Dragoon, Arizona – March 2023 – Dinosaurs of the Desert

Not far from the Amerind Museum is the Rattlesnake Ranch. While we visited we didn’t see any live snakes, but did see plenty of dinosaur’s – giant metal sculptures.

The only snake we saw was this sculpture.

The sign said if the gate was open you were free to wander about – so we did.

Nearly all of the sculptures were done by Mexican artists.

The grasslands and mountains gave an aura of authenticity to the dinosaurs. Jurassic Park in Arizona.

Mixing ages with a horse against a dinosaur.

A true Arizona feature – a Gila Monster.

There are a few non dinosaur/animal sculptures around including this one honoring the Native Americans who once ruled this area.

If you ever find yourself traversing Southern Arizona on I-10, take a few minutes to check out this great roadside america item.

Benson, Arizona – March 2023 – Riding Through the Boulders

The Amerind Museum is located about 10 miles east of Benson, situated on 1900 acres of land in an area known as Texas Canyon.

This area is known for the giant boulders that are scattered about along Interstate 10 for a 10 mile stretch. These granite boulders are a result of erosion with water working their way through cracks that over millions of years created these great rocks.

It received it’s name Texas Canyon as a result of the early European settlers all coming from that state, displacing the Native who had been here for more than 1000 years.

While the rocks are the most noteworthy part of the area, the grasslands have supported ranches for over 100 years.

A couple times a year the Amerind Museum opens up the trails and roads throughout their land for a ‘fun ride’.

It was 7 miles of bumpy ground down grasses, dirt, rocks and sand, with over 500′ of total elevation gain.

The views however were worth it.

Especially visually interesting was the mix of the grasses, rocks and landscapes in the distance.

There was some evidence of prior homesteads scattered about, including this windmill – still spinning but for no apparent reason.

The area is high enough in elevation there are no cactus, but the random yucca does make an appearance.

A couple of octotillo’s made an appearance as well.

The rocks are huge, as evidenced below with the semi trucks sailing down the interstate dwarfed by the boulders.

As we neared the end of our 7 mile loop we passed this area with rocks more reddish/orange than the other granite ones.

While the fun ride ended up being far more challenging than expected, the views were worth it.

Benson, Arizona – January 2023 – Forever Home Donkey Rescue & Sanctuary

Just down the road from Gammons Gulch Movie Set is the Forever Home Donkey Rescue. We had called both and made arrangements to tour both on the same day. We made our way to the donkey rescue where we met Tish, one of the owners.

Tish told us how she came to run a donkey rescue, and it shows again that there are just some great people in the world who care about taking care of animals who, through no fault of their own, has had a rough life.

Donkeys are considered ‘worthless animals’ in the west, and as a result many are abused. One such way is by rodeo people who use them to train how to rope animals, causing permanent damage to their legs. Once they are in that state, the rodeo people no longer want them. This is where Tish and her husband (and a great group of volunteers) come in.

The rodeo is just one way they have rough lives, there are many others. But once they make it to see Tish they are in, as their name states, their forever home!

Each have names and individual personalities.

This character I will always remember, Boaz. Tish gave us a pile of animal crackers to feed to them, and Boaz was the first we met, and likely the loudest.

But with a few animal crackers he is your best friend.

Each have their own stall, but fear not, once we met each the gates to the stalls were opened and the donkeys were allowed to roam the 30 acres to their hearts content.

This is Casper, a mini mule. The staff says think of a teen age rebel and that is Casper.

A Jenny is the term for a female donkey. This is Tula, the head Jenny.

She was living in the wild on one of the Native American reservations in Arizona, and is said to still be pretty wild, although she was very calm and happy to see us, with our animal cracker treats.

Tish told us to wait before giving this guy his crackers until he did his trick – which is an amusing display of his tongue. We happily obliged. His name is Jasper.

Jasper came to the sanctuary with really bad hooves from an improper diet, and still has issues with them, but as you can see is a fun guy.

The donkeys are gentle enough that I was welcomed into any of the pens that I wanted, allowing for unobstructed photos.

This is Carter, a fairly recent arrival. They say he is a bit on the chubby side, but I am certain a steady diet of animal crackers will help that (to be fair they don’t only eat animal crackers, the staff is knowledgeable on donkey care and their main diet is much healthier – the animal crackers are used to get them to play nice with visitors.)

Eventually the gates were opened and the donkeys wandered off around the farm, although they stayed close by the pens by their own choice. Here we take another look at Jasper as he is ready to head out of his pen.

Jasper’s close up.

This is Justice. He was a rescue from another rescue, who came in with a hoof issue as well.

Of course Boaz and one of his buddies insisted on a close up.

Boaz and Justice for their close up (or treats). The Forever Home Donkey Rescue and Sanctuary is one of those places doing good in the world. I highly recommend checking them out, and offering them any support you can.

A big thanks to Suzanne from the sanctuary for helping me identify each of them.

Benson, Arizona – January 2023 – Gammons Gulch Movie Set

For more than 40 years Jay Gammon and his wife Joann have been building structures for their old west movie set. According to IMDB more than 40 productions have filmed there, which I am certain is a low count.

Today Jay is in a nursing home and his wife Joann, with the help of others continue to maintain the set. On this day Joann unlocked the building but their dog Gus was our main tour guide, as he seemed walk around with a ‘follow me’ attitude.

There are a number of buildings that make a perfect old west town set.

The set/town includes all the required buildings including a saloon with swinging doors and an old piano. Joann told us one of the film productions said ‘we need a saloon for our filming – is it ok if we build one?’ Of course she said yes!

The town hall with a 1931 Buick parked inside, as well as a number of items celebrating the renown 1934 capture of John Dillinger in Tucson.

The building itself was once a flour mill in Safford, Arizona. It was deconstructed and brought piece by piece back to Gammons Gulch and reassembled as the town hall.

They have done a great job of collecting items for each building, like these cool old keys for the jail cells.

Once Joann had unlocked all of the buildings she gave us a brief overview and said ‘have a good time’, and off we went exploring.

This building is their Welcome Center, and they proudly note that the walls came from a building in Benson, and the large beam on the ceiling came from a 1920s ‘house of ill repute’ in Tucson.

The Mercantile Building was constructed onsite, but like all of the others is filled with items they collected over the years.

These buildings change their signs to reflect whatever each production company needs them to be. In addition they serve as the dressing rooms for the cast.

The church/school at the end of town had the gallows just outside, along with a nearby cemetery. The church/school was constructed for a 2009 movie called ‘Mattie’.

The cross is easily removed when it is supposed to be a school.

The trunks waiting on the 3:10 to Yuma.

In addition to the old car in the town hall, there are a couple of other classic rides parked around town. This backside of the main street serves as a 1920s setting.

A nearby hill provided a nice overview of the town and the surrounding area. Joann and Gus the dog are happy to have you visit, but call ahead as they often have filming occurring – they told me one of the guys from Dukes of Hazard was in town this week to film something.

Benson, Arizona – January 2023 – Train Park

The small town of Benson, Arizona is along the Southern Pacific lines about 60 miles east of Tucson. Amtrak trains stop here 6 times a week, 3 eastbound and 3 westbound.

Technically the official Amtrak station is a little metal shelter, but fortunately the town has built a replica of the original station, which is used as a visitor center.

The area on both sides of the visitor center serve as a small train park, complete with a caboose.

The wall that separates the tracks from the station and parking lot has a series of murals and emblems, mostly of railroad related items, but also some local history.

With more than 40 freight trains a day passing through town, it was inevitable one would provide a photo op.

The lady at the visitor center is enthusiastic and helpful, making a brief stop here worthwhile.

Eastern Arizona – August 2022 – San Pedro River Valley

The road from the small town of San Manuel to Benson runs for 60 miles through the San Pedro River Valley. Of those 60 miles, at least half are unpaved, and at many points, very rough.

It is however a great drive, with impressive scenery along the way. The monsoon rains have left the entire valley very green.

The first 10 miles or so south of San Manuel is paved, and runs through an impressive area of saguaro cactus. The density of the saguaros here rival the official national park areas closer to Tucson.

The large cactus below is likely more than 150 years old, with an impressive collection of arms.

The Galiuro mountains are on the east side of the valley, rising more than 4000′ above the valley floor to the peak of the tallest, called Dził Nazaayú in Apache, or Bassett Peak in English.

Once you hit the gravel and dirt section, the road goes through the washes. On this large wash the residents have used the unique approach of old vehicles for an embankment to reduce erosion.

A driving tip on these roads – when you see a sign that says ‘watch for flooded road’, slow down even if there isn’t any water, as a large dip filled with deeper sand is likely in the path of travel.

The drive through the wilderness continued for another 25 miles, often offering up great photo ops along the way.

As we got a bit closer to Benson we started to see signs of civilization….

Arizona is a great place to get off the main road and see what adventures you can find.