Our month in Benson flew by but we managed a couple more adventures in “Westerns” country. A short drive from the town is a little gem called Gammon’s Gulch. Owners Joanne and Jay Gammon have created their personal Western Town. Jay has had a passion for everything cowboys since age six when he met John Wayne on a movie set. Jay’s Dad worked security for a number of movie stars, including JW, Ava Gardner and Andy Griffin. For over twenty years, Jay has built and lived in his own cowboy town and stocked it with historical items from the era of the Wild West.
Jay proudly tours his guests around the authentic town spilling personal anecdotes, jokes and tales of the olden days with enthusiasm and zeal. Jay’s heartfelt joy for each item he describes is contagious, especially when he pounded out a couple of tunes on the honkytonk piano and banjo. Jay rents out the property for weddings and socials, music videos of course western movies and television shows. A small mine past the gulch completes the town and provides alternate sets for filming.
In Tucson, we shared an amazing “pie” at the famous Grimaldi’s Pizza, known for its uniquely flavoured crust that is made with water shipped in from New York City. The company strives to uphold the standards it is known for. Nourished, we headed up through the Saguaros to Old Tucson.
Old Tucson, Western Town Movie Set is a mix of authentic and touristy buildings and activities. Acts include gunfights, sheriff-talks, musical reviews and stunt shows. We watched three young men act out a few stunts including falling from a high building and blowing up a hut. It was fun but contained more banter and filler than wild west substance. Luckily, most areas were free of crowds so we were able to wander through the town and out to the false-fronted sets at our leisure. it was cool to imagine the number of Hollywood stars that have passed through there. The best part of Old Tuscan is its setting against the saguaro-studded mountains and amazing cloudscapes.
“The Reno” Train was fun in that it had been featured in so many movies and as such, the movie stars had been in the engine at some point in the past. We rode around the property on a cute wee train whose engineer told stories about the shows and stars who had hung out there. Old Tucson has been used to shoot hundreds of movies and TV shows. Here is a list of a few: 1930 How the West was Won, 1940 Last Roundup, 1950 Rio Bravo, 1960 TV’s Bonanza, 1970 Outlaw José Wales, 1980 Billy the Kid, 1990 Tombstone and The Three Amigos.
There are a number of activities for families with children including pony rides, the Haunted Mine Tour that we took where skeleton-miners jump out from spider covered walls and shaky bridges. The vintage Carousel invites all ages to enjoy a magical childhood experience, which we did of course.
As we headed down through Saguaro National Park we were able to enjoy the majesty of the incredible mountains and cactus again. A large stag with a “great rack” crossed the road in front of us punctuating another great day in Arizona. We were regaled on our drive home with one of the most spectacular sunsets we have seen on the trip this year.
On January 14, we left Benson and began our journey northwest towards Yosemite. We dry-camped our first night in a county park north of Quartzite. After a short time on the road the following morning, we received notice from Kim, that Chris’s ailing Mom, Clare, had taken a turn for the worse. We diverted our route towards Las Vegas, the closest city with a major airport so Chris could return to Toronto to say goodbye. We passed some beautiful mountain and desert scenery through the Mohave Desert. The vegetation changed to a mix of cholla, prickly pear mesquite and Joshua trees. There were many solar power stations and wind farms along the way including some that intensify the energy using gigantic mirrors. We settled in to the Las Vegas Coach Resort where Dixie and I enjoyed the lovely gardens and beautifully groomed privately owned lots in the park.
C-5 Super Galaxy
Before we left Vegas, we toured Fremont Street where a high roof protects a few of the original hotels and casinos of Old Las Vegas. We loved the wealth of old neon signs everywhere and it was fun to see the authentic roots of the Vegas madness. Following a great dinner at the Rio Hotel, we watched the masterful sleight of hand and entertaining genius of Penn and Teller.
Within a few minutes after driving north from Las Vegas the next morning, we were once again in the desert. It is amazing to think of the development of “Sin City” back in 1920’s and 1930’s when the gangsters first conceived it!
This is my favourite Vegas photo…it says it all!