August 2004: Tucson Mountain Park


Tucson, Arizona

Your dog won't be able to trot among the giant cacti of Saguaro National Park but she can still see the best of the Sonoran Desert in neighboring Tucson Mountain Park. The national park, in fact, was once part of the local park. Originally, 60,000 acres were withdrawn from the Homesteading Act of 1873 to be used as Tucson Mountain Park. About half was returned
for use by World War I veterans and part of that land became Saguaro National Park.

Miles of old desert roads and trails crisscross through boulders, palo verde and ocotillo plants in the park. Some of the best stands of giant saguaro cactus outside the national park can be found on the 5.4-mile out-and-back David Yetman
, named for a local television host and desert authority. Other long linear trails include the 4.4-mile Gates Pass Trail and the Star Pass East Trail along a route to early copper mines.

The namesake mountains in the park are more like large hills and most of the canine hiking is easy going on gentle grades. Don't forget - it will blazingly hot in the summer and the hard paths can be tough on paws. Bring plenty of drinking water, even on a short outing. Moonlight hikes are popular in the desert but the park closes at 10:00 p.m due to vandalism and cactus
theft. Come sundown find yourself a hillside to sit with your dog and admire the memorable sunset for which the park is known.

"Dogs are our link to sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is
to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring - it was peace."
-Milan Kundera

In 1939 Columbia Pictures sought a real-life backdrop for its big budget ($2.5 million) epic Arizona, to star William Holden and Jean Arthur. They chose a site inside Tucson Mountain Park and after referring to historical records began to build a clay facsimile of 1860's Tucson. Without benefit of running water in the area, local builders erected more than 50 buildings using 350,000 adobe bricks. When the movie wrapped the sets were deserted and the buildings abandoned in the desert.

The arrival of the television era developed the Western into the most popular genre on the small screen. Hollywood remembered the Arizona set and Old Tucson Studios became a favorite filming location. More than 70 feature films were shot here including Gunfight at the OK Corral (Kirk Douglas/Burt Lancaster),Rio Bravo (John Wayne/Dean Martin), Outlaw Josie Wales (Clint Eastwood, Sandra Locke) and Three Amigos (Chevy Chase/Steve Martin). Eventually more feature films, television movies, and television series would be filmed at Old Tucson Studios than any other man-made location outside Hollywood.

The studio began its next life in 1960 under the auspices of entrepreneur Robert Shelton, who transformed the ghost town into a family fun park as well as movie studio. Today at Old Tucson Studios, after a fire destroyed half the buildings in 1995, you will find western town sets along Front Street and Kansas Street; the Mexican Plaza courtyard, the High Chaparral Ranch, a ghost town and a railroad.

The park is west of Tucson, reached via Gates Pass Road or Ajo Road to Kinney Way.