Monday, August 28, 2006

Fascinating Tucson, Part B

Thursday night I said,

As far as I'm concerned, Tucson is most notable for the following:

  • The desert, including the critters, the cacti, the washes, etc.
  • The mountains that surround the city
  • The climate, so different from the Syracuse weather I grew up with
  • The history and culture of the place
I covered the climate in this blog Thursday night, and the desert over in Musings the same night - not in the depth I wanted, but it was late and I just didn't have time to do anything too ambitious. Then I got busy with other things and didn't get back to the subject. Tonight it's late again and I'm tired, so I'm going to write about history and culture here tonight, and about the mountains in Musings tomorrow.

History and Culture

To be honest, I'm no expert on Tucson history, but I've done some superficial research. There were people in this valley at least four thousand years ago, possibly much earlier. The Hohokam were here a few thousand years after that, almost up to the time of Columbus. Some of the modern day tribes - the Pima and the Tohono O'odham - may be descended from this "lost" civilization of builders, farmers and traders.

Since then, Tucson has been a Spanish Presidio, then part of Mexico, then part of the U.S. after the Gadsden Purchase, then part of a Confederate Territory. The westernmost battle of the Civil War was at Picacho Peak, about fifty miles from Tucson.

Inside one of the many Mexican restaurants.

Having been part of Mexico, and being only an hour from the current Mexico border, Tucson has a strong Hispanic component to its cultural heritage. Aside from a zillion Mexican restaurants of one sort or another, Tucson has lots of Spanish place names. Most neighborhoods are filled with Calles and Avenidas instead of Streets and Avenues. Cinco de Mayo is a big deal here.This is as it should be, because over a third of the population is Hispanic, in one way or another. It's extremely common in Tucson to hear people switch back and forth between English and Espanol, many times in the course of a conversation. I kind of envy that bilingualism. Growing up almost as close to Canada as I now am to Mexico, I studied French in school, but I was never any good at it. Here in Tucson, there are thousands of people who are fluent in both of the languages most frequently used around here. I feel kind of bumpkinish not being one of them.

There are,of course, many other ethnicities represented here: Tohono O'odham and Yaqui, people from India, Asia, the Middle East and Africa, and lots and lots of gringos from Back East, or even native to Arizona. There's an annual outdoor festival here called Tucson Meet Yourself, where Tucsonans demonstate performing arts, arts and crafts, foods and other customs from around the world.

This train station at old Tucson is a little museum inside

Aside from "real" history, Tucson has a lot of fake western turista stuff. Old Tucson Studios west of town was first built for the movie Arizona. The tv series The High Chapperal was filmed there, along with parts of Rio Bravo, The Three Amigos and dozens of other Westerns. It doubles as an amusement park, having been rebuilt after arson.

Gun shop next to a funeral parlor, Trail Dust Town
Another movie set on the east side became Trail Dust Town, home of steak and beans, gift shops, chocolate-dipped strawberries, staged gunfights, a small gauge train, an antique merry-go-round, the Museum of the Horse Soldier, and lots of scenic Old West buildings and decor.

Apothecary window in Trail Dust Town

Yep, Tucson is an interesting place, all right!


Introductory entry: Climate

In Musings: The Desert

Also in Musings: Mountains

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DesLily said...

love the pic of the gunshop! That place looks like a neat place to visit.. i think somewhere deep in my mush for brains i wish things were simpler like it was back then... but then my brain is mush so maybe I have that wrong lol

Becky said...

One of the reasons I'm sorta eager to check out our own "Wild West City" is so I can photograph it and compare it to your tourista Western kitzch and see the similarities. LOL