You’ll be glad you took the time to take the scenic route from Central Arizona to the Tucson area via state route 79, better known as Pinal Pioneer Parkway. About 25 miles north of Oracle Junction is the Tom Mix Memorial, in honor of one of the greatest silent film stars who died nearby in 1940.
Pinal Pioneer Parkway was designated as a scenic desert preserve by the Arizona Department of Transportation in 1961. The 42-mile, two-lane highway cuts through still-pristine desert, with dirt roads leading to local ranches along the way. The drive is especially enjoyable in the spring, with wildflowers blooming everywhere, and in the fall, when many forms of cactus bloom.
The parkway features pullouts and picnic areas to enjoy incredible views of saguaro forests and nearly every kind of desert flora in Arizona.
At the parkway’s midpoint, there stands a memorial with a riderless horse: Tony the Wonder Horse, mourning his human companion, silent film and western star Tom Mix. Mix visited Arizona often (and once had a ranch in Prescott). In 1940, he was driving from Tucson to see friends in Florence, when he stopped at Oracle Junction for a bite to eat. Later, he sped his yellow Cord Phaeton convertible up the parkway, only to die in a crash when he failed to see road construction barriers in time. The memorial marker reads: “In memory of Tom Mix, whose spirit left his body on this spot and whose characterization of portrayals in life served to better fix memories of the Old West in the minds of living men.”
St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery also sits quietly beside the parkway, welcoming respectful visitors to enjoy its serene grounds.
Lodging is available in Florence or along the parkway at an inn and retirement RV park.
Open daily, year-round.
Entrance Fee: Free