Mescal, Arizona, located about 40 miles Southeast of Tucson, Arizona, near the town of Benson, is the home of Old Tucson’s second western movie town location. Situated on 60 acres of land which is leased from the Arizona State Land Department, Old Tucson Studio is surrounded by acres of wide open spaces and not a single modern building in sight. Mescal has served as the setting for many Hollywood films in the popular western genre. Yet this area is largely unknown to the general public.
Although we can tell you all about Old Tucson Studios- Mescal location’s history, it’s harder to explain what a thrill it was to recently have spent the entire day on the movie set while filming a western called “Eminence Hill” written and directed by filmmaker Robert Conway.
“Eminence Hill”, starring Lance Henricksen, Barry Corbin, and Dominique Swain, had been filming for weeks at other locations. The last day of shooting was planned for January 19, 2019. We were lucky enough to be chosen as extras, or what they call us in Hollywood parlance, background artists. We arrived on set early in the morning and left just after sundown. What an amazing day. Mescal is a lot to take in and for fans of Western classics, impossible to let go.
Now if you didn’t already know, blockbuster movies such as “Tombstone”, “The Quick and the Dead”, and “The Outlaw Josie Wales” were filmed here, for starters. Other movies and television shows have also shot at this location.
From 1989 to 1992, the western show “The Young Riders” filmed at the Old Tucson Studios and its Mescal sister site.
Mescal’s main street appears prominently in 1990s westerns such as “Tombstone” (1993) with Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer and Sam Elliott.
The partial mirror set of Old Tucson Studios still exists at Mescal and is featured in “The Quick and the Dead” (1995), with Sharon Stone and Gene Hackman. A female gunfighter returns to a frontier town where a dueling tournament is being held, which she enters in an effort to avenge her father’s death.
The town of Mescal was originally erected for the 1968 motion picture”Monte Walsh” featuring Lee Marvin and Jack Palance when an aging cowboy realizes that the West he knew and loved will soon be no more–and that there will be no room for him, either. Old Tucson Studios purchased the site from the CBS network after the completion of filming the movie.
Mescal also saw Frank Sinatra as the title outlaw in the 1970 film “Dirty Dingus Magee”, where Dirty Dingus and an old rival take turns at being either lawman or an outlaw, depending on the circumstances.
Clint Eastwood in “The Outlaw Josey Wales” (1976) played the title character, a Missouri farmer who joins a Confederate guerrilla unit and winds up on the run from the Union soldiers who murdered his family.
Steve McQueen starred in “Tom Horn” (1980), about the legendary outlaw, gunfighter and lawman.
“Buffalo Soldiers”(1997) starring Danny Glover, depicts a fact-based story about the all-Black US Cavalry Troop H which protected the Western territories in post- Civil War times.
Approximately 50 television, motion picture and other productions also filmed in Mescal. On this day, “Eminence Hill” joined the long throng of Western lore.
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer invested over $200,000 into the set in 1991 for the third season of the television series “The Young Riders” by adding new store fronts, second stories to existing buildings, and erecting new buildings.
By 1992 the Mescal set had 32 buildings which included a schoolhouse, a bank, hotel, church, jail, two-story homes, isolated ranch house, stage station, and saloon.
Mescal can claim its had its very own Sheriff who lives full-time on site for the past 20 years–colorful character Frank Brown, age 83. During tours, Frank looks like he just walked out of the Wild West. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to meet Mr. Brown on the day we were on set but heard through the grapevine that he gives a fantastic tour if you can wrangle one.
Movie sets are made to be an illusion, not practical or physically pretty but this old west town movie set has a pedigree history. You will see destruction where buildings were destroyed by dynamite, the piano where Sharon Stone sat, the saloon-hotel where a horse ran up the stairs and back down all within the hotel’s burning walls.
A number of television shows, including “Little House on the Prairie” were filmed in Mescal. The History Channel, BBC and Fox News have also used this location to add a Western flair.
The 1995 version of “The Quick and the Dead” with Gene Hackman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe and Sharon Stone, was one of the last major westerns filmed at Mescal. The town of Redemption took place entirely in Mescal, and the saloon hotel survives as a dominating feature of the current movie set.
Another film shot at Mescal was “The Three Amigos,” starring Saturday Night Live comedy veterans Martin Short, Chevy Chase and Steve Martin.
Both Old Tucson Studios and Mescal have mountain backdrops. The landscape surrounding Old Tucson is filled with saguaros and rocky outcroppings typical of the Sonoran Desert, while Mescal’s rolling grasslands can easily pass for the High Plains region.
We do not know the plot of “Eminence Hill” yet, touted as a new Western, but from our observations and the edgy actors involved, we’re guessing it will be a huge hit. “Eminence Hill” is currently in post-production.
In addition to the blockbuster hits, more obscure niche films have used the Mescal set. “Night of the Lepus” (1972) introduces the audience to giant, mutant rabbits that hunt people. “Ghost Town” (1988) is a horror film in which a sheriff searches for a missing woman in a town filled with dead residents.
“Ghost Rock” (2003), starring Gary Busey, was another lesser-known production that filmed a few scenes at Mescal. Old Tucson chief historian P.J. Lawton worked as pyrotechnician on this movie, among others.
One of the most recognizable scenes filmed in Mescal is seen in the 1993 flick “Tombstone.” It stars Val Kilmer, Kurt Russell, Sam Elliott and Bill Paxton as Doc Holliday and the Earp brothers walking toward the gunfight behind the O.K. Corral.
Two films for an upcoming trilogy, “Hot Bath an’ a Stiff Drink” and “Hot Bath, Stiff Drink, an’ a Close Shave” were filmed at Mescal in 2017.
Movies and television shows provide an economic boost to southern Arizona as “the homeland of the Old West.”
Mescal is a closed set that’s only open select weekends from February to April, which might explain why it doesn’t attract as many visitors.
Mescal is not at all like Old Tucson Studios, which is a fully functioning studio. At Mescal Studio, all utilities are trucked in. One is warned—there are no restrooms, water or food served, so do fill up before or after and empty before you go.
Old Tucson Studios-Mescal is near Benson at GPS 32.008585,-110.437194.
Directions to Mescal: From Tucson, follow I-10 east. Take exit 297 for J-Six Ranch Road toward Mescal Road. Turn left onto South J-Six Ranch Road (signs for Mescal Road). Continue onto North Mescal Road (dirt road). Turn left into driveway for Mescal.
For more information about Old Tucson Studios Mescal tours, visit http://oldtucson.com/visit-ots/