Tucson AZ – Part Two

After our trip to the Titan Missile Museum, we stopped at Mission San Xavier del Bac, a historic Spanish Catholic mission on the Tohono O’odham San Xavier Indian Reservation. Architect Ignacio Gaona designed the mission under the direction of Fr. Juan Bautista Velderrain. Franciscans continue to run the church to serve the O’odham native community, whose ancestors built the mission between 1783 and 1797.

 

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Mission San Xavier del Bac

 

We joined a tour group in progress when we arrived at the courtyard outside the doors. The docent pointed out specific art pieces and explained their symbolism, but I had trouble hearing at the back of the crowd, so I stuck with taking pictures. I could have stood there for hours finding all the little details in my camera’s viewfinder.

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Balcony over the front doors. Note the shell over the window, a symbol of baptism, pilgrimage, St. James the Apostle, St. Augustine, and the Blessed Mary.
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One of the many carvings in the facade.
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I wondered what was behind the door.
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Jesus Christ Monogram
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Aesop’s Fable The Lion and The Mouse?

Walk through the carved mesquite doors and enter a church rich with bright colors, paintings, carvings, frescoes, and statues.

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From Ceiling to the Floor, Art is All Around.
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Ceiling Paintings
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One of the Numerous Angels in the Church.
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I like the way this resembles fabric and trim to give the appearance of a valance or drape.
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Handwriting on the Wall from Daniel 5?
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The depiction of the Last Supper. Note the dark figure at the edge of the drape on the right side of the painting.
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The Devil in the Details
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Flying Angel
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One of the Saints?
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Prayer Candles are Purchased at the Gift Shop
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Red, Orange, Blue, Green, and Shades of Brown.
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The Docent Said the Dots Are Thumbprints

Back outside are different views of the exterior, bell tower, hill, and plaza.

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Exterior Walkway
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Side of Church
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Bell Tower
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Archway to Hill Trail
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Hill Trail with Lions Standing Guard
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San Xavier Plaza

We’ll have to visit San Xavier again some day to enjoy more of the art and symbolism, meet the local vendors, browse their wares, and grab a bite to eat.

We thought we had allotted enough time to see everything on our list, but we needed at least a couple more days. Fortunately, Rincon Country East accommodated our request for two more nights.

Off we drove to Biosphere 2, the research facility owned by University of Arizona (UA) since July 2011. UA scientists conduct several large-scale projects at the facility originally built to “research and develop self-sustaining space-colonization technology.” One such project is the Landscape Evolution Observatory (LEO), a large-scale laboratory used to explore how the evolution of physical and biological processes of the landscape affects “water, carbon, and energy cycling within the landscape, and between the landscape and the atmosphere.” In other words, research on global warming.

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Biosphere 2 in Oracle, Arizona

The visitor center alone has plenty to keep a person busy for up to an hour, including a film presentation, exhibits, and multimedia displays. A bookstore and café are also on site. The best part is taking the under-the-glass tour. Led by a docent, the one hour and the 15-minute tour includes the tropical rainforest, desert, and ocean environments; the LEO; as well as the basement “technosphere” and the “amazing lungs.” The tour also includes the scientist’s living quarters, or human habitat.

Tropical Rainforest Environment

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Tropical Rainforest in Biosphere 2
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Tropical Rainforest in Biosphere 2

Aquaponics project explores how fish, bacteria, and recirculating water is used to grow plants at a faster rate using less water. It looks like something we could have in our backyards.

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Aquaponics Project

Desert Environment

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Desert Environment at Biosphere 2
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Desert Environment at Biosphere 2

Basement technology

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The Basement Includes Pipes and Equipment of All Sort that Serve as the Organs and Circulating System of Biosphere 2.

The Amazing Lungs. There are two on site, this one is included in the tour. Air expanded as the heat of the day rose causing the lung to rise. At night, the air contracted which lowered the roof—made of galvanized rubber—to the floor on its metal legs. Although the Biosphere is no longer self-contained, fans are used to simulate the expansion and contraction.

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Inside One of the Lungs of Biosphere 2

The LEO Project is enclosed within the three arched glass buildings. Each section contains a bed 30 meters long and 11 meters wide at a 10-degree slope. The beds are filled with 1 meter, or 500 metric tons, of basalt rock. Approximately 1800 sensors and sampling devices are installed to collect data which the scientists analyze.

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Exterior Glass Enclosure of the LEO Project. The Domed Shaped Building to the Left is One of the Lungs.
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It’s Difficult to See From This Angle, but the Dark Area Above the Green Frame is the bed of basalt rock.

Human Habitat

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Human Habitat Contains a Kitchen, Living Area, and Apartments that the Scientists Used During their Stay.

For our last day in Tucson, we packed a lunch, and headed to Tucson Mountain County Park and found a great place to have a picnic in the Ironwood Picnic area. After a quiet meal among the mesquite, palo verde, and teddy bear cholla we drove to Old Tucson Studios. Expecting a cheesy sort of place that would extract money from our pockets, we were surprised to find the old movie and television sets realistic and the entertainment professional and amusing.

 

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Teddy Bear Cholla

 

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Old Tucson Studio Souvenir Shop

The music, singing, and clapping attracted us toward the Grand Palace Saloon. Jon was glad we were standing at the back of the bar when the dancers came out and selected men to come up on stage, dressed in can-can outfits, of course. Don’t look too long at the out of focus print, you’ll get dizzy.

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Grand Palace Saloon

We wandered over to the Mission next and laughed at the actors who insulted the audience members as they walked into the arena and took their seats. Then we enjoyed a slapstick routine involving a gun fight, explosions, and falls from high places.

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Watch Stunt Shows at the Mission Arena
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Stunt Show Actors
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Uh Oh. Now, What Do I Do?
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I’m Having a Really Bad Day.

Next, we strolled through the town to see the sets where filming of over 400 movies and television productions took place since the Audie Murphy days.

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Peek Inside the Hotel Del Toro
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The Marshal’s Office
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The School House Exterior
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Bilingual School Room
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Phoebe’s Has Good Fudge For Sale
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Chinese Alley
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Saloon and Card Room

We felt we got our money’s worth at $18.95 a head. We took Gates Pass Road back to town and stopped at the overlook. As I stood on the hill the Tucson Valley and Rincon Mountains came into view through the V of the rock formations. It was then that I realized why I felt at home in Tucson. It’s the mountains.

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Gates Pass Overlook. Through the V on the Left is Tucson Valley and the Rincon Mountains in the Distance.

The San Bernardino Mountains towered over the valley where Jon and I grew up, and hills surround the valley where we live now. There’s something comforting about hills and mountains standing tall and strong ready to protect the inhabitants that live in the shadows.

Next stop, Casa Grande.

Safe Travels.

Tucson AZ – Part I

Continuing westward, we selected Tucson AZ for one of our longer stays to allow time for truck maintenance. We settled in at Rincon Country East RV Park on February 22, 2017. Rincon East was the sixth park we called before procuring a reservation. Although many of the parks advertise numerous sites, park models or long-term visitors fill the majority of the spots leaving only a small percentage available for travelers. Rincon East has 460 sites but only 55 available for short-term stays. We learned later that our trouble getting reservations was also complicated by Rodeo week. Rodeo week is such a big deal that the schools are closed Thursday and Friday to allow the students to participate in the non-motorized parade and other rodeo-related activities.

There is so much to see in and around Tucson we had trouble deciding where to go and what to see. We chose Saguaro National Park East, or Rincon Mountain District, to explore first since it was close to our home base. This old guy looks like he has had a long hard life.

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I Need a Hug.

On March 1, 1933, President Hoover established Saguaro National Monument, but congress did not designate the property as a national park until 1994. During the sixty years as a monument the cactus dwindled in numbers due to poachers who stole the stately giants, cattle that trampled the young saguaros, and unusual freezing temperatures caused the plants to die. In the meantime, the Civilian Conservation Corps constructed the Cactus Forest Scenic Loop Drive, a visitor center opened in 1950, and scientific research of the saguaro life cycle began.

The 8-mile paved Loop Drive leads visitors to several trailheads, scenic vistas, pullouts, and picnic areas. At the pullouts, kiosks provide information about the park, the cactus, and the non-human creatures that live or visit each year. One sign said Tucson was known as the lightning capital of the world. A quick fact check revealed that Texas took the prize for the number of flashes (2.8 million) during 2014 and Florida ranked number one for the average number of flashes per square mile (21.0) from 2005 through 2014 according to Vaisala Inc. on the NOAA.Gov website. The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum attributes Tucson’s unique combination of elevation and dry atmosphere as the reason lightning in Tucson is more visible. To experience Tucson’s lightning requires a visit during monsoon season between July and September.

Rooftops sparsely placed among the saguaros, Palo Verde, and mesquite, are barely visible looking west from Loop Drive.

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View from Loop Drive Looking West

The saguaros are returning, protected by mesquite and Palo Verde nurse trees. Consider that the saguaros do not generate arms until they are 95 – 100 years old.

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A Family of Saguaros Nursed by Mesquite and Palo Verde Trees

Other sightings along the loop drive.

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Barrell Cactus
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Phainopepla Sitting in A Tree. How Nice of Him to Pose for Me.
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Chain Fruit Cholla
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Staghorn Cholla
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Javelina Rocks
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Javelina Rocks

We headed downtown one afternoon to tour the Tucson Museum of Art and J. Knox Corbett House. Unfortunately, the museum closed early for an event so we only had about ten minutes to walk through the Corbett house, so no time to take photos or enjoy the art in the museum.

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J. Knox Corbett House
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Historic Neoclassic/Classical Revival Architecture

Old Town Artisans, housed on the site of El Presidio San Augustin del Tucson, a fort built by the Spanish in 1775, was only a few blocks from the museum. There we wandered through the galleries and shops gawking at the unique gifts, jewelry, paintings, pottery, and other items for sale.

We had received a recommendation to try El Charro for a meal. Four o’clock was a little early to eat dinner, but when the hostess said, “Now would be a good time to grab a seat,” we heeded her advice. Good thing we did. By the time we finished our meal, diners stood outside wrapped in their jackets waiting for a table. We both enjoyed the salmon taquitos with guacamole and the chicken mole enchiladas were some of the best I had ever eaten.

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Mural in El Charro Restaurant

The Titan Missile Museum was next on our list. As a kid growing up in the 1960s, I crouched under my desk at school along with my classmates just as the teacher instructed us. At the time, I thought the exercise would keep me safe. Little did I know we all would have been burnt to a crisp had there really been a nuclear war. The song, “Russians” by Sting gave me hope that the Russians would not engage their nuclear weapons because they really did love their children.

The museum includes historical photos and tells the story of the 54 Titan II missile complexes across the United States, each operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The missiles could deliver a nine megaton thermonuclear warhead to its target more than 6300 miles away in less than thirty minutes. The one-hour guided tour includes the underground missile complex, the launch control center, and the missile silo. I’m so glad the little girl hiding under the desk never had to endure the tragedies of a nuclear war and pray no one will ever experience the destructive power of these types of missiles.

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Titan Missile Visitor Center
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Fencing and Gate for Titan Missile Complex
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The Elevator to the Underground Facility is on the Left. The Stair Hatch is on the Right.
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Looking Up through Stairs That Lead Underground
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Giant Shock Absorber for Underground Facility
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Launch Control Center
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Missile and Silo From Underground
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Missile and Silo from Above Ground
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View of Silo and Surrounding Area
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Listening Devices for Alerting Launch Control of Intruders
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Various Antennas
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Liquid Fuel Tank Used Prior to Solid Rocket Fuel

 

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Rocket Engine Used During Launch

 

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Military Police Jeep Used on Site

Next up is Tucson Part Two, which will include Biosphere 2, Mission San Xavier del Bac and Old Tucson Studio.

Safe Travels.