Day Eight ~ Sonoran Desert Museum to Old Tucson

Tucson Travel Blog

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Giant saguaro cactus

I was completely fascinated by the giant saguaro cactus that sat in the front lawn of our motel.  Probably forty feet tall and covered with beautiful cactus blossoms, it was unlike anything I had ever seen.  The delicate desert hummingbirds were enjoying their snack of sweet nectar.  These tiny wonders of nature were well aware that their breakfast buffet would soon be tightly closed in the hot noonday sun.  The night-blooming flowers only appear in April and May and are visited by bats at night, who feed on the nectar and in return, serve as a pollinator. 

This particular cactus had three arms, meaning that it was at least 75 years old.  Because these cacti are so slow growing and slow to propagate, they have been placed on the endangered species list.

Night blooming cactus flowers will close up before noon.
  It is illegal to harm one in any manner in the state of Arizona.   The saguaro is native to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona and northern Mexico and cannot be found growing in the wild anywhere else in the world.

We had already planned our agenda for the day.  First stop would be the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a two-hour ride from our motel in Gila Bend.  The admission price was reasonable and the exhibits interesting.  Every desert animal native to the Sonora Desert was on display in various walk-through mazes and buildings.   The aviary allowed the various birds to freely fly overhead, darting from tree to tree.  The ground-feeding birds were scurrying in and out of the scrubby bushes, right next to the walking trail.

Screech owl native to the Sonoran Desert.
  But something else was moving slowly across the ground.  SNAKES!  Oh, my.  We asked one of the volunteers if they would please remove them.  "No, they serve a purpose, too."    They told us that these were not poisonous snakes, only chicken or rat snakes, and we shouldn't be afraid of them.   Okay, just don't get between me and the door. 

After a tasty lunch at the museum, we took the short ride to the Old Tucson Studios.   This is a working film studio and a family fun park as well.  It was built in 1939 when Columbia Pictures chose the site for the movie Arizona.   A replica of 1860's Tucson was built from scratch, erecting more than 50 buildings in 40 days.  More than 350,000 adobe bricks were made from the desert dirt to create authentic structures for the film without the convenience of running water.

Old Tucson Studio Saloon

Of course, the movie set fell into disrepair as the sun, rain, and wind took their toll over the years.  But in 1959, the antiquated "town" was revived and expanded from the ghost town it had become into a viable movie studio and a family attraction.   Randy and Jerry are huge "old west" fans, having seen every John Wayne movie ever produced.  Jimmy Stewart, Dale Robertson, Glenn Ford, Ronald Reagan, just to name a few, walked along these dirt roads and sidled up to the bar inside the saloon.  This was indeed a treat for all of us.  Any fan of Hollywood would enjoy seeing the sets and props used in hundreds of televison and movie productions.

The park had very few visitors this particular day and we were free to come and go without standing in lines.

Posing at Old Tucson Studio.
  I only wish we had taken the time to do the official "tour" so we could have been shown which scenes were filmed where and with which actors and actresses.   We walked through the entire park, stopped for a show inside the saloon and saw the Old Tucson stunt team in action (really funny) at the Mission Santa Maria (where Bing Crosby and Ingrid Bergman filmed "The Bells of St. Mary's). 

We could have easily spent an entire day inside this park; there was something for everyone.   It is definitely a "must see" for anyone that is a fan of western-themed movies and television.   The four of us had plans that involved taking a visit over the border into Mexico, so we had to head on down the road.  The ride to Nogales was less than two hours, so we were going to wait and have dinner in Mexico.  Randy likes authentic Mexican food, and I suppose that is exactly what we could expect to get once we were over the border.

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Giant saguaro cactus
Giant saguaro cactus
Night blooming cactus flowers will…
Night blooming cactus flowers wil…
Screech owl native to the Sonoran …
Screech owl native to the Sonoran…
Old Tucson Studio Saloon
Old Tucson Studio Saloon
Posing at Old Tucson Studio.
Posing at Old Tucson Studio.
Santa Maria Mission built in 1945 …
Santa Maria Mission built in 1945…
Thats me and Jan in front of the …
That's me and Jan in front of the…
Old Tucson Studio
Old Tucson Studio
Old Tucson Studio set
Old Tucson Studio set
Old Tucson Studio
Old Tucson Studio
Coyote begging for food in parking…
Coyote begging for food in parkin…
Tucson
photo by: walterman9999