A Visit to the Land of the Sun | TheFencePost.com

A Visit to the Land of the Sun

Trail Dust Town was bustling on a Sunday afternoon as people were celebrating the Arizona Centennial.

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Until the past couple of weeks, we had not had much winter weather in Wyoming, but that did not make a quick visit to the Land of the Sun – Tucson, Ariz., any less appealing. So with my A-List boarding pass in hand it was off to Denver International Airport for a quick flight down to Tucson … just for kicks and grins. I took Steve with me for this little winter get-away.

We had no real plan. In fact, we selected Tucson randomly. You see, I had a couple of free airline tickets (earned from all my other travel during the past year), so we each put three names of places in a hat and drew one out. The only criteria was that it had to be a direct flight from Denver to the destination on Southwest Airlines … and it had to be to a place that would be warm. I put Tampa, Fla., Charleston, S.C., and Tucson in the hat. He put Nashville, Tenn., Austin, Texas, and Tucson in the hat. With the odds stacked in favor, he drew out Tucson … so off we went.

I PROMISED I would not work while I was there … but of course, it was OK for me to take photographs (I knew all along, and I’m sure he did, too, that I would write something for On the Trail after this little jaunt of ours). But, other than taking photos, and a few notes, I really did not work. (Well, don’t tell Steve, but I might have checked my e-mail a few times).

On our first morning we headed out to Old Tucson Studios. More than 300 films and television shows have filmed at this studio in the desert. The place was built in 1939 and used first for the movie Arizona. Since then such films as “The Bells of St. Mary’s” (1945), the 1950s films “Gunfight at the OK Corral,” “The Lone Ranger,” and “Cimarron,” came to life at Old Tucson. Through the next 50 years there would be more among them “Dirty Dingus Magee” (1970) with Frank Sinatra and Joe Kidd, “The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean” (1972) starring Paul Newman. Television shows that used Old Tucson for a filming site included “Gunsmoke,” “The High Chapparal,” “The Mark of Zorro,” “The New Maverick,” and the TV Movie “The Gambler.”

We found the place a bit tired, until we entered one of the buildings that has been turned over to a group that has developed a small interpretive area dedicated to the Buffalo Soldiers, the Black troops who worked in the West during the latter part of the 19th century. We found out the “official” opening of this small museum would be the day after we were visiting. I highly recommend a stop to learn more about these soldiers. 

From Old Tucson we headed west to the Arizona Desert Museum for several hours of wandering through this diverse facility where we could see all varieties of cacti, other plants, and animals of the desert ranging from black wolves, to rattlesnakes and scorpions. (The wolves were cool, the reptiles and insects not so appealing). This truly is one of the great natural “museums” in the West. For me it was less a museum and more a nature center, botanical garden and zoo. There were big cats, a black bear, beaver, a wide variety of birds and other animals in habitats that blended into the desert landscape. We were on time for a hawk demonstration and found good food and drinks at the museum’s restaurant.

Back in Tucson we went to Trail Dust Town. Reminiscent of Old Tucson but without the movie history and more geared toward shopping, we enjoyed the place, which was bustling on a Sunday afternoon. I skipped the shopping, but did take more than a few minutes (quite a few more) at the Museum of the Horse Soldier with it exhibits on the Rough Riders, and the other horse soldiers from the nineteenth century to today.

Unfortunately we were too late in the day to visit the Tucson Rodeo Parade Museum, which apparently has more than 150 horse-drawn vehicles, so that leaves something for my next trip to Tucson … which is coming up in just a couple more weeks.

I will be back down to the Land of the Sun (without Steve who will be home getting ready for calving to begin), March 10 and 11 for the Tucson Festival of Books. This event, held on the University of Arizona Campus Main Mall, features well over 100 authors and at least that many exhibitors ranging from publishers to Arizona organizations and companies. The entire event is geared toward reading and writing.

I’ll be there along with several other members of Western Writers of America since the organization will have a booth to hand out copies of our Roundup Magazine and to talk about our books, writing, and our organization.

For all you readers and writers who are already enjoying winter in Arizona, come visit the WWA Booth 163. And for those of you stuck in colder climes … I might suggest a flight south for a weekend in Tucson. The Tucson Festival of Books is open from 9 to 5:30 both Saturday March 10 and Sunday March 11.

While Steve and I were on our little jaunt, we visited a couple of other sites … but more about them in a future column.

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