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July 31, 2008

Hollywood in the Desert

By Guest Blogger

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LET THE GOOD TIMES ROLL: Riding at Old Tucson Studios, Arizona (Beth Blair)

Driving the winding road up over Gates Pass and past thousands of Saguaro cacti is really an attraction in itself, but it's what lies on the other side of the Tucson Mountains that really excites our kids, not to mention the kid in both parents as well.

Since 1939, Old Tucson Studios has been bringing the Old West to the big screen. While it's unlikely our children recognize John Wayne, Burt Lancaster, and Kirk Douglas, they do know what a cowboy is—and that's enough to pique their interest.

The studios, about 12 miles from downtown Tucson, started out as the backdrop of several Western films until 1960, when it expanded into a family theme park. As local Tucsonians, my family and I have sauntered into Old Tucson Studios any number of times. My children are ages two and four, plus I have two teenage stepsons, so believe me when I say Old Tucson Studios is fun for all ages.

family vacations to tucson: old tucson studios, arizona
CLASSIC RIDE: Locomotive at Old Tucson Studios, Arizona (Beth Blair)

Days at the studios are filled with cowboy gunfights, can-can shows, and horses clunking down the dirt streets. The park serves classic Western BBQ, authentic Mexican food, and sweet treats like homemade fudge and sundaes in an old-fashioned ice-cream parlor.

My little people are big fans of the rides and always head to the Wild West Carousel first, followed by the antique cars, a short horseback trek through the park (guided by "real" cowboys and cowgirls), and a 15-minute ride on the C.P. Huntington Locomotive train ride that loops around the park and through the gorgeous Sonoran Desert scenery. After the kids get their fill of rides they're ready to spend time panning for "gold," which can be taken home in a little souvenir bottle (for only a buck).

Teens will have fun taking part in their own Western shootout at Dead-Eye Dan's Shooting Gallery (bring quarters) and tiptoeing through the Iron Door Mine Adventure, a guided tour through a haunted mine with surprises around every corner. (I'm hesitant to suggest the mine for the little ones.)

The park's history is preserved in the Old Tucson Movie Museum with memorabilia of movies filmed at the park: costumes, camera equipment and props, plus original posters. In the back of the park is The Reno, a now-retired 1872 steam locomotive that has "starred" in over 100 films.

Insider Tip: The Tucson Passport offers savings to over 40 attractions in southern Arizona, including a two-for-one deal at Old Tucson Studios.

-- Beth Blair

Visit's Arizona Family Vacations Guide for more ideas about places to visit and things to do in the state.

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Related Topics: Family Vacation · Theme Parks


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