In 1969 Tucson received unexpected worldwide fame when Paul McCartney sang the lyric “Jo Jo left his home in Tucson, Arizona for some California grass” in one of the Beatles’ last hits, “Get Back.” These days Californians and many others are coming to Tucson to either live or spend long vacations because of its balmy climate and its low cost of living.
Located 120 miles southeast of Phoenix off Interstate 10, Tucson is emerging from the Arizona capital’s considerable shadow. Despite the city’s growth, there are still plentiful amount of golf courses, hiking and bicycle trails as well as gigantic Saguaro cactus as far as the eye can see.
If you love visiting zoos then you will not be disappointed with Arizona’s second largest city. Reid Park is Tucson’s answer to Central Park and its zoo is one of the nicest small zoos in the country. It is one of the few zoos that allow you to feed the giraffes. The big draw though is its two playful polar bears, Boris and Kobe. The Sonora Desert Museum, located in the city’s western section, features such native animals as the boar-like creature known as the javolina, pumas, coyotes and roadrunners (and no, they don’t resemble their counterparts in those old Warner Brothers cartoons!)
Just down the road from the Sonora Desert Museum is Old Tucson Studios where such classic western movies as RIO BRAVO, THE MAGINIFICENT SEVEN, JOE KIDD and TOMBSTONE as well as several episodes of TV classics “Gunsmoke” and “Bonanza” were filmed. Old Tucson Studios is open to the public and at high noon there is a recreation of an old-fashioned western gunfight and later in the afternoon there is an 1890s burlesque show in the saloon.
There is no shortage of restaurants serve terrific Southwestern cuisine in Tucson. Two that stand out are Barrio located in the city’s revitalized downtown that is run by former Woodside resident Joe Casertano and Terra Cotta located in the city’s upscale north side at the foot of the Santa Catalina Mountains.
The historic hillside mining town of Bisbee is located two hours southeast of Tucson. While it is basically an artist colony today, from the late 19th century in the mid 20th century Bisbee was the copper capital of the world. The best way to quickly appreciate Bisbee’s heritage is to first visit the Bisbee Mining & Historical Museum. To get a true feeling of what it was like to be a typical worker in Bisbee back when it was a metal center, experience a Queen Mine Tour. You will be given a hard hat, rain slicker and flashlight and then board a narrow train that will take you deep into an abandoned mine. The tours are conducted by former mine workers. While the 75-minute tour is fascinating, it is not recommended for anyone suffering from claustrophobia or fear of dark places. Before leaving town, be sure to have a meal at the Copper Queen Hotel, which was a favorite hangout of the late John Wayne.
Just north of Bisbee is the famed Wild West town of Tombstone. Tombstone is best known for its famous “Shootout at the OK Corral” when Wyatt Earp and his brothers, along with pal Doc Holiday, fatally wounded a number of outlaws from the Clanton gang. Tombstone retains its 1880s look that appears to be right out of a Tom Mix western. You can still get a sarsparilla at Big Nose Kate’s Saloon and buy a Stetson at your choice of haberdasheries. Some of Arizona’s first Jewish settlers are buried in the city’s Boot Hill Cemetery.
Four hours west of Tucson on Interstate 8 is Arizona’s fastest growing city, Yuma. Yuma, located on the Colorado River where Arizona, California, and Mexico meet (and it’s practically the halfway point between Tucson and San Diego), is arguably the leafy vegetable capital of North America as lettuce, spinach and broccoli are grown here.
Because of its location, Yuma was a major transportation hub at the turn of the 20th century as it was a shipping, railroad and early aviation center. Even today the Air Force tests out new aircraft here.
During World War II, US troops who were to be sent to North Africa trained in Yuma because of its spectacular sand dunes and warm climate, which were similar to the battlefield conditions that they would be facing.
Moviegoers are familiar with last year’s Russell Crowe film, “3:10 TO YUMA,” in which Crowe’s character escapes from a train that is supposed to take him to what was arguably the toughest prison in the country at the time. Today the Yuma Federal Penitentiary is a national park and by the looks of things you can see why any criminal would have wanted to avoid staying here at all costs.
Yuma has plenty of public golf courses and the green fees are some of the cheapest you will find anywhere. The city’s revitalized Main Street has numerous boutiques, small museums and a theater. A stone’s throw from Main Street is the historic Best Western Coronado Hotel, which was one of the first hotels of that famous chain, and it was a favorite of Bob Hope in the late 1930s and early 1940s. The hotel has a terrific museum on the premises capturing Yuma’s history as well as that of the hotel.
For more information, contact the Tucson Visitors Bureau at (800) 638-8350, the Bisbee Visitors Bureau at (866) 2BISBEE and the Yuma Visitors Bureau at (800) 293-0071.