“Ya come to the right place, Pilgrim,” if you want to experience the western movie capital of Arizona.  Here you can get backstage on a movie set and imagine John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart facing down for a shoot out. Located 12 miles from Tucson in distance, it’ll bring you back over 100 years ago in time.

Since it opened in 1939, more western movie stars have marched down the 1880 streets with drawn Colts than on any Hollywood set. Harrison Ford, Leonardo DiCaprio and dozens of other movie idols have enjoyed a cold one in the Grand Palace Saloon.

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In spite of its long history, “Hollywood in the Desert” is still evolving. It’s part working studio, part wild west show, part amusement park and one hundred-percent fun. Here, anything is possible.

You can witness a gunfight, drop in on the Cartwrights at the Ponderosa, have your picture made with a genuine “star,” or hop aboard the Reno, Old Tucson’s own locomotive. The Reno has over 100 movies and television shows to its credit.

After the heyday of the old westerns, Old Tucson continued to thrive. They filmed not only movies but TV shows and commercials and continue to do so to this day.

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Old Tucson has the feel of a real town instead of a reel one. At the Palace Saloon, you can get a drink and snacks while being entertained by Miss Vivian and her girls. There are live shows like “Old Tucson – A Musical History of the Silver Screen” and the “Grand Palace Musical Revue” and movies showcasing some of the ones filmed here.

Still hungry?  Mosey on over to the Pony Express Pizza and Wings and have a pizza or sandwich or  if you have worked up a big appetite with all the gun fighting and saloon hopping, chow down on some of Big Jake’s BBQ.

From McLintock Store, named for the classic John Wayne film, to the Toltec Mine, there’s plenty of shopping opportunities from rocks to frocks, all with old west flair.

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For me it was the little things that make Old Tucson so realistic. You don’t get the feel of visiting an amusement park; it really is part of the western desert country. I visited after a travel writer conference along with two friends. As we pulled into the parking lot, we saw what to Southeastern eyes, looked like a stray dog.

Before we could get out of the car, the “stray” had approached the car and was “begging.” But it was not a dog. It was my first-outside-of-a-zoo glimpse of a coyote. We sat in the car, too entranced to consider being scared of this wild animal. After realizing we had no food for him, our coyote friend wandered away.

Before we could get out of the car, the “stray” had approached the car and was “begging.” But it was not a dog. It was my first-outside-of-a-zoo glimpse of a coyote. We sat in the car, too entranced to consider being scared of this wild animal. After realizing we had no food for him, our coyote friend wandered away.

Before we could get out of the car, the “stray” had approached the car and was “begging.” But it was not a dog. It was my first-outside-of-a-zoo glimpse of a coyote. We sat in the car, too entranced to consider being scared of this wild animal. After realizing we had no food for him, our coyote friend wandered away.

Too often I have pulled into an attraction parking lot and seen trams and other things that do not fit the theme of the place. Here, it was as if the entire countryside was part of the “wild west set.”

It was a slow day when we visited so we had that feeling of being alone on the board sidewalks. It was as if we had and  moved back to the 19th century. The wind was blowing and the sand swirled around our feet. It was easy to imagine Wyatt Earp was standing just around the corner and robbers wearing bandannas were about to burst out the bank door with bags of gold in hand.

Even the fun activities serve an important purpose. The sheriff and other characters are also part of a living history experience. Besides just shooting it up they are ready to explain the roles their real life counterparts played in the forming of the early West. The Arizona Sonora Western Heritage Foundation Kids can learn while they are having fun. Of course there are some just plain fun rides and activities for the kids as well, train rides, mining, a stagecoach and a chance to shoot the gun that won the west, a Colt 45.

Old Tucson has been voted “Best Western Movie Set” by True West magazine and USA Today named it one of five one-of-a-kind Tucson attractions.