Benson was a great place to use as a base for our explorations, with towns to the south and west all within a 45 mile radius. It was founded as a rail terminus and still serves as such, as we can attest to as the trains ran all night long. Jan found it comforting as it reminded her of her father who worked the railroads of Ohio; not so much for me but I learned to deal with it.
Benson was founded in 1880 as a stopping point for the Butterfield Overland Stage mail delivery, then evolved into a train terminal for the Southern Pacific Railroad, and subsequently the Union Pacific Railroad. Today it remains home for about 4000 people and basically serves as a tourist gateway to numerous towns around it. Dusty and windy, it boasts a Walmart, a Safeway and an Ace Hardware, a couple of RV parks and not much else. We had reservations at this place but just missed the closing!
We spent one day in Old Tucson and had a ball. For some 70 years, it has been a movie studio and theme park, and we delighted in trying to remember all the films that had been made there. It was originally built as a set for the movie Arizona in 1938 by Columbia Pictures starring William Holden and Jean Arthur. The crew built more than 50 buildings in 40 days, many of which still stand. It’s a visit to the Old West à la Hollywood, but as one looks out over the Sonoran Dessert and the Tucson Mountains there is a natural border between today and yesteryear. It borders part of the beautiful Saguaro National Park, home to the famed Saguaro cactus, which are almost always backdrops to the many westerns that have been filmed in Old Tucson.
Old Tucson has a number of variety shows daily in various parts of the park recreating some of the scenes from the many movies that were filmed there. The first one we saw depicted a failed bank robbery and the ensuing moral ending – there is no good that comes out of greed.
A lot of the films filmed here were obviously westerns and included blasts from the past like Rio Bravo, Gunfight at the OK Corral, The Three Amigos, and Tombstone, just a few of the some 300 westerns that have been filmed there. It also has served as the home for such television series as Bonanza, Little House on the Prairie and High Chapparal.
Here are a few of the buildings that are still used for movies and TV shows…
Spotted minime coming out of a saloon.
There are a number of guides that give tours and shows, but if you are there try to hook up with Marty – a walking encyclopedia of old westerns, old actors and old lines, and himself a bit actor in a number of films.
The church and graveyard were just like the ones you have seen in any number of movies…
This engine and tinder car have appeared in dozens of movies…
We took a train ride around the perimeter of the park…
And of course the iconic backdrops to so many movies – “Three Sisters” peaks and “Golden Gate Peak”.
A really fun day.
A nice hearty dinner for a cool evening? Try out this pasta meal!