Monday, April 6, 2020

Tucson, Davis Monthan Air Force Base

Davis Monthan AFB, Tucson, Arizona       February 9 thru February 26, 2020

We left San Antonio, Texas, heading west.  Spent one night in El Paso, Texas.  We arrived at Davis Monthan AFB in Tucson, Arizona on Sunday, February 9.  We found a spot – full hookups are not immediately available, and there are no reservations.  Their estimate of the number of days before we would get a full hookup was seven days, and that was spot on.  We are very experienced in what is called ‘dry camping’, that of living on a campsite with no water, electric, or sewer connection.  It is really no problem for us.  The seven days went quickly.
This Air Force Base is the repository of literally thousands of all types of planes and helicopters that have been decommissioned!  They are parked side by side and fill acres.  The weather here is perfect for preserving these planes – hot and dry.  No humidity to cause them to deteriorate.  These types of planes are still in use, so these being stored here can be used for parts.  The old models, such as those from WWII, have been destroyed.
The whole desert living thing is so different for us!  When the sun is out, it might only be in the low 60’s or upper 50’s, but it feels warm!  As soon as that sun starts down, though, that temp drops quickly.  The temperature at night in these parts is in the 40’s – brrr!  The terrain looks totally different than anything I’ve ever seen before.  Dan lived in San Diego for 20 years in a previous life, so being in the desert isn’t so different for him.  In the camping area (and everywhere!), there are mostly small trees, bushes, and lots of different kinds of cacti.  There is NO grass, only gravel everywhere.  They used two different colors (red and white) of gravel in each campsite to delineate one site from another and the different parts of the site.  It is a different kind of beauty, but beautiful it is!  Everywhere around Tucson, you can see the mountains.  On clear days, you can see that they are mostly covered with plants.  On a cloudy day, they just look charcoal gray.  Always there, always beautiful.

cholla Tugboat's nemisis

unusual - didn't get the name!

beautiful cacti in the campground

mountains always in sight

Our first sightseeing venture was to Saguaro National Park.  The saguaros (pronounced sa-war-o) are the huge cacti that are so typical on signs and posters about Arizona.  The largest can soar to 50, 60, even 70 feet.  They have arms that come out and up.  In the national park, they are everywhere!  We learned a lot about them – to get a good start in life, they need a ‘nurse’ plant – often a palo verde tree.  The nurse plant protects them from the extreme heat in the summers.  At some point in their life, they do outgrow the need for their nurse.  Eventually, the nurse plant dies.  The structure of the saguaros is a hard wood skeleton!  We saw their wood used in ceilings of an old church as structural support.
There are many varieties of cacti, all very different, and each has their own beauty.  Tugboat had a close encounter with a cholla cactus one morning – he took umbrage that it ‘bit’ him on the leg as he brushed by, so he bit it….hopefully, he connected the pain with the cactus and won’t be trying that again!

up close saguaro

beautiful mountains

so many saguaros!

broke down and bought a hat!

beautiful specimen

Our next venture was to the Pima Air Museum.  They have all kinds: transport, tankers, NASA aircraft, presidential & other VIP aircraft, bombers, trainers, early US and foreign fighters, helicopters, commercial and civil…in short, any kind of aircraft you can imagine.  Some inside space, lots of outdoor space.  One aircraft, in particular, earns my heartfelt admiration – Dan’s life was saved by a helicopter pilot in Viet Nam, who had to jettison a rocket pod to take Dan on board.  My favorite part of the museum was the 390th Museum.  The 390th Bomber Group flew out of England starting in 1943.  This part of the museum told their stories, from actual men who were part of that heroic group.  They have held reunions every year, even as their numbers dwindle.  My heart was touched to hear their stories, told in their voices.  We could have spent lots more time there, Dan in particular – but we never found time to get back there for a return visit.

the model helicopter that was used to save Dan's life

Other adventures near Tucson included:
Hike in Madera Canyon – Just long enough and challenge enough to be fun.  Nice vistas.
San Xavier Mission – Truly beautiful mission, another of the ones the Spanish established as they came out of Mexico.  The local tribe still supports the mission, for the past 200 years!  As we exited the mission, the tribe had tables and shelters set up outside, selling their fry bread – delicious!  We learned about the history of the mission, and saw the results of restoration efforts.  The sanctuary is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen!


You can see that one tower has been restored, the other has not yet.

love the beautiful stonework

wall painted to look like tile - tile was difficult to bring there.

the decorations above were all painted, not tile

so beautiful

San Xavier lies here - people pray to him, bring candles to signify their prayers were answered

This statue of Mary gets a change of clothes with the season...

ingenious drain pipe



Biosphere 2 – This was quite possibly the most interesting and compelling site we visited in Tucson.  This installation was built entirely with private funding.  The purpose was to see how people would survive in enclosed separate facility for two years – enough time to spend 6 months going to, 6 months returning from, and 1 year living on Mars.  There were eight folks selected for the experiment, from various skill sets.  Inside there is: an ‘ocean’, complete with a reef, waves, and sea creatures; a desert; a rain forest, and a savannah.  And why, you ask, is it called Biosphere 2?  That's because Earth is number 1!   
The experiment actually failed – the goal was to be totally self sustainable.  They learned a lot from the experiment.  One lesson, in enriching soil for growing their food, they found that the microbes in the soil drank in more oxygen than they had thought.  Two, the vast quantities of cement used in the construction sucked oxygen out of the air while it was still curing.  Towards the end of the two years, oxygen had to be piped in to sustain their lives.
Now that the two year experiment is over, the facility is still used for very important and interesting experiments.  For example, they turned off the water in the rain forest for 30 days to simulate what can happen in an actual rain forest.  The damage from just that 30 days was quite extensive and is still being restored.
One of the more interesting features was the ‘lung’ of the facility.  There is a huge room, maybe 100 yards square, with a large rubber diaphragm in the middle.  As the pressure in the facility is high, the diaphragm is suspended high above the room.  As the pressure decreases, it comes down to rest on legs.  Mind you, this diaphragm and frame weighs 20 tons!!  The guide opened the door to the lung, and suddenly the diaphragm that was high up in the air started to sink down.  The wind created by opening that door was pretty powerful!  Without this lung, the pressure could have caused critical windows in the cylindrical building to blow out.
One thing I find intriguing is that we heard nothing during our visit that indicated NASA had been involved in any of this experiment!  Seems strange, just saying.


main building

rain forest

rain forest


ocean again


mountains always in view

Desert Museum
This museum was mostly outdoors, and included interesting plants, animals, and a daily hawk show that was quite impressive.


lovely vista

ocotillo cactus - used by some to build a living fence!

hawks put on a show


coyote posing for us!

entry gate

As we left Tucson, we reflected that there was not one of the attractions we visited that was not really fascinating, interesting, and enjoyable.

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