Interesting and fun things to see and do in Arizona

The yellowing of leaves put me in the mood for apple pie. And supermarket apples just weren’t going to cut it.

Want to know where find local apples in Arizona during the fall? Here are six ways to experience Arizona’s apple-growing heritage. We’re including u-pick farms, markets, a guest ranch in a orchard and one trek that’s, erm, a little out there, but we wanted to offer all sorts of options . . .

a crate full of freshly picked apples in a field

Go Arizona Apple Picking at Apple Annie’s

Apple picking is about as wholesome as it gets-it’s the ultimate family-friendly event. Although most orchards are now wholesale only, Apple Annie’s Orchard in Willcox is one Arizona apple orchard where picking is encouraged. Harvest season is late August through October; you pay for what you pick. It’s a fun day’s activity, but best of all you get to go home with a basket of fresh, crisp apples! Don’t feel like picking your own? No problem, you can buy an already-picked batch at the Country Store on site.

During weekends throughout the fall there are festive events most weekends, including pancake breakfasts with hot cider syrup and apple topping, apple cider donuts (our favorite!), lunch at the Orchard Grill (which features burgers cooked over apple wood) and pies, pies and more pies.

  • Location: 2081 W Hardy Rd. Willcox, AZ 85643
  • Phone: (520) 384-2084
  • Website: Apple Annie’s
  • Hours: Fruit orchard open daily, 8am to 5pm July-September; 9am to 5:30pm in October. Country Store open daily 8am to 5pm year round. (Closed Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas).

PRO TIP: Apple Annie’s also has a terrific Arizona Pumpkin Patch, and a beautiful sunflower display.

Spend the night in an Arizona apple orchard

The Beatty’s dog, Red, out in the orchard in Miller Canyon, photo courtesy Beatty’s Guest Ranch

If you really want to immerse yourself in the orchard experience there’s no better way than to sleep among the apple trees. In this case we mean a cabin in the orchard, not literally sleeping under the trees (more about that later . . . ). Here at Beatty’s Guest Ranch, cabins are tucked into the orchard, which itself is tucked into Miller Canyon in the Huachuca Mountains of southeastern Arizona. Spend a few nights in this cozy setting; at 5,800 feet in altitude, you can be sure of cool fall evenings.

Whip up breakfast in your cabin using some of Beatty’s farm-fresh eggs accompanied by apples and other goodies grown at the ranch. All foods grown at the ranch are available for purchase in their on site store. The ranch is adjacent to several Miller Canyon trails, and only a few miles from the Coronado National Memorial, part of the National Park System. This area is also birding country; warblers pass through during their fall migration. In summer the apples aren’t yet ripe, but you might just see a hummingbird or two–or twelve. The ranch holds the record for the most species (14) ever spotted in one day!

  • Location: 2173 E. Miller Canyon Road, Hereford, AZ 85615
  • Phone: (520) 378-2728
  • Website: Beatty’s Guest Ranch
A cabin in the orchard, photo courtesy Beatty’s Guest Ranch

PRO TIP: Miller Canyon is prime birding territory; in addition to apples, during a stay at Beatty’s Ranch you may “harvest” a few hummingbird and warbler sightings, depending on when you visit

Explore Sedona’s heritage of apples in Arizona

image of apple sorting equipment-apples in arizona

It’s hard to imagine now, but 100 years ago Sedona was the place to go to find an Arizona apple orchard. Nearby Oak Creek provided ready access to water, and Sedona farmers developed irrigation systems to supply their orchards. The Sedona Heritage Museum at Jordan Historical Park is housed at a former apple processing facilty. The museum’s logo is even the signature red rocks superimposed on an apple!

The orchard acreage was sold off in the 1970s, but the remaining buildings of the Jordan family farmstead remain to illuminate Sedona’s fruit-filled history. View vintage farm equipment and apple sorting machinery, and see a 1940s one-room farmhouse, where apples took pride of place. (While there, be sure to explore the exhibit on Sedona’s history in western movies.) This is one of the cool things to do during the Fall in Sedona.

  • Location: 735 Jordan Road, Sedona, Arizona
  • Phone: (928) 282-7038
  • Website: Sedona Heritage Museum
  • Hours: Open daily 11 am to 3 pm. Closed Major Holidays.
Old farmhouse at Sedona Heritage Museum against a backdrop of red rocks.
Jordan farmhouse at the Sedona Heritage Museum

Visit a historic Arizona apple orchard & homestead

historic, rusty farm equipment in front of Pendley orchards at slide rock state park
Historic farm equipment on display in front of the historic Pendley apple orchard at Slide Rock State Park

What is now Slide Rock State Park in Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona was once the Pendley apple orchard and homestead. Summertime visitors love to sluice down the water slide of the creek, but in the fall visitors come to see the beautiful colors . . . and the apples. The orchard, farm machinery, packing shed, old cabins and farmhouse at the site of the old Pendley homestead are all available to visit.

Frank Pendley planted his first apple orchard in 1912 after acquiring the site two years earlier under the Homestead Act. Park staff still farm the orchard, using Pendley’s original irrigation system. Be sure to visit in September and October, when the 13 varieties of apples grown on site are harvested and available for sale.

  • Location: 6871 N. Highway 89A, Sedona, AZ 86336
  • Phone: (928) 282-3034
  • Website: Slide Rock State Park
  • Hours: Open daily, 8am to 6pm, Feb through November; 9am to 5pm Dec, Jan. Closed Christmas.
apples in a wooden box

Trek to a forgotten apple orchard in the mountains

wild apples out in an untended orchard-apples in arizona
Imagine finding these after a 10-mile hike through desert landscape!

Earlier I mentioned an apple experience in Arizona that was a little “out there.” This is it . . . literally and figuratively. In the late 1800s a quirky character named Elisha Reavis established a farm and in a remote valley in the otherwise dry, forbidding Superstition Mountains in eastern Arizona. Many rumors circulated about Reavis: some called him the “Hermit of the Superstition Mountains,” other say he scrapped with the Apaches. No one really knows for sure, but an apple orchard on the site planted after his death is a lasting legacy.

Today, what remains of this Arizona apple orchard continues to flourish (in a wild sort of way) in this tucked-away corner of the Tonto National Forest. Those intrepid enough to find Reavis Ranch can enjoy all the apples their belly can hold–after a 10-mile hike to reach it! Plan to make this an overnight trek, camping at the orchard before making the 10-mile trek back. For some, it’s an annual pilgrimage:

  • Location: Trailhead is located at Reavis Trailhead Rd, Apache Junction, AZ 85119 (off state route 88)
  • Hours: Open all year; apple trees bloom in the spring, and are likely bearing fruit in September and October.

Pick up fresh Arizona apples at a Farmer’s Market

apples lined up in wooden bins at a farmers market apples in arizona

There are places in Arizona that produce apples, but are not open to the public. Most, however make their products available at local farmers’ markets throughout the state. So if you find yourself craving the the delicious fruit from an Arizona apple orchard, but aren’t in the mood to pick your own (or go on a 20-mile hike), download this Arizona Farmers Markets Directory to find one near you.

CLICK ON THE IMAGE AT RIGHT TO DOWNLOAD YOUR FREE COPY OF A GUIDE TO ARIZONA’S FARMERS’ MARKETS!

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I wanted to love our weekend in Sedona. But I had no idea where to begin.

Fall in Sedona is a magical time: the heat of summer has begun to fade, and the foliage turns shades of crimson, orange and yellow, complimenting those famous red rocks. The cooler weather makes enjoying the outdoors–and Sedona’s spectacular scenery–especially pleasant. Here are some of our favorite ways to enjoy Sedona in the fall.

Ogle the Foliage at Oak Creek Canyon

One of the great joys of fall in Sedona is the magnificent display of colorful foliage. The best place to see this is via a drive through Oak Creek Canyon. A series of switchbacks along Arizona Highway 89A just north of Sedona will have you winding through spectacular scenery that is especially resplendent in autumn.

Creek with fall foliage in background fall in sedona

Be sure to stop at Oak Creek Vista, near the canyon’s northern end. As the title implies, it will give you a tremendous view-and a perfect photo op. There are also Native American craftsmen who display there wares here, if you’d like to do a little shopping.

PRO TIP: Just north of Oak Creek Canyon, near Flagstaff, stop in at an Arizona Pumpkin Patch for some additional Fall Fun!

Visit a Historic Apple Farm

No fruit says “fall” more than apples! The Pendley Homestead is a 43-acre historic apple farm located in Oak Creek Canyon. The farm was established by Frank L. Pendley, who acquired the land in 1910 as part of the Homestead Act, and began his apple orchard in 1912. The state of Arizona acquired the homestead in 1985 and opened it as Slide Rock State Park in 1987.

Apple tree with box of red arizona apples on the ground, tractor in background; fall in sedona
Enjoy some fresh-picked Arizona apples from Sedona in the fall

There are still 300 fruit-producing trees in the orchard, along with the historic homestead buildings and farm equipment on display. When visiting Sedona in the fall, be sure to stop by the park to pick up some fresh Pendley Homestead apples!

READ NEXT: Where to find Apples in Arizona during the fall

Chill Out at the Sedona Stupa

Stupa in Sedona in the fall, with banners coming from peak

Sedona is a must-visit place for spiritual seekers the world over. The Sedona Amitabha Stupa and Peace Park offers a rare opportunity for solace at a form of sacred architecture that is typically found in Asia. Stupas date back over 2,500 years, to the time of Buddha. The structure represents the Mind of Enlightenment, and is considered to be living presence of the Buddha.

This sacred place is a soothing spot to visit during the fall in Sedona. It’s tucked into a clearing among pinion and juniper pines, under the watchful eye of Cathedral Rock. Take a short trek up winding trails for prayer, meditation, healing, and peace. The Amitabha Stupa (and the smaller Tara Stupa) is open every day from dawn until dusk. Like all places of worship, it is free to visit, but donations are accepted.

Hike the Red Rocks near Sedona in the Fall

Fall in Sedona is the perfect time to explore the area on foot. There are a myriad of trails for all abilities winding through the red rocks, valleys and Canyons. Southwest of Sedona, Red Rock State Park offers a collection of relatively short hikes (0.2-0.5 miles each) that can be combined to create longer treks. There is a small admission fee to the park.

For a broader range of hikes throughout the region, be sure to stop into the Red Rock Ranger District Visitor Center of the Coconino National Forest, located on AZ Route 179 just north of Interstate 17. There you’ll find an excellent selection of trail maps, with knowledgeable park rangers who can make suggestions based on your interests.

PRO TIP: Hiking is free in the Coconino National Forest, but parking areas at most of the trailheads require a fee. Pick up a Red Rock Pass at the Visitor Center, or purchase online ahead of your visit.

Taste Wines in the Verde Valley while spending Fall in Sedona

Yellowing Grape vines in Verde Valley in the fall with a "syrah" sign

The fertile lands along the Verde River have been an agricultural hub for Arizona inhabitants for centuries, and is now home to the Verde Valley Wine Region. Wine tasting is a perfect activity to do in Sedona in the fall! The vines are ready to yield the season’s bounty and the the new vintages are making their way through the fermentation process.

Over 20 wineries and tasting rooms are clustered around the town of Cottonwood, just a few miles east of Sedona. For those that like to turn tasting into a quest, download a passport to the Verde Valley Wine Trail, and check ’em off as you go! (If you’d like to have a designated driver, consider this wine tour with transportation.)

Hunt for ghosts in nearby Jerome

Front entrance Jerome Grand Hotel at night

Perched on the side of a mountain about 30 miles west of Sedona, the former mining town of Jerome is reputed to have its fair share of ghosts. Front and center is the Jerome Grand Hotel, which was repurposed from a former hospital. Some say the hotel is “the most haunted place in Arizona.” When visiting Sedona in the fall, all that vortex energy, coupled with Halloween, has got to raise a spirit or two. Right?

Oh, and did I mention the hotel restaurant is called “The Asylum”? That’s not TOO spooky!

Browse the shops and galleries of Tlaquepaque

Many destinations have shopping areas and galleries, but it takes a place as special as Sedona to have Tlaquepaque Arts and Craft Village. Far more than a simple “shopping center,” Tlaquepaque was actually built to resemble a traditional village of the same name in Mexico. Although it was constructed in the early 1970s, it has a feeling of being around for centuries–the buildings themselves feel like a work of art.

Outdoor fountain filled with pumpkins and other fall decorations, with southwestern shops in Sedona in background
The shops at Tlaquepaque decorate beautifully for fall in Sedona

Originally conceived as an artist community, Tlaquepaque today has over 50 specialty shops and art galleries, many of which contain artists working on-site. As you stroll around trickling fountains under the shade of a giant sycamore, you’re bound to be tempted by ceramics, architectural decor pieces and contemporary jewelry along with fine art paintings and more.

Attend an Arts Festival

Artist standing with completed work outdoors at Sedona art festival; red rocks in background
Outdoor judging at a Sedona Art Festival

Browse unique works of art while helping to support future artists and artisans. Established in 1989, the Sedona Arts Festival is the oldest and largest arts festival in the community. Every fall in Sedona this festival exhibits the work of more than 125 artists in a variety of artistic mediums. Explore creations in ceramics, photography, sculpture, drawing, fiber art and more during the two-day festival, which is held outdoors with the magnificent red rocks as a backdrop.

Attend knowing you’ll be supporting art programs at schools, parks, camps and more. The festival has funded nearly $300,000 of programs during its history. And if all that browsing has worked up an appetite, be sure to check out the Gourmet Gallery for tasty locally-sourced treats.

Observe (or participate in) Art en Plein Air

Artist painting outdoors (in shadow) in foreground, with historic building and Sedona red rocks in background. Fall in Sedona Arizona
An artist captures the beauty of fall in Sedona “en plein air”

The dry sunny climate of Sedona in the fall is perfect for creating art outdoors, or “en plein air,” as the French dubbed it. Each year the Sedona Arts Center holds a week-long festival to celebrate this unique artistic experience. The Sedona Plein Air Festival consists of master artists painting, along with workshops, lectures and free events, all amid the magical scenery of Sedona.

The Sedona Arts Center originated over 60 years ago, when the region was just becoming known as an “art colony.” Sign up for one of the workshops and maybe you, too, will one day be one of the master artists!

Go back in time at the Sedona Heritage Museum

Nothing says “autumn” like shiny red apples, and in the early-mid 20th century, apples were big business in and around Sedona. So it seems only fitting that a museum celebrating Sedona’s past should be located on a former apple farmstead. To learn more about this history a visit to Sedona in the fall should include a stop at the Sedona Heritage Museum, located at Jordan Historical Park in Upper Sedona.

Old farmhouse at Sedona Heritage Museum against a backdrop of red rocks.
Historic Jordan Farmhouse at the Sedona Heritage Museum (note the apple tree out front!)

The farmstead buildings have been preserved and repurposed into exhibit halls, where visitors can learn about various periods in the region’s history, including Early Settlers, Ranching & Cowboys, the Orchard Industry, movies made in Sedona. There’s even a display about Sedona Schnebly, the woman for whom the town was named.

Ride the leaf-peeping Rails

Fall foliage in Arizona is at its most resplendent near rivers and streams, when the summer greenery changes to vivid reds and yellows. Along the Verde River northwest of Sedona much of this magnificent foliage is unavailable to view–unless you go by rail. A ride on the historic Verde Canyon Railroad will take you through canyons you’d otherwise be unable to see–and it’s especially beautiful during fall in Sedona.

Aerial shot of Verde Canyon Railroad going through canyon along a river with trees displaying fall foliage-near Sedona in fall
The Verde Canyon railroad snakes through gorgeous fall foliage. Photo by Tom Johnson via Flickr

The 40-mile, 4-hour ride takes you on a lazy ride through the canyons along the Verde River. Plenty of windows–and outdoor viewing platforms–give you plenty of terrific photo ops. The train departs from Clarkdale, about 25 miles west of Sedona. Refreshments can be purchased on board, and there are also special event rides, such as the Grape Train Escape Wine Tasting train ride (now there’s a way to multi-task!).

Take a Yoga Hike

In a destination where inner peace and hiking are both so important, a yoga hike is a natural combination. For those who like multi-tasking, yet really need to relax, this is a perfect solution. Spend 3 hours communing with nature as you reach within yourself. All out in the splendid scenery of Sedona in the fall.

There are so many ways to enjoy Sedona in the fall . . . which ones will you choose?

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What so special about these Franklin cars? And what’s with the dirt roads in the middle of Tucson?

Lovers of Franklin cars must visit the the Franklin Automobile Museum in Tucson, Arizona. It’s the largest public collection is devoted to the the quirky marque, built in Syracuse, NY from 1902 through 1934. Just getting to the museum is part fo the fun: it’s tucked away in the residential neighborhood north of downtown known as Richland Heights West, one of the last areas in Tucson with unpaved streets. You approach by driving across natural desert sand, much as a shiny new Franklin car might have done in the 1920s. It’s not uncommon to see the odd tumbleweed charting a lazy course across the sand like in some old John Wayne western.

So plan to take a trip back in time. Drive (slowly!) on some dusty sand roads amid cacti for a few blocks before arriving at the museum’s three adobe buildings. The throwback atmosphere is really part of the fun when viewing such a fine assemblage of pre-World War II cars.

Franklin Automobile Museum Tucson Arizona

History of the Franklin Automobile Museum

This 27-car collection of Franklin cars was developed by car restorer Thomas Hubbard. He purchased his first Franklin in 1950 and just kept buying them. He was first attracted to Franklins at the tender age of eight when his family bought a brand new 1933 model. Apparently his friends were not impressed.

Museum guide Bill, who as a child used to hang around helping Hubbard’s auto restorations, recalls Hubbard saying, “They’d rib me about the car. I had to explain to my friends, why if the car was so good they didn’t make them anymore.” Hubbard passed away in 1993 but the foundation he established funds the museum and its continued acquisition of cars including a purchase of a 1905 Franklin Model A Runabout with a rare rear-entry tonneau.

History of Franklin Cars

Franklins were the brainchild of engineer John Wilkinson and businessman Herbert H. Franklin, whose personal motto was “It can be done.” Franklin Automobiles were built in the much colder climes of Syracuse, New York in the early part of the 20th century, from 1902 through 1934.

All of the Franklins were air-cooled. Because air-cooling removed the need for a bulky radiator, Franklin cars took on some unusual front-end shapes including barrel hoods, shovels, and horse collars. They were a considered a premium brand; pricing ran just under a Cadillac. Collections this large are rare: although over 150,000 Franklins were produced, only about 3,500 survive today.

What’s on display at the Franklin Automobile Museum

There are three rooms’ worth of autos here. Because early cars required constant maintenance, the 1918 Franklin Model B Touring came with tool kits; the originals are cleverly hidden inside the front doors of Franklin cars and even included extra spark plugs. Look for the handy (and surprisingly small) golf bag on the 1929 Franklin Convertible Coupe.

In a sign of the times, with Charles Lindbergh having crossed the Atlantic Ocean (with an air-cooled engine) just two years before, an airplane logo was placed on the rear bumper to symbolize the car’s “airplane-type” engine; further increasing its sportiness factor.

A 1929/1930/1931 Franklin Model 153 is unique because it was company founder Herbert Franklin’s personal vehicle. The reason it has so many model years attributed to it was that he brought it into the shop annually to update it to the current model year. 

Franklin 1925 Sport Coupe

A one-off 1931 Franklin Model 153 Sport Phaeton was custom ordered by 21-year-old Stillman F. Kelley, II for his honeymoon. Despite the Great Depression raging, Kelley was able to pay $6,500 for this beauty, and may have survived the financial downturn better than Franklin. The automaker had leveraged his company for growth that didn’t materialize and was unable to shoulder the increased debt burden, declaring bankruptcy in 1934. The aircraft engine division survived but, in an odd twist, was bought in 1947 by Preston Tucker to produce engines for the Tucker 48. It’s not all Franklins though. In an outbuilding there are several other marques, including a 1909 REO Touring, which was the first car Thomas Hubbard restored.


And what’s with those dirt roads?

Part of what makes a visit to the Franklin Automobile Museum so unique is its setting in a quiet area with dirt roads. Dirt roads themselves aren’t really all that unusual-especially in rural parts of Arizona. But the museum is in the city of Tucson, which makes it quite an oddity. Here, you can still find corrals with horses and wild rabbits nibbling on mesquite leaves . . . and the speed limit is a whopping 15 MPH.

The dirt road entrance to the Franklin Automobile Museum harkens back to the 1940s

The neighborhood, known as Richland Heights West, is about 3 miles northeast of downtown Tucson. The 16 square block parcel was developed on a former ranch in the 1940s, before it was part of the city–and before paved roads were the accepted thing. The city offered to pave the neighborhood roads in the 1990s, but the neighborhood association said, “no thanks.” They like it just the way it is: quite, a little dusty, and full of wildlife. It’s also the perfect place to see a Franklin Car.

Unique roadside Americana near the Franklin museum

A visit to the Franklin Automobile Museum offers the opportunity to take in a bit of authentic roadside Americana located nearby. Anyone who loves road trips is aware of the Muffler Man statues that sprinkle the heartland. These distinctive, 20-foot-tall fiberglass figures were mostly erected in the 1960s to lure visitors to various shops and attractions. They were cleverly designed so the statue could hold an object related to the business they were promoting.

They came to be known as “Muffler Men,” regardless of what they held, because so many of them ended up holding mufflers to promote service stations. One of these icons of mid-century advertising presides over an intersection in Tucson, just two miles southwest of the Franklin Museum. The circa-1964 fiberglass giant at the corner of N. Stone Avenue and E. Glenn Street is one of the earliest “Muffler Man” statues. This one’s dressed up as Paul Bunyan holding an axe, yet it’s still auto-related, as it stands in the parking lot of Don’s Hot Rod Shop at 2811 N. Stone Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85705.

PRO TIP: If you’re really into quirky sights, just about 6 blocks south of the Franklin Auto Museum is the intersection of Glenn & Campbell Although the Rhinestone Cowboy spelled his name with only one “n,” the crisscrossed street signs provide a nifty photo op.

This museum showcasing Franklin cars is one of several unusual museums in Tucson. It truly is a one-of-a-kind destination and a real trip back in time. Further information is available at www.FranklinMuseum.org.

Where is the Franklin Automobile Museum?

3420 North Vine Avenue, Tucson, AZ 85719

When is the Franklin Automobile Museum Open?

Mid-October through Memorial Day, Wed-Sunday, 10am to 4pm.

What was unique about Franklin cars?

The engines were air-cooled, so there was no need for a bulky radiator.

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Photo-op classic cars parked in random spots all around Tucson. How wonderfully odd!

Truly Nolen cars are a staple in the Tucson landscape. But why are classic cars perched on random street corners with the words “TRULY NOLEN” painted on the side? We were on a mission to find out.

What are Truly Nolen cars?

Truly Nolen cars are one of the truly (yeah, we really said that) unique things about Tucson: classic cars parked all over Tucson with the words TRULY NOLEN boldly painted on them. There are more than fifty of these cars, turning the southern Arizona city into an unofficial outdoor car museum. They’re such a fixture that most locals take them for granted. Perhaps it’s because, with 350 days of sunshine per year, Tucson is one of the best cities in America to own a classic car. There’s hardly any rain and you certainly don’t have to worry about corrosive salt being put down on the roads to counter ice and snow.

1948 light blue Chevy-one of the Truly Nolen cars to be found on a random Tucson street corner

But that still doesn’t explain why they’re here. As nice as the climate is in Tucson though, we’re not sure we’d leave a classic car parked outside permanently, certainly not a collection of 50 classic cars. But then again, we’re not mid-century extermination magnates. The cars are part of a quirky marketing campaign for the Truly Nolen exterminating company, a national company founded in Tucson by the eponymous Truly Nolen–yes, that was his real name. His siblings included Really and Sincere Leigh. (Seriously. And yes, really.)

How Truly Nolen Cars Began

The whole spectacle began in 1955. Young exterminating entrepreneur Truly Nolen’s car broke down while he was driving around town on business. Truly had to leave the car parked outside a mechanic’s garage for a week while he waited for his next paycheck to cover the repairs. Fortunately for him, that car had the company name and phone number prominently displayed on the side.

We met with Michelle Nolen Senner, the company’s current head of public relations (and Truly’s daughter), who told us, “During that period he received more calls than ever for new business. He loved marketing and he loved old cars, so he got an idea.” And what an idea that was.

From an idea to a marketing classic

Truly started acquiring cars and painting his name on the side. (In the late 50s these would have simply been used cars–who knew they’d become classics?) Then he began parking them at prominent intersections throughout town; in fact, they’re now known as “corner cars.”

The landowners welcomed the classic cars to their site; the conversation piece drew in new customers for their own businesses, many of which were auto-related, such as body shops and car washes. Some of the cars are paired up with businesses that inadvertently create a happy coincidence. For example, a 1956 Pontiac—with its iconic jet-wing hood ornament—is parked in front of a Jet Wash car wash.

Due to the desert sand, this Pontiac looks like it could use a trip through the Jet Wash

Gradually the fleet expanded to more than 50 classic cars and continues to grow. At any one time you might run into a 1929 Nash Cabriolet or a 1934 Hudson and more, either parked around town or participating in various civic activities and car shows. The company gets the best response from chrome-filled cars of the 1950s and 1960s, like a 1950 Studebaker or the two-tone turquoise-and-white 1957 Nash Metropolitan.

Amazingly, all of the Truly Nolen cars are unlocked–what a great photo op!

People really like the cars with prominent tail fins that take them back to a 1950s malt shoppe.

Truly’s personal 1957 red-and-white Chevy Bel Air—his daily driver—is a valued artifact and kept at the company lot.  Senner recalls, “The first time I took it out for a drive was to a Starbucks. When I got back in the car I realized there were no cup holders!”

Sitting in Truly Nolen’s favorite car-truly a treat (even though there are no cup holders!)

“Mouse Cars”: the new classic

In 1961 the company started turning Volkswagen Beetles (no coincidence that an exterminating company used a car named after a bug) into “mouse cars,” complete with mouse ears on top and a tail in the rear. (A 1974 VW “mouse car” is one of the classics parked around town.) The next logical step? The “Mouselimo:” a stretch Beetle that made it into the Guinness World Records as the longest VW Beetle. As it’s an unusual car to stretch, there are only three in the world.

Vintage car lovers in Tucson can go on a cool scavenger hunt by driving around town seeking out these shiny classics parked on their prominent perches. While Truly Nolen passed away in 2017 at the age of 89, his legacy lives on with the corner cars.

PRO TIP: To see additional classic cars parked outside the Truly Nolen offices in Arizona, drive by 3636 E. Speedway Boulevard, Tucson, AZ 85716 or attend one of their car shows.

Bonus sightings: Classic cars in the Truly Nolen spirit

In a sort of homage to the Truly Nolen marketing model, other companies in Tucson also park classic cars out front with the company name on them. A first-generation Mustang painted with a Mexican flag is parked in front of the legendary Sonoran hot dog restaurant El Guero Canelo, while a 1937 Hudson Terraplane is parked outside Buck’s Automotive Repair. When asked if the latter still runs, the owner replies, “Every day. Everything still works, even the original radio.”  The car is a favorite find for kids who are playing Pokémon Go. 

When it comes to marketing exterminating services, Truly Nolen definitely built a better mouse trap and created a unique feature of Tucson that everyone can still, well, truly enjoy.


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INSIDE: The Arizona Plane Graveyard (Tucson Boneyard) no longer offers on-base tours. How to see the planes using nearby roads – NEW for 2024!

A few years ago we took a tour of the Arizona airplane graveyard–also known as the Tucson “Boneyard.” It was an awesome way to see the place where over 3,000 surplus military aircraft are stored. Then in early 2020 COVID hit and tours were stopped. We waited, and waited, and waited for tours to resume . . . but 4 years later it looks like it’s not gonna happen. 🙁

Fortunately there are still ways to see the planes without going onto the military base where they’re located.

You just have to know where to look . . .

. . . And you’ve come to the right place. We’ll tell you all about it.

The Arizona plane graveyard is a must-visit site for anyone who loves aircraft (that’s us! ✋). Learn about this amazing place, and how you can see “the Boneyard,” as it’s unofficially known−even if you can’t get on base. Visiting the Boneyard is one of the truly unique things to do in Tucson-there’s nothing else like it. Anywhere.

View of the arizona plane graveyard from Escalante Road (no fence)

What, exactly, IS the Arizona Plane Graveyard?

“The Boneyard” is officially known as the 309th AMARG Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (military-speak for a really cool airplane junkyard Tucson Az).

It’s located at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, on the southeastern edge of Tucson, where it is the final resting place of more than 3,000 aircraft.

AMARG is the world’s largest salvage yard (minus the snarling dogs). And, since those planes−and their respective parts−still have some use, don’t call it an “airplane JUNKyard Tucson AZ.” ‘Cause that would be just plain disrespectful to those retired sunbathing beauties.

The aircraft are lined up in rows set up with military precision, stacked so closely together that from above their wings look like they are holding hands with each other, a sharp contrast to their former roles.

It’s a starkly beautiful setting as, throughout the day, the silver fuselages reflect changing colors of the Rincon Mountains to the east.

Aerial view of hundreds of planes lines up at the Tucson airplane graveyard, aka the tucson boneyard
Tucson Arizona aircraft graveyard: isn’t it a beautiful sight?

Why is there a Plane Graveyard Arizona in Tucson?

The military has a problem. It has thousands of aircraft that are no longer being used, but they don’t want to just send them to the scrapyard like a used ’92 Chevy. So what to do?

It would be impractical to build giant hangars for 3,000+ aircraft, especially when many of them are no longer operational. How about sending them into semi-permanent outdoor storage?

The Sonoran Desert of Arizona provides the perfect location, where the arid climate prevents rust. So now theres a Tucson Arizona aircraft graveyard.

Out-of-service military aircraft at the Boneyard, with Tucson’s Rincon Mountains in the background

Despite its moniker, the “Boneyard” is not a place merely to stockpile airplanes in eternal rest. Some have been mothballed for spare parts and potential future activation.

In 2015 a B-52 bomber old enough to qualify for AARP membership was restored and returned to flying condition (those things are solid! 💪).

Though the Cold War may have ended, the men and women deployed at the Arizona plane graveyard are on constant alert for any future chills in relations between the superpowers.

Can you tour the Tucson Airplane Graveyard?

Arizona plane graveyard in tucson-air force warning sign
Tours of the Boneyard are no longer offered due to security measures

Unfortunately, NO. Due to their placement on an active military base, tours are not offered of the airplane Boneyard Arizona. (They once were, it’s true, but those days are past, and we civilians have to accept that. 🫤)

BUT . . . it’s kind of difficult to tuck 3,000+ aircraft out of sight, so you CAN see them. You just have to know where to look.

The amount of hardware on display is striking. Some of the planes look ready to take off while others are partially salvaged, as if turkey vultures soaring overhead have been picking them clean.

Where is the Airplane Boneyard Arizona?

View of the Tucson airplane graveyard through the fence on Escalante Road

Fear not, we’ll give you a rundown below. But first, we’ll start with a general overview map:

High-level map of airplane boneyard arizona, in context with the city of Tucson
Overview map of the airplane boneyard Arizona, in context with Tucson

In the map above shows the Arizona plane graveyard at a high-level view. This gives you some context of where the Boneyard is with respect to downtown Tucson (which is to the northwest).

Also note Tucson International Airport to the southwest. You can see that commercial airport is less than half the size of the aviation graveyard Arizona! (You need a LOT of space to store over 3,000 planes! ✈️✈️✈️)

Best Places for Planespotting at the Airplane Boneyard Arizona

The best place to see planes is on the northern perimeter of the Tucson airplane graveyard. Additionally, there are a few other places you can spot the aircraft, however they may be little more than fleeting glimpses.

Here’s a more detailed map showing the best viewing spots:

Map of best planespotting locations at the Arizona Plane Graveyard Tucson
Map of planespotting locations at the aviation graveyard Arizona

1. Escalante Road (northern perimeter): Viewing rating-10/10; Photo rating 10/10

View of the arizona plane graveyard from Escalante Road (no fence)
Arizona plane graveyard from Escalante Road

There are a few reasons the viewing the aviation graveyard Arizona from Escalante Road is so good:

  • You’re as close to the aircraft as you might be driving on base (which I remember from my on-base tour years back)
  • There’s plenty of room to park, so you can take your time and ogle to your heart’s content. (Yeah, so I totally did that.)
  • You are level with the planes, with no obstructions to viewing
  • Lots of time to take all the photos you want

NOTE: You do need to be strategic with your camera lens, so you don’t see chain link fencing in your shot−unless you want to get “artsy.” 🤔

In the photo above, I put my camera lens (from my iPhone) in juuuuuust the right spot, up against the fence. So it looks like I’m standing smack-dab on base of the airplane boneyard Arizona.

Then, I opted for the artsy bit, with the chain-link fencing in the foreground. This demostrates just how close you can actually get to the planes! Plus I think it’s kind of cool the way the fencing creates its own frame.

Arizona plane graveyard, with chain link fencing in the foreground
Here’s the Arizona plane graveyard, framed by the fencing

As I mentioned above, there’s plenty of parking along the fence here, so you’ll be able to take all the time you like ogling the aircraft. Here’s a panoramic view of what the road/parking area/boneyard looks like:

panoramic shot of escalante road and tucson airplane graveyard
Panoramic shot of the airplane boneyard Arizona alongside Escalante Rd.

2. E. Irvington Road (northern perimeter): Viewing rating: 8/10; Photo rating: 9/10

Views of arizona plane graveyard from East Irvington Road in Tucson
Partially obstructed view of USAF cargo jets through the fence from E. Irvington Road

Slightly farther east, and a little to the south, you’ll find the northern perimeter of the aviation graveyard Arizona along East Irvington Road. Viewing is very good here, although not quite as good as Escalante Rd (above).

A few points to consider when viewing planes along E. Irvington Rd:

  • The aircraft are fairly close
  • There is an ample parking area
  • You can take as much time as you like looking at (and photographing) the aircraft
  • There is a small berm, partially obstructing the aircraft

This last point is why I only give the viewing here an 8/10 instead of 10/10. There is one area where there’s a break in the berm, however this also coincides with a wash. So if it has rained recently (such was the case when I last visited) you’ll be trudging through a big ol’ mud puddle at this spot.

All of that being said, there are still some darned good views along this area, including this one (below), where there’s a slight rise above the berm: 👇👇👇

Tailfins at Arizona plane graveyard, including coast guard plane
Tailfins against the backdrop of the Santa Rita Mountains to the south

I love this view of the tail fins all lined up, with the Santa Rita Mountains in the background. It’s hard to imagine these beauties are part of any type of aviation graveyard Arizona! (And isn’t that lone plane in U.S. Coast Guard red livery just stunning?!)

Here’s a view along the E. Irvington Rd. fence line, to give you an idea of the terrain. You can see the berm (through the fence) as well as the slight incline on the left of the photo. This is where you can get a better view of those gorgeous tailfins 😊.

view of aviation graveyard arizona along e. irvington road
View of the Tucson airplane graveyard along E. Irvington Rd.

3. East Valencia Road (southern perimeter): Viewing: 3/10; Photos 3/10

The aircraft of the Arizona plane graveyard are not stored as near to the southern perimeter as they are on the northern side. A few things to keep in mind when driving along the southern side of the boneyard:

  • The planes are a farther distance from the perimeter than the northern side
  • Much of the roadway has creosote bushes and other vegetation obstructing your view
  • There is nowhere to park

This last issue is perhaps the most critical. Unless you have someone else driving, it will be difficult to crane your neck to see the planes. (And probably unsafe as well.) It will also be impossible to photograph anything.

However, if you DO have someone else driving, here’s a map showing where you can see the planes:

map showing viewing spots of airplane boneyard arizona along e. valencia rd.
Plane viewing spots along E. Valencia Road

Since my husband was doing the driving, I was, fortunately able to get a photo from E. Valencia Road. I’ll let you be the judge of whether it’s worth heading over to the southern perimeter. If you’re a completist, you may want to do it anyway. (Which I totally get 🤩.)

Arizona plane graveyard as seen from S. Valencia Road
Views from the distance along S. Valencia Roadnot so hot

4. Kolb Road (N/S through the center): Viewing 7/10 & 0/10 (zero) ; Photos 4/10 & 0/10

Kolb Road runs north-south and slices right through the center of the Arizona plane graveyard–it essentially bisects it. So you may be thinking, “awesome! We can drive right between all the planes.” And you can . . . sort of.

There are some spots were viewing is pretty good, other areas where it is totally nonexistent. Some things to consider when driving along the Kolb Road portion of the Arizona airplane graveyard:

  • Kolb Rd. is a busy road with a lot of cars
  • There is nowhere to pull over along the road
  • The road is below grade through much of the boneyard; you can’t see any planes.

There is a massive overpass crossing Kolb Road for the Air Force to transport aircraft from one section of the boneyard to the other. Therefore road is actually recessed for much of the distance through the boneyard.

As a result, visibility of planes is ZERO through this portion of Kolb Road. Take a look at this photo to see what I mean:

approach to the large overpass on kolb road at the tucson airplane graveyard
Approaching the aircraft overpass on Kolb Road

The above photo is us driving north through the boneyard. You can see the aircraft overpass in the distance. You can also see the how the road is recessed, with no planes visible here. And how there’s not much room on the shoulders to pull over.

And although you can’t see it in this photo, there are “No Parking” signs all along this portion of the road. So you can’t exactly stop for a quick scramble up the slope for a photo-op.

But the viewing does get better as you progress north of the overpass.

The road begins to gradually slope upward, until you are once again level with the planes, near the northern perimeter (where we began our planespotting journey.) The best area for viewing is the western side of Kolb Rd., between E. Irvington Road and Escalante Road.

PRO TIP: There is no stopping on Kolb Rd, so be sure to have someone else take photos (or have someone else drive and take photos yourself).

Viewing is best while driving north: even though they will be on the opposite side of the planes, you will be driving toward them, instead of away from them.

Here are 2 quick videos I took (while my husband was driving!) heading north on Kolb Road:

And this one is in Slo-Mo, so you can see a bit more:

Driving toward aircraft at the arizona aviation graveyard in tucson arizona
Photo taken driving north on Kolb Rd. at the aviation graveyard Arizona

Also, this is the only place you’ll be to see the front of any of the aircraft. From all other viewpoints you’ll be looking at the back or sides of the planes.

From this viewpoint you can see how the aircraft windshields have been prepped for their long stay in the desert. And how the propellers have been stabilized. They kind of look blindfolded . . . or like they’re wearing masks. 😷

NOTE: Remember, there is nowhere to stop along Kolb Rd. to take photos. And it’s a fairly busy road with a speed limit of 40mph, so no slowing down for a quick “snap.” Be sure to have a “designated photographer” in the car with you (or let someone else do the driving!)

aviation graveyard arizona-closeup of planes along kolb road
Closeup of planes along Kolb Road at the aviation graveyard Arizona

The Stealth Fighter at the Aviation Graveyard Arizona???

Maybe not, but then again, maybe . . . ???

I couldn’t finish this post without sharing a cute anecdote from our experience back in the days when tours were still offered.

As the tour bus drove through the rows of aircraft the driver stopped outside one special spot.

A lone ladder waiting for a pilot to climb into the cockpit angled ten feet into the air, hovering over a set of landing gear and . . . nothing else. A sign in front of it says that this is an F-117 Stealth Fighter.

It made the grizzled tour guide’s day when a few young kids exclamed, “Wow! You really can’t see it!”

Just a little Air Force humor there . . . 😉

AMARG’s sense of humor is evident at this display of the F-117 Nighthawk “Stealth Fighter.”

It’s disappointing that tours of the Tucson airplane graveyard are no longer offered. However with a little careful planning (and a designated driver while you photograph), you can still see much of this incredible sight.

Even if it has to be through the fence.

Viewing the Arizona Plane Graveyard from the Air

This is one you’ll have to do through the magic of YouTube 😊. Below are two of the best videos I’ve found from years gone by:

Like Aircraft? More in the Tucson Area:

Afterwards, the Pima Air & Space Museum offers a fine collection of more than 350 aircraft including a B-24 Liberator, Sikorsky Skycrane helicopter, Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the unique Aero Spacelines 377-SG “Super Guppy” cargo plane that is cobbled together from parts of a retired U.S. Air Force C-97 Stratofreighter and a former Pan American Boeing 377 Stratocruiser.

Fast facts about the Tucson Airplane Graveyard, aka “The Boneyard”

Can anyone visit the Tucson Boneyard?

Tailfins at Arizona plane graveyard, including coast guard plane

NO. Tours were stopped in 2020 with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Pima Air & Space Museum (who organized the tours) “the bus tours to Davis-Monthan AFB of the 309th AMARG (AKA “The Boneyard”) have permanently ended. This tour is no longer offered and will not be coming back due to changes in U.S. Air Force security considerations.” 

How many planes are in the Tucson Boneyard?

arizona plane graveyard-jets

According to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, “AMARG is responsible for the storage of nearly 3,200 aircraft and more than 6,300 engines from the five Department of Defense services.”

Where is the best place to see the Boneyard in Tucson?

Map of best planespotting locations at the Arizona Plane Graveyard Tucson

There are multiple viewing spots along the northern perimeter of the Boneyard, on Escalante and East Irvington Road, where you can park and take photos. These areas have places to park. Other roads nearby offer views, but you cannot stop, so views are “fleeting.”

For another Cold War relic head nearby to the Titan Missile Museum, home of the last of the 54 Titan II missile sites that were on alert from 1963 through 1987.

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The Grand Canyon is great, but aren’t there some off-the-beaten-path historic sites and parks?

Visiting Arizona National Monuments is a terrific way to see the beauty of the state, often with only a fraction of the visitors at Arizona National Parks. National Monuments in Arizona range from areas with unusual geological formations to sights of historic (and prehistoric!) significance. In total there are 18 Arizona National Monuments, more than any other state. Most of these sites are managed by the National Park Service and have services such as interpretive centers, ranger-guided programs and restrooms. Visiting National Monuments in Arizona provides an opportunity to explore the state’s unique scenery and culture without the crowds that can clog up the more well-known National Parks.

To help you understand the many options available to you while traveling in Arizona, we’ve outlined some of the guidelines that distinguish Arizona National Parks from Arizona National Monuments, as outlined by the National Park Service. We’ve also listed all 18 designated National Monuments in Arizona, with the services available at each. Be sure to include a visit to these magnificent sites on your next trip–you won’t be disappointed!

PRO TIP: A road trip is a great way to see Arizona National Monuments. Check out our 11 favorite Arizona road trips for some ideas and inspiration!

Fast facts about Arizona National Monuments

What IS a National Monument?

National monuments are areas reserved by the Federal Government because they contain objects of historic, prehistoric, or scientific interest. Among National Monuments in Arizona you’ll find ancient cliff dwellings, archeological ruins and natural areas with unusual landscapes and rock formations.

What is the difference between a National Park and a National Monument?

National parks are areas set apart by Congress for the use of the people of the United States generally, because of some outstanding scenic feature or natural phenomena (hello, Grand Canyon!). National monuments are generally smaller than National Parks, focusing on a single unique feature. Although some Arizona National Monuments are quite large; Organ Pipe Cactus NM is over 500 square miles.

How many National Monuments in Arizona are there?

Arizona has 18 sites designated as National Monuments, more than any other state.

Who manages Arizona National Monuments?

Most National Monuments in Arizona are managed by the National Park Service. A few sites are managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Occasionally sites will be managed by local authorities, either alone or in conjunction with a federal agency.

Complete list of National Monuments in Arizona

PRO TIP: Opening times and certain park services may be limited due to COVID-19 restrictions. Be sure to check with each park prior to visiting.

Agua Fria National Monument

A large area of preserved mesa and canyon along the Agua Fria River. Varying altitudes provide a wide range of desert vegetation, and there are some petroglyphs among the rocky canyon.

  • Location: Central Arizona
  • Type of Site: Natural Landscape, Ancient Culture
  • Services: None-Bring in and take out all supplies
  • Special Considerations: 4-wheel drive not necessary, but advised
petroglyphs of animals on rock, with canyon in the distance
Photo courtesy Bureau of Land Management

Canyon De Chelly National Monument

A fantastic place to observe dramatic scenery with over 5,000 years of continuous habitation. Some descendants still live on the site (a rarity among national sites). Scenic drives provide magnificent vistas, up-close views of the cliff dwellings are with local guides.

  • Location: Northeastern Arizona
  • Type of Site: Ancient Culture with cliff dwellings
  • Services: Visitor Center, Guided tours, Accessible paths
  • Special Considerations: Located on Navajo Nation lands, which observe Mountain Time Zone schedules

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

Ruins of a large structure dating back to the 1400s from a Sonoran Desert agricultural society. Its exact purpose is unknown, but the scale of the remains attest to the sophistication of the community.

  • Location: Central Arizona (between Phoenix & Tucson)
  • Type of Site: Ancient cultural ruins
  • Services: Guided tours, gift shop, picnic grounds
  • Special Considerations: Accessible pathways

Chiricahua National Monument

Wonky, other-worldly rock formations that go on for miles make great atmosphere for hiking or a scenic drive. Chiricahua is located along a North American flyway and is a good site for birders.

  • Location: Southeastern Arizona
  • Type of Site: Natural Landscape, geological wonder
  • Services: Visitor center with museum, bookstore, restrooms, drinking water
  • Special Considerations: camping at Bonito Canyon, Birding

Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument

Parashant is one of the Arizona National Monuments that is vast, wild and absolutely gorgeous. This million-square-mile area on the northern side of the Grand Canyon is completely “off the grid,” with no services. There’s plenty of room to roam, but you MUST have a 4-wheel drive vehicle, preferably with high clearance.

  • Location: Northern Arizona, along the border with Utah and Nevada
  • Reason to visit: Stunning scenery
  • Facilities & Services: No services within the monument boundaries; there is an information center in St. George, Utah
  • Special Considerations: 4-wheel drive required; although located in Arizona, entrances are from either Nevada or Utah.
Parashant, a national monument of Arizona, with joshua tree in foreground and snow-covered mesa in background

Hohokam Pima National Monument

Hohokam Pima National Monument celebrates an ancient people that thrived during the first millennium. Excavations of an ancient site are ongoing and closed to the public, however there is much to learn about the community at the Huhugam Heritage Center, which showcases precious ancient artifacts discovered at the archaeological site.

  • Location: Central Arizona, about 20 miles south of Phoenix.
  • Type of Site: Ancient culture, museum & heritage center
  • Facilities & Services: Visitor center/museum, restrooms.
  • Special Considerations: Managed by Gila River Indian Community; hours may be different to other national sites

Ironwood Forest National Monument

A large (129,000 acres) site that offers plenty of wide-open desert spaces for solitude and exploration. There are 3 designated National Historic archaeological sites within the boundaries for the truly intrepid.

  • Location: Central Arizona
  • Type of Site: Natural Landscape, Ancient Culture
  • Services: None-Bring in and take out all supplies
  • Special Considerations: Camping and hunting allowed

Montezuma Castle National Monument

Stunning 600-year-old cliff dwelling that is remarkably intact. The 40-50 room structure is only viewable from a distance to preserve it. There is a smaller dwelling about 10 miles away, known as Montezuma Well, that is also part of the Monument. Although not as grand, it allows for a more up-close view of the structure.

  • Location: Central Arizona
  • Type of Site: Ancient culture; cliff dwellings
  • Services: Montezuma Castle has a Visitor Center, with museum, bookstore and restrooms, along with picnic grounds. Montezuma Well has picnic grounds and pit toilets.
  • Special Considerations: Two sites, about 10 miles apart, comprise the Monument
  • NOTE: See our separate (and more detailed) posts about Montezuma Castle & Montezuma Well

Navajo National Monument

Spectacular cliff dwellings from the 1300s set in a massive red rock cave. Long-distance views by walkway with limited wheelchair accessibility. Close-up views of the cliff dwellings by guided tour only, rugged terrain.

  • Location: North Central Arizona
  • Type of Site: Ancient culture, cliff dwellings
  • Services: Visitor Center, with museum, bookstore and restrooms, ranger-guided tours of the cliff dwellings, camping
  • Special Considerations: Located on Navajo Nation lands, which observe Mountain Time Zone schedules

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

The unique desert landscape at Organ Pipe has been designated an International Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations. This Arizona National Monument is large and uncrowded: at over 500 square miles it’s over 3 times bigger than Saguaro National Park, yet it receives only 1/4 of the visitors. There are plenty of hikes and scenic drives; Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is well worth a trip to southwestern Arizona.

  • Location: Southwestern Arizona
  • Type of Site: Natural Landscape
  • Services: Visitor center with displays, bookstore, restrooms; scenic drives, hiking trails, RV and tent campsites, backcountry camping
  • Special Considerations: hike to an abandoned mine on monument grounds, or take the Ajo Mountain Drive for terrific views of the namesake cacti.

Pipe Spring National Monument

The homestead at Pipe Spring offers a glimpse into the rugged life of Mormon homesteaders in the late 1800s. The fresh water from the Pipe Spring has attracted settlers for centuries; there is an interesting perspective on both Native American and White inhabitants of the area. Not many Arizona National Monuments grow fresh fruits and vegetables–the National Park Service still maintains the gardens (and livestock!) at Pipe Spring.

  • Location: Northwestern Arizona
  • Type of Site: Historic homestead
  • Services: Visitor Center with museum, bookstore, restrooms; historic ranch with animals, fresh heirloom fruits and vegetables (in season)
  • Special Considerations: Accessible pathways

Sonoran Desert National Monument

A great National Monument in Arizona if you want to spend time exploring the Sonoran Desert landscape on your own, at your own pace. Camp out under the stars . . . and even bring your horse if you’d like to ride! This is one of the few national monuments that allows hunting on the grounds.

  • Location: South Central Arizona
  • Type of Site: Natural Landscape
  • Services: Limited restroom facilities
  • Special Considerations: In addition to camping, hunting and horseback riding are allowed

Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument

Visit the cinder cone of an extinct volcano at Sunset Crater. Even a thousand years (!) after it last erupted, the terrain is still barren near the top. You can also hike the area of the former lava floes–an other-worldly experience if there ever was one. Those with mobility issues can view the terrain via scenic drives.

  • Location: North central Arizona
  • Type of Site: Geological wonder
  • Services: Visitor Center, restrooms, picnic grounds, campgrounds
  • Special Considerations: Admission fee also covers access to Wupatki National Monument, 20 miles away.
Arizona National Monuments-sign for Sunset Crater Volcano with cinder cone in background

PRO TIP: Plan to visit Sunset Crater and Wupatki National Monuments on the same day. They are only 20 miles apart and the admission fee gets you into both sites!

Tonto National Monument

There are a LOT of cliff dwellings in Arizona; Tonto is special among Arizona National Monuments in that you can walk right up and into the dwellings themselves. There are two sites: the lower dwelling is accessed via a paved path; see the upper dwelling via a ranger-guided tour over rugged terrain. The central Arizona location makes it a nice day trip from Phoenix.

  • Location: Central Arizona
  • Type of Site: Ancient cliff dwellings
  • Services: Visitor Center, museum, restrooms, picnic grounds, guided tours
  • Special Considerations: trail to the lower cliff dwelling is paved, but is steep, with some steps, so might not be suitable for those with accessibility concerns

Tuzigoot National Monument

Tuzigoot is the remains of a 1,000-year-old Sinagua pueblo perched on a ridge overlooking the Verde River. The complex of 100+ rooms illustrates the sophistication of this society–modern-day condos could borrow a few tips from the construction here! This is one of the Arizona National Monuments that is nearby Sedona, making a nice excursion if you’re in the area.

  • Location: Central Arizona
  • Type of Site: Ancient Culture
  • Services: Visitor Center, museum, bookstore, restrooms, picnic grounds
  • Special Considerations: There are paved trails to the base of the pueblo and along the marsh; access inside the upper rooms requires stairs.

Vermilion Cliffs National Monument

Vermilion Cliffs is a great place to go if you like eerie rock formations. This National Monument has no services, so be prepared to rough it. But you’ll be rewarded with solitude and stunning scenery.

  • Location: Northern Arizona
  • Type of Site: Geological Wonders
  • Services: None-bring in and take out everything
  • Special Considerations: 4-wheel drive required
Arizona national monuments-strange rock formations at Vermillion Cliffs

Walnut Canyon National Monument

Walnut Canyon’s cliff dwellings more hidden than those at the other Arizona National Monuments. They are tucked away along a ridge in the forest, largely hidden from view until you are right on top of them. But that’s part of their charm: you can walk right up–and into–them, giving you an ancient’s-eye-view of life in what would become Arizona in about 500 years.

  • Location: North central Arizona
  • Type of Site: Ancient cliff dwellings
  • Services: Visitor Center, museum, bookstore, restrooms
  • Special Considerations: Path to the cliff dwellings involves climbing up and down stairs

Wupatki National Monument

If you like ancient pueblo construction, you get a lot of bang for your buck at Wupatki. The area encompasses six distinct pueblo structures out on an open plain over an area of about 15 miles. Drive from pueblo to pueblo via a loop road, then take short paths to the structures themselves. Among Arizona National Monuments, this is an excellent option for those with mobility issues. Paths to 4 of the 6 pueblos meet accessibility standards, the accessible path to the remaining pueblos is currently under construction.

  • Location: Central Arizona
  • Type of Site: Natural Landscape, Ancient Culture
  • Services: Visitor Center, museum, restrooms
  • Special Considerations: Admission fee also covers access to Sunset Crater National Monument, 20 miles away.
Photo courtesy NPS

Now that you’ve seen the stunning array of choices to visit at Arizona National Monuments, which one will you visit first?

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Sure, we’re planning to go to Saguaro National Park. But what else is there to do in Tucson?

One of the reasons we love Tucson is because there are quirky attractions here that you won’t find anywhere else. Whether it’s the best Mexican food in America or the world’s largest collection of military aircraft, here are our top 12 unique things to do in Tucson Az.

Tucson Warehouse and Transfer Company mural

1. Munch through the Best 23 Miles of Mexican Food in America

El Charro Cafe Tucson

It’s no secret that Tucson offers up the best Mexican food in America. We’re not talking chain restaurants in mall parking lots, this is the real deal. Tuscon is part of the Sonoran Desert, which extends down to the state of Sonora Mexico to the south. The region has been sharing culinary treasures since long before there was a border wall. They’re so proud of this culinary achievement that there’s even a Best 23 Miles of Mexican Food in America route you can take, a tasty journey, and one of the unique things to do in Tucson Az.

2. Plane-spot at The Boneyard

Aerial view of hundreds of military aircraft lined up at the Boneyard-one of many unique things to do in Tucson Az

The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson is the largest military aircraft repository in the world and the final resting place of more than 3,000 (yes, three thousand ) aircraft. Officially known in military-speak as the “309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center” (AMARG), you can catch glimpses of the aircraft liked up in neat rows as you drive around southeast Tucson, particularly on S. Kolb Road. But to really see them up close the best thing to do is take a guided bus tour on the grounds of this Tucson airplane graveyard. This is definitely one of the things to do in Tucson AZ that you cannot do. Anywhere. Else.

3. Reach for the stars at Kitt Peak National Observatory

onal Observatory view from above

If you’re looking for things to do in Tucson AZ, but want a different perspective, you can always look up at the stars. Located one hour southwest of downtown Tucson, the Kitt Peak National Observatory hosts the widest range of research telescopes on the world. Three of the nearly two-dozen telescopes are set aside for public viewing events. After winding their way up the curvy road, stargazers take part in nighttime observing programs peering into the farthest reaches of the universe. If you’re not a night owl, there are also daytime activities.

4. Chow down on some Sonoran Hot Dogs

Orange tray with 4 sonoran hot dogs

Okay, so maybe this is not one of the things to DO in Tucson AZ, but more one of the things to EAT. The Sonoran hot dog is so popular that it ranges from southern Arizona across the border to Mexico where they originated. But what is a Sonoran hot dog? In a nutshell, take a top-split bolillo roll then stuff it with a bacon-wrapped hot dog, pinto beans, chopped fresh tomatoes & onions (or pico de gallo), jalapenos, mustard AND mayonnaise. They are found all over town from humble street carts to the James-Beard-award-winning El Guero Canelo.

Here’s our rundown of Sonoran hot dogs in Tucson, based on eating way too many of these yummy treats. (Actually, there’s no such thing as too many!)

5. Soak up the Mid-Century Vibe

Tucson Arizona Sun Land Motel neon sign

In some ways Tucson feels like the land that time forgot. I mean that in a good way. Where many cities have plowed over their history for new development, Tucson enjoys a wealth of surviving Mid-Century architecture and cool neon signs that make you feel like you’ve snuck onto the set of Mad Men. There’s even an annual Tucson Modernism Week that celebrates the city’s Mid-Century architecture and design.

One of the really fun things to do in Tucson Az is to drive around town to see the neon signs in their original locations. Make sure to cruise the Miracle Mile Historic District north of downtown, then check out the many preserved signs at the Ignite Sign Art Museum, one of several unusual museums in Tucson.

6. Tickle your tastebuds in America’s First UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy

Taqueria Pico de Gallo Tucson Arizona

In 2015 UNESCO designated Tucson a Creative City of Gastronomy, joining such foodie destinations as Parma, Italy and Chengdu, China. This selection is based on Tucson’s status as one of the oldest settlements in North America. With 4,000 years of agricultural history, its blend of Indigenous ingredients and Old World traditions form a unique and contemporary Southwestern cuisine.

All this foodie heritage is supported by a wealth of farmers markets, community gardens and food festivals that promote eating local, providing endless good eats on your quest for things to do in Tucson AZ. For a visitor this means you’ll eat very well here; the plethora of locally owned restaurants offer plenty of unique dining experiences.

7. Hunt for Truly Nolen Cars on Tucson’s Corners

1939 Ford Deluxe Truly Nolen classic car

One of our favorite things to do in Tucson Az is go on a sort of classic car “scavenger hunt.” Tucson is the world’s largest open-air classic car museum due to the efforts of a man truly named Truly Nolen. In the 1950s Nolen started setting up the antique cars to advertise his exterminating company. The fleet has grown to 50 Truly Nolen cars parked around town. It’s difficult to miss them parked in strategic locations with TRULY NOLEN emblazoned on the side. During your visit you might run into a 1923 Dodge Roadster, a 1934 Hudson, or a 1939 Ford Deluxe like the one above. You can see more classic cars park outside their offices at 3636 E. Speedway Boulevard, Tucson, AZ 85716.

8. Pedal the Chuck Huckleberry Loop

Photo credit: Nicci Radhe

How many cities offer more than 136 miles of interconnecting paths almost completely without street crossings? The Chuck Huckleberry Loop (known locally as simply “The Loop”) is a system of mostly paved paths that connects parks throughout the city. A system of over-and under-passes make it a terrific way to get around town. In January 2018 the County completed a connection on the north side of town that turned created an actual “loop”, with a complete circuit of 53.9 miles.

There’s a reason why so many professional cyclists train in Tucson during the winter. Although amateurs like us, along with joggers, walkers, wheelchairs, and parents pushing strollers use the Chuck Huckleberry Loop too. And since this is Tucson after all, you might even see a horse along the way, along with Farmer’s Markets and outdoor public art along the route. The Loop is one of the truly unique things to do in Tucson AZ.

PRO TIP: If walking/hiking is more your thing, you can stride along on the Rillito River Path, which is a segment of the Huckleberry Loop. It’s one of many great Tucson Hikes.

9. Drive up to Mount Lemmon

Mount Lemmon is a unique Sky Island that rises 7,000 feet over Tucson, providing a cooling respite during the summer heat wave. There’s even a community called Summerhaven, along with ski activities in the winter, plus hiking, rock climbing and generally enjoying nature year-round. On a relatively balmy winter day it’s pretty cool to wake up to 65 degree weather in Tucson and see snow from a storm dusting the peak of Mount Lemmon.

What makes a drive up to Mount Lemmon one of the really unique things to do in Tucson Az is the climate changes you’ll experience. During the hour-long 28-mile drive along the Catalina Highway scenic byway to its peak, you’ll pass through four separate ecological zones. You start in the desert surrounded by saguaro cacti and end up in an area lush with conifer trees that feels like the Rockies. It’s the climate equivalent of driving from the border with Mexico to the border with Canada, and all in one hour! Think of all the fuel you saved. The views from the top at Windy Vista Point (shown above) are incredible . . . and perfect at sunset.

The University of Arizona’s Steward Observatory atop Mount Lemmon provides SkyNights StarGazing programs using their Schulman 32-inch and Phillips 24-inch telescopes, two of the largest telescopes available for public viewing in the Southwest. If you’re not a night owl–or if perhaps driving down a steep, curvy mountain road in pitch black darkness isn’t your thing–there are also daytime programs.

10. Rock out at the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show

Tucson Gem and Mineral Show turquoise
Photo credit Pete Gregoire

For many people this tops the list of things to do in Tucson Az. According to the Tucson Gem & Mineral Society, the Tucson Gem & Mineral Show is “the largest, oldest and most prestigious gem and mineral show in the world.” We used to think that was just hyperbole, but we have been in town for the annual winter extravaganza and can attest that it truly is a one-of-kind event. Thousands of hobbyists and professionals descend on Tucson to shop, mingle and scratch their lapidary urges. If bling is your thing, you won’t be disappointed.

11. Chat with a WWII Vet while you Shop for Military Surplus & Camping Gear

96-year old Don Sloane, owner of Millers Surplus in Tucson

There’s a lot to love about Miller’s Surplus in Tucson. Sure, it’s a massive military surplus store that also carries tons of camping gear as well.

It’s also a mini museum of military artifacts (including a cool old motorcycle 🏍️!), which are the collection of store owner Don Sloane.

But more than anything, be sure to stop in to chat with owner Don Sloane himself. He’s been running the place for 71 years, is a World War II veteran, and is always smiling, which he says is the secret to a long and healthy life.

He must be right . . . he’s (an active) 96 years old 🤩.

12. Reflect on space at the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab

Mirror Mirror on the Wall

Tucked below the University of Arizona football stadium, the Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab produces the largest and most advanced giant telescope mirrors in the world. A 90-minute tour reveals the leading edge technology producing the next generation of telescopes to explore deep outer space. Personally, I would think a location right underneath the stomping feet of thousands of fired-up football fans would upset such a delicate manufacturing process, but what do I know?

13. Catch a flick at Cactus Carpool Cinema

Tucson’s dry climate provides the perfect setting for a long lost art that the Covid shutdowns have revived: drive-in movies. The folks at Cactus Drive-In have capitalized on this by acquiring a site at 6201 S. Wilmot Road in southeast Tucson, hard by the runway for Davis Monthan Air Force Base and the Pima Air & Space Museum. So perhaps you’ll be watching Top Gun on the 40′ inflatable screen while an actual fighter plane goes roaring overhead. Or maybe it’ll be an old western while you sit nestled among the cacti and ocotillos. Overall it’s one of the truly unique things to do in Tucson Az.


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Wouldn’t it be nice to find a spot to take the family that went beyond the traditional zoo or children’s museum?

We love exploring these unusual museums in Tucson, Arizona. Many of the city’s unique museums reflect Tucson culture and showcase exhibits and artifacts that cannot be found anywhere else. From a funky spot to view old signs to a Cold-War colossus, to a rodeo tribute, check out our 8 favorite museums in Tucson.

Ignite Sign Art Museum

A collection of neon signs at one of our favorite museums in Tucson: the Ignite Sign Museum

It’s lit at the Ignite Sign Art Museum in a Tucson museum that celebrates the city’s long legacy of clever neon signage. While many of the signs are still in place at their original locations around town, the museum preserves and displays signs that are no longer used. Since this is a working sign restoration studio, on Wednesdays and Saturdays there are demonstrations of the neon bending that creates these wonderful designs.

PRO TIP: Visit the Ignite Sign Art Museum in Tucson on Wednesdays & Saturdays to see sign restoration in progress.

Tucson Rodeo Parade Museum

A collection of western saddles from the Tucson Rodeo Parade museum

Claiming to be the largest non-motorized parade in the country, the Tucson Rodeo Parade Museum dates back to 1925 when this really was a cowtown. This is one of the more historic museums in Tucson. The museum celebrates the parade’s long legacy with a collection of more than 100 horse-drawn vehicles. (Some of them were used in the movie Oklahoma which, despite the title, was filmed in southern Arizona.)

The Tucson Rodeo Parade Museum is located inside four buildings, one of which is the old Tucson Municipal Flying Field airplane hangar. In addition to all the vehicles and saddles, there’s also a model railroad inside one of the buildings. The Tucson Rodeo takes place in February but the museum is open January, February and March.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Walking path at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson.

Okay, I have to admit that at first I was skeptical about the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. Even though this is one of the more popular museums in Tucson, my thought was “When you’re in Tucson there’s pretty much desert all around you, so why would I need to go a museum about it?” Well, when I hike in the desert there aren’t placards and informative guides explaining to me all the flora and fauna I encounter.

I found that a visit to the museum makes me appreciate the actual desert even more. There’s also a zoo, botanical garden, natural history museum and aquarium to round out the experience. And it’s an absolute delight to hang out in the hummingbird house! The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is adjacent to Saguaro National Park, one of 31 Arizona National Parks and Monuments in the state, a great place to test your newfound knowledge of the landscape.

PRO TIP: Visit adjacent Saguaro National Park (where you can take one of many great Tucson hikes!) after you explore the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum to test your newfound knowledge of the landscape.

Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures

I was going to write a short story about this museum but I figured that was too obvious. The museum features more than 500 antique and contemporary miniature dollhouses and models. But it is more than just a museum of dollhouses. There are miniatures here of practically anything you can think of . . . like a set of animal carvings inside a walnut shell.

And lest ye think the Enchanted Tree shown above is not miniature at all, it’s hiding–at kid height–a series of miniature rooms in the nooks and crannies of its magical trunk. This is one of the museums in Tucson that’s lots of fun for miniature people as well!

History of Pharmacy Museum

Okay, a museum devoted to medicine may not be everyone’s cup of tea but there’s no doubting that it’s different. The world-class History of Pharmacy Museum is tucked into Drachman Hall on the University of Arizona campus. It’s definitely one of the more esoteric museums in Tucson.

Hundreds of thousands of items (full disclosure here: we did not count them but take their word for it) ranging from old-timey bottles of elixir to anti-venom kits for snake poison are displayed in antique shelves. A full-scale replica of an old-fashioned drugstore that looks like it was lifted from Main Street USA helps put all these unusual items into context. Reading the ingredients on the labels on some of the old jars it’s amazing what got approved when product safety was not as emphasized.

Titan Missile Museum

Titan II missile in silo at Titan Missile Museum in Arizona

During the Cold War in the mid-20th century there were 54 Titan II missile sites on active alert across America. It’s quite surprising to realize that the picturesque Sonoran Desert surrounding Tucson was the home of 18 of these underground silos, one of which survives as part of the Titan Missile Museum in Green Valley, Arizona, just a 25-minute drive due south of downtown Tucson. It’s the only place in the country where you can see one of these missiles in its original home. But don’t worry, that’s not a real nuclear warhead on top, (or so the guide told me.)

Gadsden Pacific Toy Train Museum

Just one of the many layouts at the Gadsden Pacific Toy Train Museum. Photo courtesy of the museum.

Formally known as the Gadsden Pacific Toy Train Operating Museum, this museum features nine indoor operating layouts. There’s also one set out in the garden, along with a train you can ride around the property. If that’s not enough, hop into the full-sized actual caboose for a browse around and photo op. This Tucson museum is a train lover’s delight.

Franklin Automobile Museum

Franklin antique cars lined up inside the Franklin Automobile museum
A row of Franklin cars lined up at the Franklin Automobile Museum

Lovers of classic cars will admire the collection of Franklin cars–and their unique setting at the Franklin Automobile Museum in northern Tucson. Set within in a quirky neighborhood that still has the original sandy roads from the 1940s with a 15mph speed limit, you get into the “early 20th century mood” before you even set your eyes on the cars themselves. Franklins, with their leading-edge air-cooled engines, were all the rage 100 years ago, but now are quite rare. This is the only independent museum in the country dedicated to the marque.


The magnificent weather around Tucson invites you to spend the majority of time outdoors, enjoying the splendid Arizona sunshine. But when you’re craving a little bit of shade (and air conditioning!) these unusual museums in Tucson are a great option. And if all this exploring has you feeling a bit “peckish,” satisfy your hunger with a Sonoran Hot Dog in Tucson: it’s a James Beard Award-winning classic!


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I love visiting sights where an element from pop culture has become a destination unto itself.

“Standing on the corner Winslow Arizona” immediately calls to mind the Classic Rock song Take it Easy, made famous by the group Eagles. The town of Winslow has embraced the song and created a park commemorating the song. In the opening line lead singer Glenn Frey belted out “standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona,” putting that town forever on the map of must-see rock-and-roll sights.

Standing on the Corner Park refers to the opening line to one of Eagles’ most iconic songs, from their debut self-titled album. Jackson Browne and Eagles co-founder Glenn Frey wrote Take it Easy in 1971 and it was released as Eagles’ first single in 1972. Even a half-century later, the song still resonates.

“Well, I’m a standing on a corner
in Winslow, Arizona
and such a fine sight to see
It’s a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford
slowin’ down to take a look at me.”

Written by Glenn Frey and Jackson Browne


Standing on a corner Park Winslow Arizona statue

Standing on the Corner Winslow Arizona: the Park

Winslow already had some acclaim as a Route 66 town with a celebrated hotel, the historic La Posada. And, up until the 1960s, it was the largest town in northern Arizona.

Then the song came along and sent Arizona road trippers detouring from interstate I-40 to look for the famous intersection. The only problem was Take it Easy wasn’t written about any particular corner in Winslow.

But the town rallied and realized they should give these visitors something to see.

So in 1999 they created “Standing on the Corner Park” at the intersection of Route 66 and North Kinsley Avenue right in the center of town. Hence “standing on the corner Winslow Arizona” was memorialized.

You can’t miss it, there’s a giant highway shield of Route 66 painted in the road. Since the song doesn’t mention exactly which corner in Arizona the writer was standing this one will have to do. It won’t be long before you’ll be singing “standing on the corner Winslow Arizona” beneath your breath as you approach the legendary site.

In a mural created by artist John Pugh there is indeed a reflection of a girl slowing down to take a look. To add even more realism, a bright red 1960 Ford flatbed truck is parked in the street for a unique photo op.

While Winslow doesn’t get quite the foot traffic of tourists crossing Abbey Road in London does, we were surprised by the steady flow of people on a winter’s day. It’s estimated that 100,000 people a year visit Standing on the Corner Winslow Arizona.

standing on a corner winslow arizona, image of statue in the park
The girl in the flatbed Ford appears in the window reflection. Can you spot the eagle?

The centerpiece of the park is a denim-clad statue named “Easy” holding an acoustic guitar. The statue was created by sculptor Ron Adamson. While it does bear a passing resemblance to Jackson Browne, it is supposed to represent all songwriters. It was installed in September 1999 when the park was dedicated. 

Upon Glenn Frey’s death in 2016 the statue became a setting for tributes to the Eagles songster. A statue of Frey was added thanks to fundraising efforts of two Phoenix morning radio DJs, Mark Devine and Paul Marshall, from classic rock station KSLX along with the Standing on the Corner Foundation and the City of Winslow.

The origin of Standing on the Corner Winslow Arizona

But where did the famous lyrics come from? Jackson Browne had once been stranded in Winslow and put the town name in the song. But he had trouble coming up with the context to finish the verse.

In the 1994 documentary Jackson Browne: Going Home Browne attributed the lyrics about the flatbed Ford to Glenn Frey. According to Browne, “He came up with this great flatbed Ford thing, that’s a transformation made right there. I dug the fact that all these women in Arizona were driving trucks so that appealed to me, ‘It’s a girl, my lord, in a flatbed Ford.'”

Standing on the Corner Park and Route 66

Winslow itself is a pretty interesting town to visit. It’s a great stop along a Route 66 Arizona Road Trip. You can stay in the historic La Posada Hotel which is a former Santa Fe Railroad hotel from 1929. East of town there are a few relics from Route 66’s glory days of welcoming travelers and even a spot where the road literally ends.

In September, Winslow hosts the annual Standin’ on the Corner Festival with live music, craft vendors and food trucks. It’s a great time to visit and mingle with fellow Eagles fans. Year-round there are several souvenir shops to get your Standing on the Corner Winslow Arizona swag.

Old Route 66 peters out below, replaced by the interstate.

Visiting the Park: Standing on the Corner Winslow Arizona

Address: Intersection of 2nd Avenue (Old Route 66 eastbound) and North Kinsley Avenue. Winslow is 58 miles east of Flagstaff. You’ll take I-40 to get to Winslow so make sure to exit the interstate to get downtown.

Hours: 24/7

Admission: Free

Web site: StandinOnTheCorner.com

And here’s one for the road . . . the Eagles, Jackson Browne and (Arizona native!) Linda Ronstadt performing Take it Easy in 1974:

Watch more on Jackson Browne’s YouTube Channel

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Is this really where they launched missiles? Or just a creepy underground set from Stranger Things?

A visit to the Titan Missile Museum in Arizona is an eye-opening experience. This amazing underground sight shows the might (and fright) that was created during the Cold War. Take a tour for a glimpse into national defense in mid-century America.

Ah, the Cold War was a wonderful time. While the United States and Soviet Union were nuclear saber-rattling with each other, some Americans were building fallout shelters in their backyards to survive the expected onslaught of airborne radiation. Meanwhile, school-age children hid under their desks in school during air raid drills–apparently nothing provides as much protection overhead as a piece of flimsy plywood. Those were some tense times.

Titan II missile in silo at Titan Missile Museum in Arizona

Where is the Titan Missile Museum?

It’s quite surprising to realize that the beguiling Sonoran Desert surrounding Tucson, with its majestic saguaro cactus forests, was a nuclear-tipped Ground Zero. Burrowed beneath a landscape that reveals an unexpected array of plant and animal life is a surviving Titan Missile silo. The Titan Missile Museum barely scratches the earth’s surface in Green Valley, Arizona, just a 25-minute drive due south of downtown Tucson.

Radioactive suits at the Titan Missile Museum.

From 1963 through 1987 there were 54 Titan II missile sites on active alert across America; a whopping 18 silos of the encircled Tucson, making the city a prime target for the Soviet Union. (I bet THAT wasn’t in the tourism brochures back then!) The silos are relics of a time when MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) was the normal course of business between the two superpowers. Visiting launch complex 571-7 at the Titan Missile Museum is a sobering reminder of how close the countries came to pulling the nuclear trigger.


Touring the Titan Missile Museum-Underground

Visitors start their tour by descending a set of metal steps more than 100 feet deep into the subterranean bunker, which is protected behind a set of hardened blast doors. As if to show that the only dangers aren’t delivered from the sky, the entrance is clearly marked by a sign stating “Watch out for rattlesnakes.” The guides are former Air Force personnel, many of whom were missile crew members who worked and lived underground during the Cold War.

During the 45-minute tour you get to visit the Launch Control Center. With its vast array of blinking mainframe computers and rotary dial phones it feels like a time tunnel to 1963, or perhaps something out of a cheesy science fiction film. In fact, the museum served as a setting in the 1996 film Star Trek: First Contact; in its cameo role the missile was transformed into a “Warp Drive” space ship. Across the room a standard government-issue metal file cabinet painted bright red held the top-secret launch codes that the crew would have used to send the missile skyward.

The key to ending the world.

PRO TIP: Touring the underground silo of the Titan Missile Museum requires descending and climbing 55 stairs.

Visitors can sit at the launch console and even reenact turning the launch key for a Titan missile. When I tried it I couldn’t believe how nervous I felt. The missile was topped with a dummy warhead and was no longer programmed to wipe out an undisclosed location in the former Soviet Union. So really, what could go wrong? But it’s easy to imagine the thoughts of the men and women who had trained for such a day, with a simple twist of the wrist hurling a nuclear missile skyward.

Tunnels lit by sputtering fluorescent lights turn off at right angles, giving the space the look of an oddly illuminated ant colony. Signs throughout indicate “No Lone Zone. Two Man Policy Mandatory.” This was an extra security measure designed to prevent a rogue crew member from tinkering with the equipment.

At the end of one tunnel the actual Titan missile looms overhead, still poised to reach supersonic speed in seconds. Visitors also access the crew’s cramped living quarters, a Spartan living arrangement they likened to a “Motel 2.” The 4-member crew worked in 24-hour shifts trained for a job they hoped never to fulfill.


Above the missile silo.

Aboveground at the Titan Missile Museum

Back above ground there is a museum that relays the history of the site and the Titan Missile program during the Cold War. In the gift shop you can even buy a mushroom cloud-adorned board game called Nuclear War. It’s billed as the “comical catyclysmic card game of global destruction.” You may never play a boring old game of Monopoly again!

Visitor Information

  • Address: 1580 W. Duval Mine Rd. Green Valley, Arizona 85614
  • Hours: 9:45am – 5:00pm; open 7 days a week Oct-May, closed Tue, Wed June-Sept
  • Price: $13.50 adults; discounts for seniors/military/children 12 and under

PRO TIP: Due to the small space, tours are limited to 26 individuals each; purchase tickets online in advance to ensure your spot


Afterwards, for another Cold war site that is active today, tour the Boneyard of military aircraft in Tucson to see where 3,000+ planes are stored.

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