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Wild, Western, Tucson

The Tucson Mountains lie just west of the Santa Cruz River on the western edge of Tucson, Arizona. The Santa Catalina Mountains hug Tucson from its north. The Sonoran Desert, with its stark but surprisingly flowered beauty, lies all around.

Though Tucson is the second-largest city in Arizona, its history and culture maintain a strong association with the Wild West. This aspect of Tucson is gunslingers, saloons, cantinas and rodeos. The Sonoran Desert, saguaro cacti and night skies so full of stars take your breath away. Tombstone is only 70 miles away. Mexico seems not much farther in this city with prominent Spanish and Mexican roots.

Groups seeking to satisfy a serious hankering for a Wild West experience can find it in and around Tucson. The city’s convention and visitors bureau offers several itineraries to fit whatever sort of cowboy and cowgirl experiences group members crave.

“We have quite a variety of Old West experiences open to groups,” said Brooke Hamlett, tourism sales manager for Visit Tucson.


Old Tucson

For Wild West experiences even closer to the city, Old Tucson has living-history presentations, history tours and special events. It’s located about a half-hour west of the center of the city in the Saguaro National Park, near the Arizona-Sonoma Desert Museum.

“Old Tucson was actually built as a movie ‘studio’ in 1939 for a movie called ‘Arizona,’” said Hamlett. “It re-created Tucson as it would have looked in the 1880s. They filmed many Westerns up through the decades. Today it is still a working studio used for everything from reality TV shows to music videos, as well as a theme park. It has attractions for kids, living-history characters, stunt shows. You can take a stagecoach ride, go horseback riding. It’s great for groups and has several dining options.”



More cowboy action is to be found about an hour southeast of Tucson in Tombstone. The notorious town is where the infamous Shootout at the O.K. Corral took place in 1881, pitting Wyatt Earp, his brothers and Doc Holliday against the McClanton-Laury gang. Re-enactments of the gunfight are staged every day. Three of the McClanton-Laury gang are buried in Tombstone’s Boothill Graveyard, a grim but gripping stop for Tombstone visitors.

“The Town Too Tough to Die,” as Tombstone tags itself, also offers 10 museums exhibiting everything from life-sized figures of the O.K. Corral gunslingers and Earp’s personal memorabilia to the world’s largest rose tree and Victorian fashion. There are also four re-enactment groups and about a dozen history tours conducted by foot, stagecoach, trolley and several other means of conveyance. Added to the Wild West mix are several saloons and theaters with performers in period costumes.