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Tucson Arizona - 5 Top Spots to Explore Arizona's Old West

For the traveler searching for the iconic symbols of the Old West - horses, cowboys, cactus and coyotes - you can't do much better than by heading over to the western outskirts of Tucson Arizona.

Tucson's Old West roots lie in its past as a ranching town and former cavalry outpost during the tumultuous years of conflicts with the Apache tribes.

Though most of the ranches have turned into subdivisions and strip malls, pockets of that cactus-studded Old West landscape lie just outside the city's borders.

To escape for a day into Tucson Arizona's Old West past, saddle up your vehicle and go west...

1) Act Like a Dude
Start your Old West adventure on Tucson Arizona's growing northwest side. West of the busy Interstate 10 freeway and tucked against saguaro cactus-studded mountains are two dude ranches that preserve the Old West lifestyle.

Explore your inner cowpoke at White Stallion Ranch - a working cattle ranch on 3,000 acres of prime Sonoran Desert. Guests can stay overnight - or for a week. Take a leisurely trail ride, participate in team cattle pennings or attend the weekly rodeo.

Nearby, the Lazy K Bar Ranch also offers the dude ranch experience - for the day or for overnight stays - with breakfast rides, nighttime horse-drawn wagon rides, cowboy cookouts, Sunday afternoon rodeos and all-female cowgirl camps.

2) Cactus, Coyotes and Cardinals
Continue on your Tucson Arizona Old West adventure with a drive along Picture Rocks Road which begins just north of the ranches.

This scenic 2-lane route meanders through the northwest corner of famed Saguaro National Park.

For several miles, you'll see nothing but craggy peaks, wide open spaces and scenic desert lush with saguaro, prickly pear and cholla cactus and spiky ocotillos. Keep your eyes peeled for javelina, jackrabbits or coyotes crossing the road and cardinals perched in the green-barked palo verde trees.

3) See a Forest of Giants
Take a leisurely trip into the park. From Picture Rocks Road, turn onto Golden Gate Road. This unpaved route is an easy drive for any vehicle and winds through some of the thickest stands of the towering, multi-armed saguaro cactus in Arizona. You'll also get gorgeous views of Wasson Peak - the highest mountain in Saguaro National Park.

There are plenty of places to stop and hike the park's trails or enjoy the views. Sit quietly and you might see Harris hawks, antelope ground squirrels or even a roadrunner.

For a quick side trip, take the turnoff to the Signal Hill picnic area. A short trail from the picnic tables leads to ancient Native American petroglyphs etched onto large boulders - the "Picture Rocks" for which the area is named.

Continue on the Golden Gate Road to the park's excellent visitor center. The wonderful displays help you identify what you've seen and introduce you to the Tohono O'odham - the Indian tribe that has inhabited the Tucson Arizona area for centuries.

4) Discover the Desert's Plants and Animals
From the visitor center, head east on Kinney Road to the world renowned Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum - one of Tucson Arizona's best attractions.

This combination zoo, botanical garden and natural history museum has colorful garden paths and naturalistic exhibits that immerse you in the sights and sounds of the region. They have over 1,300 types of plants and more than 300 kinds of animals. Here you can see often elusive species such as desert tortoises, Gila monsters and mountain lions.

This is also a great place to eat lunch at the gourmet Ocotillo Cafe which serves inventive Southwestern cuisine or the cafeteria-style Ironwood Terraces with its burgers, sandwiches and salads.

5) How the Old West Was on the Silver Screen
Continue east on Kinney Road to one of Tucson Arizona's popular tourist attractions - Old Tucson Studios.

Set against the dramatic backdrop of the rugged Tucson Mountains, Old Tucson was built as an on-location set for some of Hollywood's famous Westerns. Rio Bravo, Gunfight at the OK Corral and Tombstone were all filmed here.

Stroll past the Old West style buildings, take a miniature train ride around the grounds, watch an old time musical review in the saloon and see a classic Old West gunfight. Old Tucson is a touristy stop but kids especially enjoy it.
From here, head back to Kinney Road and follow the signs back into town and back into the modern world.

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About Author

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Paula Hartgraves is an old Tucson hand, having worked as a hiking guide at one of the city's popular resorts. Check out more of her tips on what to see and where to stay and eat in Tucson by visiting: http://www.arizona-vacation-planner.com/tucson-arizona-vacation.html
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