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The heat and museums of Tuscon

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

sunny 41 °C
View Around the world 2016/17 on dreiumdiewelt's travel map.

When leaving the Flagstaff KOA it was just a short drive up the road to pick up our brand new shower system at Buddy’s RV. Excellent! We’ll be looking forward to great outdoor showers from now on…
And even though we did not realize it at this stage: it was a really good idea to get the shower replaced before reaching Southern Arizona. The climate in Flagstaff had been very pleasant, actually even a bit too cool compared to the nights we had spent in Sedona. Flagstaff’s altitude is about at 7000 ft (2130m), so refreshing even during summer. As we headed south, we realized that we were going down significantly - after all Tucson is only at an altitude of 2600 ft (800m). As we left Flagstaff fairly late (had to stop for groceries and allowed Max one last training session in his favourite bike park), we did not make it all the way to Tuscon, but stopped in Pichaco State Park for the night. Already there we were amazed by the amounts of Saguaro cactus adorning the landscape.

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What a change in climate: while the night before Sam had still prepared a bottle with warm water to take into bed to warm his feet, this night I hardly slept at all because of the heat – it did not cool down further than 74 °F (or 23 °C) at night.
But the next day we got to see even many more of them in Saguaro National Park which was our first destination of the day. When Sam walked around to take some pictures of cacti in bloom, the spider webs in the lower bushes caught his attention. The ranger confirmed that what he had seen were in fact the nets of Tarantulas…

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Our main destination of the day was the Sonora Desert Museum. We enjoyed the museum, which in fact is a combination of a zoo, botanical garden and geology museum. While Max was more fascinated by the snakes and the caves, we also liked the nice exhibits which included a sizable piece of moon stone. Given the midday heat we did not get to see all of the animals, but the black bear was impressive, as were the bobcat and grey fox. Still, the clear highlight was the beaver and the otter which were enjoying a swim in the pool and regularly visited their den.

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While Max enjoyed the visit, Sam was pretty down soon after: he realized that his camera lens was letting him down – the autofocus did not work anymore and as it the whole lens got stuck, also the manual focus did not work. This is not good news, specifically when the large portion of our trip is still ahead of us…
And there’s another thing we realized: in Sedona our fridge had started to make funny noises to the degree that eventually we shut it off periodically. After a bit of troubleshooting and research in the various manuals of the RV, we deducted that the last 17 nights without electrical hook-up had probably depleted the batteries in the back of the RV and that the limited driving we had been doing lately had simply not been sufficient. So the theory was that after the two nights with electrical hook-ups in Flagstaff and Pichaco, we should be fine again. But the theory proved not to be right, as soon after we stopped for the night at a free campsite called Snyder Hill a bit west of Tucson the fridge stated to make funny noises again…

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So we changed our plan for the next day and went to have our equipment checked. After stopping at two camera repair shops, it was clear that we’d be talking a lens replacement and not a repair – as any kind of repair would have left us stuck in Tuscon probably for the next two weeks. Still, both stores did not really have what Sam wanted and were already considering to potentially order a new lens via the internet.
Before making a decision, we decided to check the van first. A nearby Jiffylube soon discovered that both batteries in the back of the van were simply dead. And as living without a fridge in the actual temperatures (at that stage it was probably 101 °F or 38 °C) is simply no option, the choice was pretty easy to get new batteries. At least all the other news was good: the brakes and bearings looked good, the motor oil did not need a change yet and there was no other obvious damage that would need to be taken care of.

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We paid less than expected and even got a coupon for a free car wash as a bonus. So we did that – why not and were soon the owners of a shiny camper van. Great!
Well great, if it wasn’t for the cover of the gas system that was suddenly missing – which we realized at the third camera store we went to. So the feeling of elation about the fixed and clean car subsided quicker than a snap second and I just felt horrified: we would never be able to get that part exactly in that color again except if we’d pay a lot of money to get it custom made… NOOOOOOO!

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It took a while for clear thinking to set in again. Once it did, I called the car wash and asked them to check if a piece like that was found. The lady checked and about two minutes later I was relieved to hear that they had it. Great – I just hoped it would be in acceptable condition and was glad to know that we’d not need to drive the 5 miles again hoping to find the part somewhere on the street – probably run over by other cars a dozen times.
In the meantime, Sam enquired about new camera lenses and eventually ended up buying a new Tamron 16 – 300mm lens. As Sam always wanted to have a 300mm lens, he was happy with that choice and given that online we did not get significantly better prices, he went with that. And we agreed that this will be it – no other birthday presents needed in a couple of days!
Max had been nice the whole time, playing mostly by himself. Still, the heat took his toll also on him and as all three of us were fairly exhausted, we decided to treat ourselves to the local KOA campground which features a pool. And that’s where we spent pretty much the rest of the evening: at first in the regular pool, then soaking in the hot pool. And life was good again – even though the day will hopefully remain to be the single most expensive of our whole trip!
Sam had already fallen in love with Tucson right from the start: after all with the large air force base there were constantly jets and helicopters passing over our heads and soon enough also Max learned to distinguish an A10 from an F16.

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So Sam had really been looking forward to visit the PIMA Air and Space Museum. At first we toured the museum itself - outside and some of the hangars. Sam was fascinated and commented the lack of similar aircraft museums in Europe.

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But after all he had been even more keen to tour the boneyards where the US military is storing 4000 planes and helicopters that have been taken out of service. Some of them are used for parts only, others are ready to be reactivated in a matter of days or weeks. The highlight of the tram tour of the outside facilities at the museum and the bus tour of the boneyards was probably the fact that the tours were held by former pilots who were able to tell by far more stories about the planes than what we would have guessed when just walking around on our own.

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We had come as one of the first people in the morning and left only shortly before the museum closed, so it was not a long decision making process to define that we’d go back to the KOA with the pool.
Before heading off to visit some more museums around Tucson, we first dipped again into the pool – after all it was supposed to get up to 109 °F (44 °C) today, so we figured that a bit of cooling off before starting could not hurt.
Our first stop was at San Xavier der Bac mission, an old building from the 18th century. The stop at the mission was relatively short, but ended with a culinary highlight: it was time to try Indian frybread: Sam and I tried the bean-tomato-cheese-lettuce version, while Max was delighted to get his frybread with cinnamon and honey. We were not alone for lunch: there was a whole group of little whistlers surrounding us.

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Strengthened by lunch we were ready for the next adventures. A bit south of the mission we stopped at the ASARCO Pima mine. After a quick photo session in their yard (in which Sam was quite disappointed not to see any of the local rattle-snakes) we went on the mine tour and were impressed by the sheer size of the excavations. But also the milling processes to extract the copper from the rocks were enormous.

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But more to come, as we still had one more agenda item on the list for today: Sam really wanted to see the Titan Missile Museum. We got to see a missile in its silo – without the nuclear warhead that would have featured these missiles still until 1982 when they were decommissioned. What a reminiscence of the cold war and it’s quite hard to believe how much effort and ingenuity was put into devising a system that was only designed to retailiate in case the enemy would have attacked first. Impressive, but at the same time quite scary as well.

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An hour’s drive later we arrived at Benson, our stop for the night. And the first activity was to jump into the pool. It seems that by now we have adjusted quite well to the temperatures. Sam was already feeling cold and went to get his jacket at 8:30 pm – when accuweather still said that the local Benson temperature was 95 °F (35 °C)… Let’s see it his projection of freezing tonight with his light blanket will come true!

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:43 Archived in USA Tagged arizona museum air mine tucson space heat lens battery missile Comments (0)

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