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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)

Nothing. Except endless bush, beaches, mines and stations

Broome, Eighty-mile Beach, Port Hedland, Indee Station, Auski Roadhouse

sunny 34 °C
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Broome is very remote even by Western Australian standards. Just an example to illustrate this statement: when searching for used bikes on gumtree.au.com, I had a couple of results for Broome and Cable Beach. And then the system offered to check also the following offers in the surrounding suburbs – the first of which was 598km away, the next ones 1050km away…
So, we made sure to fill up our supplies and to make sure that our tank and the jerry cans are full of diesel. We had really enjoyed our time in Broome and surroundings and could have easily stayed even longer. But after nine days we felt the itching again to get out and explore.
Even though we had seen only a bit of the Kimberley, we’d be heading south now. On the other hand, the Kimberley region is enormous. After all, just this one of nine regions of Western Australia is larger in size than 70% of the world’s countries – and is inhabited by less than 40,000 people out of which a third lives in Broome.
The closest town south-west of Broome is Port Hedland. As we were not keen on a 600km drive, we planned to stop along the way after 375km at Eighty Mile Beach. We were driving all that distance through flat bush with literally nothing along the way. I’m not sure to ever having experienced such a long stretch of nothingness.
To be fair, the nothingness was interrupted twice: after 25 km, we turned onto the Great Northern Highway and there was a gas station. And after 330 km we stopped at Sandfire Roadhouse to refuel.

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It was a relief to eventually turn off the road and to head the last 10 km on a gravel road to the beach. The beach sure seemed endless, but presumably it is in fact 80 miles long. What impressed us right away, were the sizable turtle tracks leading from the sea into the dunes and back. So, we definitively wanted to have a look ourselves at night to see some turtles nesting.

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As it was rather low tide and light outside, there were no turtles around yet and we kept ourselves busy with collecting shells. And there were really beautiful ones around and even some skeletons of starfish. The sunset at super low tide a bit later was simply spectacular.

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Unfortunately, that meant as well that high tide would only be after midnight and consequently the prime time for turtles coming up to the beach to dig a nest and to lay their eggs would only be very late. Still, Sam and I were extremely lucky when we went out to the beach at around eleven to see the first turtle coming up the beach after just a couple of minutes of being there. We were very impressed. To make sure that we don’t interrupt the turtle, we held our distance, but were able to observe the process nicely. Good, that moon was out at least part of the time – after all torches or any other form of light would scare the turtles away.

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The next morning, we had fun watching the birds at our campsite and eventually headed on to Port Hedland.

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About halfway, the scenery started getting more interesting with some hills and rocks dotting the otherwise boring bush. In Port Hedland, we headed to a park right next to the harbor inlet. Quite frankly, I had never heard of Port Hedland until a couple of days earlier and the guidebooks were not really enthusiastic about the place due to its industrial flavor. Still, we found it fascinating, as there was so much to learn that we had not realized or known previously.
After all, Port Hedland is one of the world’s top ten cargo ports shipping Western Australian iron ore and other mining products mainly to China and Korea. It is also the destination of a private train track, owned by BHP Billion, the world’s largest mining company. It is holding the record for the longest and heaviest train in history transporting over 82,000 metric tons of iron ore in 682 wagons at a total length of 7,2 km. Nowadays, these trains have just about 260 cars and a total train weight of over 43,000 tons. Even though this seems tiny in comparison, it is still about twice the length of the BNSF or CN trains we had seen in the USA – even though those were impressive as well with two sea containers stacked on top of each other.
Also, the iron ore freight ships were fascinating. At first the two anchored ore ships did not really impress us too much. This is, until another empty ship was navigated by several pilot boats into the harbor and we only then realized that the other two ships would have looked just as big when empty and were just mainly submerged in their full state.

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Last but not least, also the huge mountains of salt at the entrance and exit into town were fascinating. We left towards the suburb of South Hedland such that Max could ride his bike in the largest skatepark of Western Australia.

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Eventually we had to leave such that we’d not need to drive at dawn to Indee Station. Even though we had not seen a single kangaroo so far, we did not want to hit the first one we’ll encounter. But once more, we did not see a single kangaroo. Instead we were greeted at the station by a very young fowl, several calves, chicken and geese.

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A quick run up the hill provided us with a nice view of the sunset. Great!

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The next morning, we met Emily, the young French interior designer, who is helping on the farm for a couple of months before travelling through Australia. She explained to us how to get to the ‘Red Rock’, located about 10km south of the station. We took the sandy track to get there.

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Soon found ourselves in front of a mini-Uluru / Ayers Rock. Contrary to the big famous one close to Alice Springs, this one may be climbed and we headed up to have a look at Aboriginal etchings. What a nice place in the middle of the rather flat landscape – and how much easier to access vs the enormous trip out to Alice Springs that we had originally wanted to do…

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The drive towards Karijini National Park was dominated by road trains fully loaded with iron ore or other mining products. Typically, a truck was pulling three to four trailers with between four and six axes. At Auski Roadhouse we saw an enormous road train. Doing the quick calculation, we realized that the truck and its trailer have a total of 124 wheels. Just imagining the time, effort and cost to change all of them is a pretty crazy thought. Luckily enough, in these latitudes no winter tires are required!

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 14:53 Archived in Australia Tagged trains beach red port rock road bush station nest mine turtle cattle nothing Comments (2)

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