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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)

Islands and Ferries in the Pacific Northwest

Everett, Whidbey Island, Orcas Island

sunny 24 °C
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We had made it all the way to Ellensburg an hour east of Seattle and Sam and I had to do some decision making: what would we like to see and do in the next couple of days and in which order. Mt Rainier vs. Seattle vs. San Juan Islands were the candidates. And after going through several options, we were clear on the base plan and I was able to go ahead and make reservations for accommodation and the ferry for the San Juan Islands.
So the next morning we passed the tempting looking Mt Rainier and drove towards Seattle and then north towards Anacortes to be well positioned for our ferry reservation the next morning. Instead of just taking the interstate north from Seattle, I figured we might as well take a scenic detour via Whidbey Island.
What I had not taken into account is that on the way to the ferry in Mutkileo, we passed directly by the Boeing factories. And it was simply way too tempting to stop at their ‘Future of Flight’ facility. While the museum did not tempt us too much – after all it seemed hard to top the experience we’ve had at the PIMA air and space museum in Tucson – we were very tempted to go on the tour of the production facilities. Unfortunately, Max did not meet the height requirement, so only Sam got to take the tour. Fortunately enough, the museum turned out to be very kids friendly and consequently Max and I did not have any trouble at all to fill the two hours until Sam was back.

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Even though it was much later than the original plan had anticipated, we still took the ferry over towards Clinton on Whidbey Island. We had to wait a bit to get onto one of the ferries and then enjoyed a short transit over.
Sticking to the main road along the island proved to provide us with lots of forest views and little else. So we took the turnoff towards Fort Casey and were rewarded with nice sights of Puget Sound from there. Walking along the battery with it's large canons, we could not resist to wonder how much energy was put into the defense of a place that in the end never got attacked at any stage.

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Our destination for the night was State Park at Deception Pass, which is famed as one of the nicest state parks in Washington. While for Sam the stay there was the ultimate experience and probably the best place we stayed at so far overall, I felt a bit deceived in fact.

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As we soon realized, the State Park is located less than two miles north of the airfield of a naval base. There were probably three F18 fighter jets which started their flight training at around 8pm turning in circles attempting to land at the base and then starting through again. And with every round we got treated in 1 minute intervals to about 20 seconds of unbelievable noise. We were able to see exactly the exhaust of the planes pointed in our direction in a distance of maybe 500 yards / meters. And just from the noise level it felt like they were running in afterburner mode.
With every round they made, Sam looked even more excited and soon got the binoculars out to watch even closer. Max was frustrated by the noise and was protecting his ears with his hands on every turn. And after realizing the noise did not seem to eventually stop with darkness setting in, I got quite frustrated. By the time I went to bed a bit after 10pm, they continued to make their rounds. And even when Sam went to sleep an hour later they had not stopped yet.
At least all three of us tend to sleep very well despite noise around us, so I guess we can call ourselves lucky in that respect. We were well rested when the alarm went off the next morning, had breakfast and headed to the Ferry.
We had made reservations to go to the San Juan islands. Given that it’s high season and all campgrounds I checked seemed to be full, I had booked a camping spot for us via Airbnb on Orcas Island.

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Once the ferry landed, we directly went to ‘The Lodge on Orcas’ where the owner David was waiting for us. We were thrilled – what a gem we had found: a nice secluded place. A couple of rooms and really nice spaces to be shared by all guests: a big and clean kitchen, nice sitting areas, several terraces and balconies and a large outside garden with an orchard featuring ripe Asian pears and a couple of hammocks. Wow!
It was an easy decision to just spend the day in the lodge without going anywhere else. Barbecue, hammocks, afternoon tea, a short walk to the beach and back, nice talks with other guests – what a great day!

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The next day we did explore the island a bit. Moran State Park is not far away and we did a bit of hiking to the Cascades and Hidden Falls before heading up to Mount Constitution. Up there we had an excellent view of the Puget Sound with the islands surrounding us, to Vancouver Islands, the Cascades Range with Mt. Baker and into the Vancouver area in Canada.

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Before heading back towards our lodge, we could not resist the temptation to stop at the shellfish farm in Bark Bay. We had lots of fun picking a dozen oysters, opening them and trying to distinguish the tastes of the three different kinds of oysters we had selected. In retrospect we should probably have skipped the fun – at least I would have felt much better the following day. Well, what should I say: no risk, no fun…

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That evening we enjoyed another barbecue before taking advantage of the large variety of games in the lodge to play some board games.
It was really hard to leave the lodge again and stayed pretty much as long as we could. Before heading off, we got to take a lot of food which Tom, Lina, Lilly and Chloe had left over before leaving the day before – thanks guys! But eventually it was time to say good-bye to David and to head into Eastsound – the nice little town on Orcas Island. It is very laid back, offers a nice variety of shopping opportunities and we enjoyed our time there very much. Still, we limited our shopping to ice cream (6$ for a single scoop) and ‘real’ bread (9$ for a small loaf), even though there would have been much else that that would have been nice to have.

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We had originally been considering to also visit some of the other islands of the San Juan archipelago, but taking into account the ferry waiting times and transfers, eventually had rather wanted to take it easy just on Orcas. Still, to get back, we did spend another hour waiting at the ferry terminal waiting for our turn to get onto the ferry back to Anacortes.

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This time we even played a bit of puzzle – what a nice idea of the ferry company to keep the passengers entertained – before heading off onto Fidalgo Island and eventually the mainland. We all agreed: It had been a fun trip to Orcas Island!

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 07:07 Archived in USA Tagged island plane ferry driftwood jets boeing orcas battery production Comments (0)

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