With the R.T.R. behind us, we decided the luxury of hot showers, plentiful water and dump services were just too much to resist, and we headed back to the L.T.V.A. near Yuma. However, after a week of winds so strong they’d rock us to sleep at night, we decided we’d get on the road and go explore some more.
First stop, Phoenix to see Neil and Maureen once again, and to promptly put on another ten pounds eating Maureen’s excellent cooking. It’s true that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. I thank good fortune you’re a married woman, Maureen. Otherwise, I have the feeling I might become single really quick, lol.
“Maybe poker’s just not your game…”
Saying goodbye to good friends, we headed southeast down to Tucson, where we tried to find decent camping on BLM land. The site we located was rather full, and any available spots were somewhat less than level, to say the least. So rather than fight a losing battle, we pushed on to the outskirts of town and the Casino Del Sol. Here they allow RV parking in their lot (as long as there are no concerts in the amphitheater, which there weren’t, because they don’t use it in winter.) No size limitations, no duration limitations, no membership to join, and very helpful, friendly people. A really nice place to stay.
As parking lot camping goes, we seem to have good luck with the casinos. Some ask that you sign up for memberships, but they’re almost always free, and usually come with other perks, like discounts off meals or rooms, or bonus bucks to play at the machines. But what I particularly like is that the large casinos have 24-hour security that patrols the grounds, leaving us feeling much more secure than at a Wal-Mart or other shopping center.
So we settled into the Casino Del Sol for a few days. It’s located off one of the main drags through Tucson, making it a great spot to use as a base camp for exploring the area. Add that to 85 degree days, bright sunshine and a motorcycle itching to run, and I had to keep reminding myself that we were only into February.
Our first stop, on Neil’s recommendation, was Old Tucson, just a few miles up the road from where we were staying. To be honest, I wasn’t really expecting much, since I thought it would just be an old section of town, maybe with Spanish-style buildings and such. A bit of history, some quaint shops, you know.
“I have two guns, one for each of ya.”
What I didn’t realize was that Old Tucson was actually Old Tucson Studios, a western movie set located in the desert just outside of town. I know I’ve mentioned before my love for old western movies, and this place turned out to be a little slice of heaven for this cowgirl wannabe. Paying our admission at the door, we stepped inside and back into time.
Entering the first building, I was so glad we had come. While the outside looked like a general store, the inside was a museum, dedicated to the films and television history of the studio. Old movie cameras, props and costumes were everywhere, and tons of information on the movies and shows that had been filmed there. A lot of my very favorite films, such as Rio Bravo, McLintock!, Lilies of the Field, El Dorado, Hombre, The Outlaw Josey Wales, Tom Horn, The Three Amigos, and Tombstone. Yep, I walked in the same dirt as John Wayne, Steve McQueen, and Sam Elliot. Heaven help me, I may never wash these feet again, lol.
The entire site of Old Tucson is set up as an old west town, complete with a livery stable, mining shacks, a blacksmith, a prairie church and picket-fenced graveyard, a dance hall (with can-can girls of course!), outhouses, a train station, several general stores and other assorted buildings, all connected by plank sidewalks and hitching rails.
There is a small-scale train that circles the town as the conductor gives you some of the history of the films that have been made here. You can even take a stagecoach ride with a running commentary by the driver, covering the areas of the park that the train doesn’t reach. There is a can-can show in the Grand Hotel dance hall. When the dancers are done they have live music on stage. We caught a few minutes of a fellow who did a very respectable Marty Robbins impersonation.
We also got to meet a real celebrity up close and personal. Well, he’s more of an ‘it’ really, but that doesn’t diminish the fact he’s been in close to 100 different movies and TV shows. This is The Reno, a real steam locomotive built in 1872. After serving many years as a workhorse for the Virginia and Truckee Railroad, he was sold to Old Tucson studios where his movie career began. Check out the list of his famous co-stars below! And here’s a couple of scenes from what I think may be his most famous role (or at least my favorite):
Hurts, Don’t It?
You Tell ‘Em I’m Coming
Later, at the old Spanish mission, we were treated to a gunfight/stunt show by three very talented (and very funny) cowboy stuntmen. Those with sharp eyes and a love for dusters may recognize the building behind them as the church from the opening scene of Tombstone when the Cowboys shoot up the wedding as they emerge from the chapel doors.
The following day found us just up the road from Old Tucson at the Saguaro National Park. I’ve never seen so many of these majestic plants in one spot, it was truly amazing! As well, the visitor information center was very educational and gave us fresh insights into the areas we’d been staying in since fall.
Back at the casino, we were fortunate to run into another of the YouTube celebs – Campervan Kevin. When we first started planning this Grand Adventure of ours, Keven’s channel was one of the first we’d come across, and we had often commented that he seemed like the kind of person we’d like to meet. Turns out he’s every bit as friendly, laid-back and funny as he is in his videos. We spent a lovely evening chatting with him, and we even made it into one of his videos. Loved spending time with you Kevin! Safe travels and hope to see you again down the road somewhere.
“I’m Your Huckleberry…”
After a few days at the casino, we decided we’d explored Tucson enough for the time being. We hit the road once more, this time heading for Tombstone. Again, my inner cowgirl took over. But because it was Tombstone, this was just a bit more special.
As a younger woman, I loved the movie Tombstone. The first time I saw it I was pregnant with our second child, and by the time the movie was over, had decided that if it was a boy, he would be called Morgan, I liked the name that much. Truth be told, I had a much bigger crush on Sam Elliot than Bill Paxton, but I just couldn’t bring myself to call a little boy Virgil. Lucky you were a girl, huh Riley?
But to be honest, I enjoyed Old Tucson much more than Tombstone. On the surface, the two were quite similar. Old storefronts, actors walking around in period costumes, horses, gunfights, etc. The feeling that you had stepped back in time.
But I think the difference was in that Old Tucson was a movie studio. I mean, nothing was supposed to be real, and you knew that. Tombstone on the other hand, was actual history and involved very real people. And while I realize that tourism is important and they want to attract as many people as possible, it just somehow seemed the memories of the people they were supposed to be honoring had got lost in the flash and glitz.
For example, we came across a placard indicating that we were standing near the spot where Morgan Earp had been fatally shot while playing pool. But in order to read the entire placard, we had to move aside a pile of souvenir t-shirts and kitchy made-in-China plastic pistols and vinyl cowboy hats. And while history has revealed that the Earps were certainly not the saints portrayed in the early stories, it seemed very disrespectful to the memory of the man.
As well, the entire time we were walking around the town, we were approached at almost every step by someone selling something: tickets to stagecoach rides, tickets to museum tours, admission to the graveyard at Boot Hill. At one point I had two cowboys in front of me arguing about which of the gunfights was better, the one at the actual OK Corral or the other one up the street. It bordered on the ridiculous.
I’m still glad we went, Tombstone has been on my bucket list for many years. But the whole experience just felt cheapened and just a little off.
Next up: hideouts, canyons and really scared trees.
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