Old Tucson Studios, Tucson AZ

I left Why, AZ January 25th and arrived in Tucson, AZ which was about a 3-hour drive.

I decided to visit “Old Tucson Studios” on January 27th. Old Tucson is located about 12 miles on the outskirts of Tucson in the Saguaro National Park. A perfect setting for an old west town with nothing but hills, desert, and cacti.


I hope I don’t bore you with some history here, but again I feel history is important and you need to know about it so that the pictures and visiting tourist attractions have meaning. So here we go!

Old Tucson was originally built in 1939 by Columbia Pictures as a replica of the 1860’s Tucson for the filming of the western movie “Arizona,” starring William Holden and Jean Arthur. With the help of the Papago Indians, they built more than 100 structures of adobe and wood, some of which are still standing today.


After the movie “Arizona” was completed, Columbia Pictures donated the Old Tucson set to Pima County. The authenticity of Old Tucson led to other movies and TV series being filmed here, and with those filmings, over the years more sets were constructed and those also became permanent additions to Old Tucson Studios.

Then along came a man named Bob Shelton who leased the property from Pima County and started to restore the aging studio. While being an active movie and television filming business he opened the studio set to the public in 1960 as an old west attraction. Shelton added mock gunfights, rodeos, and saloon entertainment along with gift shops and food venues in various buildings. Old Tucson soon became a leading tourist attraction.

In 1968, a 13,000 square foot soundstage was built to give the studio greater movie-making options.


John Wayne starred in four movies at Old Tucson Studios:

  • Rio Bravo (1959) added a saloon, bank building, and doctor office
  • McLintock (1963) added the McLintock Hotel
  • El Dorado (1967) renovation of the storefronts on front street
  • Rio Lobo (1970) added a cantina, a granite-lined creek, a jail, and a ranch house

Other movies that were filmed:

  • Gunfight at O.K. Corral with Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas & Dennis Hopper
  • The Three Amigos with Steve Martin, Chevy Chase & Martin Shot
  • The Last Outpost with Ronald Regan
  • Tombstone with Kurt Russell

Other scenes shot for TV series were also filmed here such as:

  • High Chaparral (1967-1971)
  • Little House On The Prairie
  • Father Murphy
  • Three Amigos

On April 25, 1995, a fire gutted most of Old Tucson Studios….three fourths of the sets wooden buildings were destroyed or damaged including the soundstage, the mission church and the cantina from Rio Lobo. Also lost were one of a kind artifacts such as Laura Ingalls dress she wore in Little House On The Prairie, the set designer for the TV series “Young Riders,” a priceless doll collection, Michael Landon’s wardrobe, and many, many old photos.

After almost 2 years of reconstruction, Old Tucson was re-opened on January 2, 1977. The sets that were lost were not recreated but instead entirely new buildings were constructed and streets widened. In 2011, a new project was started to build new movie-quality sets to fill out the park and restore the feel of close-together buildings and the look and feel of a genuine old west town again. The design and construction of new sets lead to creating sets for new movies such as “Young Guns II, The Great Gatsby, The Right Stuff, Raging Bull, Marathon Man, and the Three Days of Condor.” The project added a dressmaker shop, a general store, and a blacksmith.

So if you get the chance to come to Tucson, AZ you should check out Old Tucson Studios, it’s pretty awesome, full of history and entertainment.




6 thoughts on “Old Tucson Studios, Tucson AZ

  1. Wow, looks like you have cruised along some “mighty fine” cowboy country! I love to think that John Wayne was there, he was such a classic. I enjoy reading about the history of the places you visit and I am sure happy you share your adventures with us. Loved all your photos, wish I could have been there and taken photos of your RV driving along the road. You must be quite the master driver by now!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey Collen I am so enjoying the comments you leave me! So glad you are enjoying my blog as I really am enjoying writing it and being able to have this journal of my travels. It was great to visit Old Tucson and actually see and be and walk the streets that so many movie stars walked filming all those great western movies and TV series. I too love John Wayne as a actor and loved the western movies he made. He was one of a kind.


    • No one says “partner” like John Wayne and no one walks like John Wayne, you are so right, he was one of a kind! And to think you were walking in his footsteps, fun, fun, fun!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Sherry….Really enjoyed all the info on Tombstone. I learned more from your blog than I knew from the last several months here. Nicely done! I look forward to following your adventure.!!
    Unfortunately, I misplaced your email. ..mine is clancymack13@hotmail.com
    Happy trails and safe travels.
    Mack and Cindy Tombstone RV Park


    • Hey so glad to hear from you and glad you like my blog. I love doing it. My email is strailer2003@yahoo.com
      I had two very, quiet days at Roper State Park, loved the natural hot spring. Drove through beautiful country here to Lost Dutchman State Park today, camping at the base of the Superstitious Mountains! It’s beautiful.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s