In the last 10 years, we have explored sites in all 15 Arizona counties. We have driven on interstates, blue highways, dirt roads and dirt trails. We've climbed our way to the top of mountains, driven to the depths of canyons, walked amongst dinosaur tracks, photographed wild horses, ventured onto the skywalk, driven to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, walked across the London Bridge, searched for anthill garnets, walked on tribal lands, viewed ancient petroglyphs and pictographs, taken a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon, driven through the world’s largest ponderosa pine forest in the world, explored the third largest volcanic field in the continental United States, and walked amongst ancient rock dwellings.
In the process, we have fallen in love with the spectacular sunrises, magnificent sunsets, monsoon rains, incredible vistas, unique rock formations, magnificent canyons, red rippled sand dunes, miles of golden grasses, free-range cattle, a mixture of cultures, unique flora, the magnificent saguaro cactus, lava flows, red sandstone spires, cinder cones, the variety of topographical zones, and the number of days of sunshine.
Traveling along, we soon discovered we were not the only ones enamored with this beautiful, unique and varied state. We started seeing evidence that Hollywood had also fallen in love with the Grand Canyon state. A bit of research verified our suspicion! It is estimated that a minimum of 500 movies have been filmed in at least 48 different towns. Other estimates stated that at least 5,000 films and TV shows have been filmed in this state. Regardless of the numbers, it became clear to us that Hollywood was impressed with many sections of Arizona. We found proof of Hollywood’s presence in many places.
In 2015, we spent two nights at Goulding’s Lodge near the entrance to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. Originally a trading post, it became the epicenter of Hollywood filmmaking, providing services and structures for filming crews, actors, photographers, artists and tourists. In the museum, a “Movie Room” in the original mess hall was used in the film “The Harvey Girls,” starring Judy Garland. The Movie Room contains call sheets, posters, movie stills and other items from the Hollywood age. A classic John Wayne movie is always playing in this museum. On the grounds, we located a structure entitled “John Wayne’s Cabin.”
Where actors roamed
Superstition Mountain Museum, at the base of the Superstition Mountains, is a short drive from Apache Junction. There we found some very interesting information about Arizona movies. There's information about the Apacheland Movie Ranch that was established in the area. Several movies and shows were filmed there, including “Have Gun Will Travel,” starring Richard Boone. Several movie stars frequented the ranch during its heyday and there are several pictures displayed in the museum.
Outside, visitors can get a picture of the gallows used in several films. There is also an Elvis Chapel built as a movie prop in 1969. We entered the tiny chapel in May 2013 and we were amazed; we were surrounded with beautiful posters from many of the movies filmed at Apacheland. This is a great place for movie lovers.
The International Route 66 Festival was held in Arizona in 2014. We packed up the car and headed to Kingman to participate in the events. Classic cars, a fun run, and musical events draw Route 66 enthusiasts from around the world. We explored some sites, visited the Mohave Museum of History and Arts and, to our surprise, we found some movie memorabilia. The Andy Devine Room, the city’s tribute to its native son, contained movie posters, personal information and many historic photographs.
Near Joseph City AZ, we stood admiring one of the original Route 66 structures that still remains. On that day in 2018, we admired the several murals on the outside of the building, strolled through the souvenir shop, purchased a Route 66 T-shirt and got a photograph of the huge rabbit near the parking lot. We also made sure to get a picture of the Jack Rabbit Trading Post sign that appeared, with slight modifications, in the movie “Cars,” released by Pixar Animation Studios and starring Lightning McQueen and Mater.
Seligman, on the original stretch of Route 66, was reportedly the inspiration for the town of Radiator Springs in that movie. Walking around this town, there are several historic structures: the Cottage Hotel, the Rusty Bolt, the Copper Cart and the Snow Cap Drive-in. Strolling through this town, it is easy to identify some of the characters and structures that were featured in the movie.
Throughout our state
As indicated above, the movie industry traveled throughout Arizona, filming in various locations such as Quartzsite, where segments of “Nomadland,” starring Frances McDormand, were filmed. There is also evidence of the movie industry presence in Black Canyon City, Flagstaff, Prescott, Yuma, Lake Powell, Page, Lake Havasu City, Winslow, Meteor Crater and several others.
Closer to our home, Green Valley, we have also located many sites that have made an appearance in the movies. At the Triangle T Ranch in Dragoon, a structure used in the movie “3:10 to Yuma,” starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin, still stands. The railroad depot featured in the movie “Oklahoma,” starring Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones, still exists in Elgin. The Empire Ranch in Sonoita was the site of several films, and movie memorabilia can be seen at the site. The Rex Allen Museum in Willcox has a large exhibit on the life and work of Rex Allen Sr. and Rex Allen Jr. The Longhorn Grill in Amado was used in the movie “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” starring Ellen Burstyn, and is currently open as a bar and restaurant. On Route 79, north of Tucson, travelers can stop at a rest area and pay tribute at the Tom Mix Memorial. At Canoa Ranch Lake in southern Green Valley, visitors can stroll where they filmed a section of the movie “Oklahoma.” Many other sites in Southern Arizona can be visited as well.
For movie enthusiasts who wish to view wagons and surreys used in Arizona films and TV shows, the Tucson Rodeo Parade Museum is a great place to visit. We located vehicles from “Return of the Gunslinger,” “Mclintock!”, “High Chapparal,” “The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean,” the surrey used in “Oklahoma!” and several others.
Many ask us how we became interested in the movie industry in Arizona. Well, the answer lies in two personal encounters we had in the first two years. During a long conversation with a Navajo silversmith, we learned he had been in several movies filmed on Navajo land. He showed us many photographs of him on the film sets and pointed to his favorite. He was very proud that, in one of the movies, he actually had the occasion to play the role of an Indian. That encounter, to this day, is near and dear to us.
Our second encounter occurred in 2012 in the grandstands at the Tucson Rodeo Parade. We were sitting next to a man and his wife. He proclaimed, with great joy, that this was his 38th Rodeo Parade and proceeded to list all of the movie and film stars he had seen throughout the years. The list was long and, today, we understand why.
Many of you may have noticed our failure to mention five well-known sites where numerous movies, commercials and TV shows have been filmed: Tombstone, Old Tucson Studios, Mescal Studios in Benson, Gammons Gulch in Pomerene and Trail Dust Town in Tucson. All have one common denominator for us: they allow visitors to become immersed in the filmmaking process. Movie lovers will easily recognize the saloon that was featured in “The Quick and the Dead” at Mescal Studios, the main street in Tombstone where the Earps walked, the “High Chaparral” movie set at Old Tucson Studios and the newly built saloon at Gammons Gulch.
At these movie sets, if we used our imagination, we could almost see Sharon Stone ride into town at Mescal Studios, John Wayne walking down the dirt street in Old Tucson Studios, Doc Holliday getting a shave on the porch at Mescal Studios, and so forth. These are the places where we felt surrounded by the action — ready to participate, if need be. These are the times where, in cowboy hats, we practiced our cowboy “walk” and felt like we belonged. In future articles, we will discuss these movie sets in greater detail.
What a great adventure it has been! There was only one BIG disappointment in our movie career. In 2012, we saw an advertisement about auditions for extras in the movie “Hangover 3” that was filming in Nogales. Oh my! We rushed to the calendar only to discover that we were headed to the East Coast during those dates. We were heartbroken to be missing our one and only chance to be in a movie.
When we returned from our trip, we spent an afternoon in Nogales, strolling through the film set, stepping over the huge electrical cables and photographing the movie set. Our movie career was not meant to be. Maybe next time.
Travels with Two Sisters is a series of adventures in Arizona with Green Valley residents Marie “Midge” Lemay and Suzanne “Sue” Poirier. For more discoveries, check out their first three books: “One Mile at a Time,” “A Gypsy in Our Souls,” and “Connecting Dots.”