The Saguaro cactus is perhaps the most endearing symbol of the Sonoran Desert and the American southwest. Among the best places to see these marvels of nature up close is the 92,000-acre Saguaro National Park. There are two sections of the park: east (the Rincon Mountain District) and west (the Tucson Mountain District). President Herbert Hoover in 1933 used the Antiquities Act to establish the Saguaro National Monument, and President John. F. Kennedy added the Tucson Mountain District in 1961. In 1994, Congress combined the two districts to form the national park. Today, in addition to the stunning views, there are 165 miles of trails for visitors to explore.
The Museum traces its origins to October 1993. The original small museum in the city’s historic city hall has today blossomed to a more robust museum located in the same building. Open to the public without charge, the museum features a number of exhibits that interpret the city’s law enforcement history. One of the more unique exhibits is the jail rock with leg shackles attached to it. Dating to the 1860s, the jail rock was used to detain lawbreakers in the days before the city had a proper jail. Another particularly poignant display is the Memorial Room. The memorial honors the Phoenix police officers killed in the line of duty.
Tombstone’s Historama offers a historically accurate multimedia account of the history of Tombstone. It features the town’s story from the days of Geronimo’s Apaches to the more recent times and, of course, includes information about the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. The 25-minute show, narrated by actor Vincent Price, also highlights the fires that devastated the community and the flooding that ultimately spelled the end for Tombstone’s mines, making it a helpful overview for anyone looking for more about the backstory of the “Town Too Tough to Die.” Admission to Tombstone’s Historama in included with a ticket to the O.K. Corral.
The Rose Tree Museum opened in 1964 inside a former hotel in downtown Tombstone. The museum showcases a different side of history in the mining town, one that doesn’t include a famous gunfight. But the real highlight is the World’s Largest Rose Bush. According to various sources, Mary Gee, a homesick woman from Scotland, planted the Lady Banksia rose tree in 1885. By the 1930s, the bush claimed the title of world’s largest. The building itself was the first adobe structure built in Tombstone. The Visina Mining Co. built the structure as an employee lodging house. It was later the Cochise House and the Arcade Hotel before assuming the name of Rose Tree Inn in 1935.
The Southern Arizona Transportation Museum preserves and interprets the history of railroads in southern Arizona. The one-time records vault building at the former Southern Pacific depot houses the museum. The city of Tucson purchased the building in 1998 and renovated it in 2004 to restore it to its 1941 style. Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup helped dedicate the museum on March 20, 2005, the 125th anniversary of the arrival of the railroad in Tucson. The centerpiece of this museum is Southern Pacific locomotive No. 1673. Schenectady Locomotive Works built the steamer in 1900, and it starred in the movie Oklahoma in 1955.
Old Tucson is half movie studio and half theme park that features live entertainment, including action stunt shows and musicals. Columbia Pictures built the studio on land Pima County owned, in 1938 to serve as a replica of 1860s Tucson for the movie Arizona. Over the years, dozens of producers have turned to Old Tucson to film at the studio, including 1993’s Tombstone. Today, guests can walk the studio’s streets, ride on a miniature train, watch shows and see how stuntmen film gunfights for movies. Old Tucson is near the western portion of Saguaro National Park.
The Sonoran Desert is much more than cactuses and coyotes, and the 98-acre Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum shows that. The one-of-a-kind museum features a zoo, botanical garden, art gallery, natural history museum and aquarium. It is home to more than 230 species of animals and 1,200 varieties of plants. The museum, founded in 1952, interprets the natural history of the Sonoran Desert and nearby ecosystems. There are two miles of walking paths that cover 21 acres. The real highlight is the live animal demonstrations, where visitors can witness birds of prey in their element.
The story of Arizona would be far from complete without the Native American perspective. While it is at times a difficult story to tell and a difficult story to hear, the Heard Museum does a magnificent job brining the Native American Experience to life. Dwight B. and Maie Bartlett Heard founded the museum in 1929 to house their personal art collection. Today, the 130,000-square-foot museum features more than 40,000 items in its collection, including the Barry Goldwater collection of Hopi kachina dolls.
While many of the historical sites around Tombstone are not original to the days when Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday wandered the dusty streets of Tombstone, nearly every aspect of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church dates to 1882 when the church opened. Rev. Talbot and the Arizona-New Mexico Episcopal Diocese began construction of the church, and Endicott Peabody completed it in June 1882. The church, located at Safford and Third streets, cost $5,000. While many businesses in town closed over the years, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church did not, surviving the town’s leaner times. It continues to hold weekly services.
By the 1930s, when Frank Lloyd Wright and the Taliesin Fellowship began trekking west for the winter, Wright was an established architect. Taliesin West served as the winter home and school for Wright from 1937 until his death in 1959 at the age of 91. The complex drew its name from Taliesin, in Spring Green, Wisc., which served as a summer home for Wright.
On March 20, 1882, Deputy U.S. Marshal Wyatt Earp shot and killed Frank Stillwell in the Tucson train yards. Stillwell likely killed Earp’s brother, Morgan, following the Shootout at the OK Corral in Tombstone, and Earp formed a posse to hunt down to pursue suspects, an event later remembered as the Earp Vendetta Ride. Sculptor Dan Bates created the statue of Earp and Doc Holliday that stands near the historic Tucson depot. The sculpture debuted on March 20, 2005, the anniversary of the shooting, as part of an overhaul of the historic train depot. Following the shooting of Stillwell, Earp fled Arizona as he was wanted for murder.
The Gilbert 9/11 Memorial features an 8-foot steel girder beam that once held up the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Gilbert Fire Chief Collin DeWitt and Assistant Fire Chief Jim Jobusch drove to New York City to personally collect the beam, then gave it the same honorable and respectful ride home they would give to a fallen soldier. Before it was installed at the memorial, the beam traveled through town so residents could see, touch and learn about it. The memorial was designed and built in four months. It also features four granite walls with the names of those lost in the attacks.
There are two versions of Tombstone. The first is the stuff of legends. The second is the real history, which while entertaining and almost unbelievable, is a little less grandiose. For anyone especially interested in learning the full story of Tombstone, a visit to the Tombstone Courthouse is an absolute must. Cochise County built the courthouse in 1882 for administrators of the then-newly created Cochise County. It remained in use until 1929, when the county seat relocated to Bisbee. After its abandonment, proprietors planned to repurpose the courthouse as a hotel, but today the courthouse houses a museum dedicated to telling the historically accurate story of Tombstone.
The Bird Cage Theatre was a theater, saloon, gambling parlor and brothel. It operated from 1881 to 1889. Of the theatre, someone once called it “the wildest, wickedest night spot between Basin Street and the Barbary Coast.” Stepping into this said-to-be-haunted theater is like stepping into a time machine. When the establishment close in 1889, its doors were sealed until 1934. The old theater remains riddled with bullet holes. One of the more interesting artifacts is a poker table that hosted a game that allegedly lasted for more than eight years, five months and three days. Doc Holliday (the legendary dentist) and Adolphus Busch (who created some beer or something) were among the famous people who participated in the game.
Inside the Arizona State Capitol building, which was built in 1901 and predates Arizona’s 1912 entry into the Union as a state, the story of The Grand Canyon State comes to life. Displays include the silver and copper punchbowl service from the USS Arizona, said to be the only one of its kind. it is composed of etched copper panels depicting desert scenes set into a silver bowl ornamented with mermaids, dolphins, waves, and other nautical themes. In addition, the museum also displays a collection of gifts received by Arizona as part of the Merci Train sent by France to the United States following World War II. Outside, the Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza on the Phoenix state capitol grounds are filled with an impressive collection of monuments, including one to the Navajo Code Talkers of World War II.
Jacob Waltz could be called the ultimate wanderlust. According to legend, he discovered a great gold mine somewhere in the hills around Apache Junction, but the precise location was lost to history after he died in 1891. A monument in Apache Junction helps keep his story and the legend of the Lost Dutchman alive.
Fort Lowell Park is home to the extant remains of the former Fort Lowell military post. The United States Army established the Post of Tucson in May 1862; they abandoned it in July 1864 but re-established it a year later. In August 1866, the Army named the installation renamed Camp Lowell in honor of Gen. Charles Russell Lowell. In March 1873, the Army moved the post to its current location, then located on the outskirts of Tucson, and renamed it Fort Lowell in April 1879. The Amry used this location from 1873 until 1891. The park is home to several of the post’s fortmer adobe structures and a museum.
Horticulturist and collector Harrison G. Yocum started the Tucson Botanical Gardens in his home in 1964. After moving to Randolph Park, the gardens moved to their current location, at the historic Porter Family property, in 1974. The five-and-a-half-acre Tucson Botanical Gardens is home to a range of plants native to the local region, including cacti and arid plants. Its Butterfly & Orchid Pavilion, open from October to May, features a display of live tropical butterflies from five continents. The garden also showcases orchids, bromeliads and jungle vegetation.
In 2004, the hometown of “Mr. Conservative” Barry Goldwater unveiled a statue of its most famous resident. Sculpted by Arizona artist Joe Beeler, the statue stands one-and-a-half times taller than Goldwater did in life. Located on a busy corner in the heart of Paradize Valley, Ariz., Goldwater’s likeness stands in the shadow of his former home. The monument is surrounded by neatly landscaped terrain featuring a plethora of local flora. An avid ham radio operator, Goldwater is perhaps best remembered for helping rekindle the conservative movement during the 1960s, publishing the acclaimed “The Conscience of a Conservative” in 1960.
The Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block was founded 1924 in the El Presidio Historic District of downtown Tucson. The 74,000-square-foot museum features permanent and traveling exhibitions of Modern and Contemporary, Native American, American West, Latin American, and Asian art. The main museum occupies a contemporary building, while the museum’s Historic Block of 19th and 20th century adobe and Mission Revival-style buildings, encompassing an entire four-acre city block, includes the John K. Goodman Pavilion of Western Art, which displays the Museum’s notable art of the American West collection, the Museum restaurant Café a la C’Art, and other exhibition and studio spaces.
The Gunfight at the O.K. Corral is arguably the most famous shootout in American history. The 30-second firefight took place at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 1881, near the O.K. Corral. But since the name Gunfight at the O.K. Corral sounds better than Gunfight at the narrow lot near C. S. Fly’s Photographic Studio on Fremont Street, the name stuck. The O.K. Corral was a livery and horse corral that operated from 1879 until about 1888. The name slip doesn’t stop hordes of tourists from converging on the OK Corral for reenactments that may or may not use a few lines from the famous film sharing a name with the town.
The Pima Air & Space Museum is one of the world’s largest aerospace museums. The museum, established in 1976, is home to roughly 300 aircraft and more than 125,000 artifacts displayed outdoors and in five hangars across more than 80 acres. Its collection includes an SR-71A Blackbird, an A-10 Warthog, a Boeing B-29 Superfortress and President Kennedy’s Air Force One. The museum, situated adjacent to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, is the country’s third largest aviation museum and the largest privately funded aviation and aerospace museum in the world. The museum is also home to the Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame.
Jesuit missionary Eusebio Francisco Kino founded Mission San Xavier del Bac in 1692. Kino, a Jesuit of Italian descent, often visited the area and preached to native residents. He began building a permanent mission around 1700, but the current building was constructed between 1783 and 1797 and is the oldest European structure in Arizona. The building features a white stucco and Moorish-inspired exterior with an ornately decorated entrance. Franciscans still actively run the church, unlike other Spanish missions in Arizona. The church, nicknamed “The White Dove of the Desert,” is on the Tohono O’odham Nation San Xavier Indian Reservation.
This 200,000-square-foot, $250 million museum museum opened in April 2010. Its collection is astounding, bringing together more than 15,000 instruments from 200-plus countries under one roof. But, these are not just static displays. To bring the instruments to life, the museum uses a combination of wireless technology and high-resolution videos. When a museum guest approaches a video screen, they can listen to and watch the instruments in action, played by true artisans who can bring them to life.
Tombstone opened the “City Cemetery” in 1878. The site is the final resting place of at least 250 people. The cemetery, later called the “Old City Cemetery,” didn’t pick up its current name, “Boothill Graveyard” until about 1929, when the town first hosted Helldorado Days. Its permanent residents include three men — Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury and Tom McLaury — gunned down during the now-infamous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. By the 1920s, the cemetery was in dire need of restoration. Now restored, the cemetery is one of the city’s main tourist destinations, in part because of its sometimes humorous epitaphs.
El Tiradito is a famous shrine in the Old Barrio section of Tucson. The memorial is said to be the only Catholic shrine in the country “dedicated to a sinner buried in unconsecrated ground.” According to one version of the legend, the monument honors Juan Oliveras, an 18-year-old ranch hand who had an affair with his mother-in-law. His father-in-law subsequently killed Oliveras. The original shrine dates to 1870, but the current version dates to 1920s. The shrine is said to exemplify Sonoran Catholicism, a blending of Catholic doctrine with local customs. The National Register of Historic Places added it to its list in 1971.
At first glance, Silver Strike Winery and Tasting Room might seem out of place in the rough-and-tumble town of Tombstone. After all, the winery sits just mere steps from the famous OK Corral. No matter, the winery is a welcome respite from the cowboys, gunfights and tourists that clog the city’s streets. The winery, which opened in November 2011, features wines made with Mediterranean grape varietals originating in Italy, France, Germany, Spain and Portugal grown at vineyards located 50 miles east and west of Tombstone.
Built at a cost of $49 million — or $821 million with inflation — the Hoover Dam stops the Colorado River to create Lake Mead, itself a popular attraction. It has been open to visitors since 1937, and today, roughly 1 million people visit annually; the busy season falls between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Located roughly 35 miles east of Las Vegas, the Hoover Dam is an easy — and worthwhile — day trip from Sin City. A number of tour groups offer sightseeing excursions from Vegas hotels for those travelers who don’t have access to a vehicle.
The 140-acre Desert Botanical Garden was established in 1939 and is home to more than 21,000 flowers. Plants are on display along five thematic trails that cover a range of topics, including conservation, desert living and people of the Sonoran Desert.
Since 1983, the Arizona Railway Museum has been dedicated to preserving and interpreting the state’s railroad history. The museum moved to its current location at the southwestern edge of Tumbleweed Park since 2006. Two items in its collection are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. They are Southern Pacific Railroad Locomotive No. SP 2562 (and Tender No. 8365) and Railroad Steam Wrecking Crane and Tool Car.
As Ed Schieffelin started prospecting for valuable minerals in southern Arizona during the latter half of the 1870s, his friends insisted he would only find his tombstone. They were wrong. Instead, he discovered silver in an area that would grow into one of the most colorful towns in the country’s history: Tombstone. Over the years, mines in Tombstone produced $85 million in silver. Schieffelin died in Oregon on May 12, 1897, but he insisted his final resting spot be in Tombstone. A 25-foot-tall monument stands atop his burial site and near the location of his original claim.
Located at the Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza near the State Capitol in Phoenix, the 9/11 Memorial in Arizona was unveiled on Sept. 11, 2006. The memorial is often — and perhaps best — described as a circular plan with a flat inclined metal ring. The memorial opened to some controversy. The controversy centered on a number of quotes engraved into the ring, including “Congress Questions Why CIA and FBI Didn’t Prevent Attacks” and “You Don’t Win Battles of Terrorism With More Battles.”
The 320-acre Lost Dutchman State Park is located near the Superstition Mountains about 40 miles east of Phoenix. The park was first developed as a day use recreation area by the Bureau of Land Management in 1972 and is named for the famed lost gold mine.
The National Historical Fire Foundation is better know as the Hall of Flame. The museum is dedicated to preserving firefighting equipment used in Arizona and around the world. The museum has five exhibit bays and the National Firefighting Hall of Heroes gallery. The equipment is grouped as: Hand & Horse Drawn (1725–1908); Motorized Apparatus (1897–1948); Motorized Apparatus (1918–1968); Motorized Apparatus (1919–1950) and Wildland Firefighting. It has also have a large collection of Fire Department arm patches.
During the 1960s, the U.S. Air Force built 54 missile silos around the country, including 18 around Tucson, Ariz., to defend the country in case of attack. By the 1980s, these Titan Missile silos were obsolete, so President Reagan decommissioned them. The Titan Missile Museum opened on May 21, 1986, inside the former Titan II Missile Site 8 (571-7) in Sahuarita, Ariz., about 20 miles south of Tucson. The museum interprets life at the complex and the steps to fire the missile. The centerpiece of the museum is an inert Titan II intercontinental ballistic missile in the silo.
The Tombstone Epitaph is perhaps the most revered institution in Tombstone, Arizona. John P. Clum founded the newspaper in 1880, and today, it is the oldest continuously published newspaper in the Grand Canyon State. Since the town was name Tombstone and “every Tombstone needs an epitaph,” as Clum would later say, the newspaper had its name. The publication witnessed history, when, in 1881, it reported on the now-infamous Shootout at the OK Corral. Today, the paper is a monthly journal of western history. Students at the University of Arizona continue to publish a local edition of The Tombstone Epitaph. The newspaper office in Tombstone is a museum about its role in the community.