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Tucson Pop Culture

Tucson has appeared in hundreds of Hollywood Westerns—or, more precisely, Old Tucson Studios, the reconstructed frontier town west of the modern city. Stars such as Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier have filmed here; for a good look at the “town,” which represents mid-19th-century Tucson (or Tombstone, or elsewhere), check out Wayne’s Rio Bravo; Newman’s Hombre; Poitier’s Lilies of the Field; and, most recently, Kurt Russell’s 1993 classic Tombstone, an excellent modern recounting of the Wyatt Earp myth.

Tucson’s most famous musical resident is Linda Ronstadt, the famed folk-pop singer who returned later in her career to her cultural heritage, mariachi and Mexican music. Calexico, the Tucson-based alt country/roots music band, frequently returns to its home city for hugely popular concerts. The most significant book for Tucson visitors to peruse beforehand is the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum’s superb A Natural History of the Sonoran Desert, best ordered directly from the museum (www.desertmuseum.org). This will explain why rattlesnakes and Gila monsters are not to be feared, why mourning doves love saguaros, and why Pacific circulation patterns bring thunderstorms in August. Though J.A. Jance’s series of mysteries featuring county sheriff Joanna Brady is ostensibly set south of Tucson, the Southern Arizona locale is clearly Tucson-centric, and the city features in almost every book.

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