it was still very cold out.  Luckily, we were able to make an appointment to have the window replaced the next morning, and in less than 24 hours our Honda looked good as new.

Whew, this post is rather long but we did a lot that one cold day .


Steve doesn’t even know there is a pot of gold out there.

Next up: Whitewater Draw