I spent many summers visiting my dad in Tucson. I can’t say that summer was the best time to visit, but I lived for the monsoons after a month of 100+F days. I still find myself missing the desert; the beautiful sunsets, incredible lightning storms, and wild raw beauty.
For many visitors, the American Southwest conjures images of bank-robbing outlaws, cowboys around a desert campfire, and frontier towns livened with gun-toting sheriffs and busty barmaids. The Old West was undoubtedly one of the most fascinating periods in American history, a time of discovery and adventure as the nation moved westward and settled into a new era. While many of the images we draw from the period are merely dramatic representations given to us through Hollywood Westerns, Tucson offers visitors a unique opportunity to visit and explore this exciting chapter of America’s past.
Whether you have a day or a long weekend in Tucson, take the time to see some of its historic attractions and immerse yourself in the remnants of the Wild West.
7 am: Watch the Sunrise at Saguaro National Park
Image via Trover by maya gigi
To really get yourself in the Old West state of mind, start your day in Tucson at nearby Saguaro National Park. Home to the saguaro, America’s largest cactus, this protected park is ideal for watching the sunrise above the towering silhouettes on the Sonoran Desert landscape. If you are an outdoor enthusiast, you may wish to plan an entire day to enjoy Saguaro National Park. It is a popular area for hiking, cycling, and even backcountry camping. (If you are interested in camping at the park, you’ll need to purchase a permit in advance.)
9 am: Take a Drive to Tombstone, Arizona
Image via Trover by Paula @ A Traveler’s Postcard
Chisel out three to five hours to visit nearby Tombstone, where you can immerse yourself in a real-life ghost town straight out of the Old West. This historic city was once among the greatest of frontier boomtowns, fueled by successful silver mines. However, by the beginning of the 20th century, Tombstone’s population had dwindled, and the rest is history. Today tourists populate the town, which gives visitors a unique opportunity to see the American West as it once was. Watch re-enactments of shootouts at the actual O.K. Corral, take Old West-style portraits at Can-Can Old Time photos, join a historic tour on the Butterfield Stage Coach, or even try your hand at shooting the iconic Colt .45 at the shooting gallery.
1 pm: Explore Tucson’s Past at the Arizona History Museum
Image via Trover by Lisa Bunker
Back in Tucson, spend an hour or two perusing the exhibits of the Arizona History Museum, spanning the state’s history from the Spanish colonial era to the territorial period. You’ll leave with a new appreciation for the region’s diverse lineage. The Geronimo exhibit on the most famous Apache warrior from the Wild West period is especially interesting.
4 pm: Experience the Wild West at Old Tucson Studios
Image via Trover by Wendy Beck
With a full day of nature, ghost towns, and history under your belt, you’ll be ready for an evening of Wild West-style entertainment. Old Tucson Studios is one of the city’s most popular attractions, and has been the setting for more than 300 films and TV programs. The shows are particularly popular, bringing the Old West to life through music and spectacular stunts. There are also a variety of family activities to enjoy, such as panning for gold, trail rides, and a train that takes you on an informative tour of the surrounding desert landscape.
Must Eat: Go Inside an Old Saloon at Pinnacle Peak
Image via Trover by Amy Olsen
Pinnacle Peak is a popular Tucson restaurant serving cowboy-style fare in a saloon setting. Enjoy a world-famous mesquite grilled steak, beef that is slow cooked over a fire pit for 15 hours, or enjoy a mug of Pinnacle Peak’s home-brewed root beer. The restaurant’s Western food is the perfect ending to a day in the Wild West. Do note that there is a strict dress code—no ties allowed.
Find Your Desert Oasis in Tucson
Image via Trover by Beth Hughes
Tucson is a modern and diverse city, but take the time to explore the city’s Wild West past. You’ll leave with a new appreciation for both the desert landscape and a fascinating chapter from America’s past.
Cover Photo: License Some rights reserved by Cocoabiscuit