Arizona Trip (Jan 22 - Feb 1, 2020)

Every winter we like to visit our aunt in the Catalina Mountains of Tucson, exploring other parts of the state along the way. Some of our favorite stops include the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, hiking in the Chiricahua Mountains and Sedona, watching the Sandhill Cranes around Wilcox and exploring the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. This time we decided to make the 2 day drive out without any stops, and stay in Tucson longer so we could do more visiting with Lois and take in local attractions.

Freshly fallen snow made the drive out of Colorado beautiful, but we were looking forward to being warm back in Arizona!

View of the Collegiate Peaks of Colorado from Highway 285, east of Johnson Village

Susan lived in Tucson in the late 70’s/early 80’s and had fond memories of Sabino Canyon, so was anxious to go back. Before taking a tram tour into the canyon, we decided to do some morning hiking and birdwatching, starting the Visitors Center for the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area

Along our morning hike near Sabino Canyon

Why did the roadrunner cross the road? 

Curve-billed Thrasher

Mike posing with a barrel cactus

The Cactus Wren in its eponymous habitat

A Speckled Earless Lizard (we think) catching the early morning sun

This winter brought a lot of precipitation to the area and the washes were running so high we couldn’t complete our hike without getting our boots filled with water. Fortunately, the tram tours would keep our feet dry. 

Fortunately, the levels at the water crossings weren't too high for the tours to operate. 

Sabino Canyon

Along Sabino Creek in the canyon

On Friday we went down to Green Valley to visit the Titan Missile Museum, a former US Air Force Titan missile launch complex, now open to the public. During Mike's Air Force career, he worked at a Minuteman missile base, and there were many interesting similarities between them. 

The gate to the launch complex

The 45 minute tour, given by a docent, allowed us to explore several areas of the missile complex, including the underground blast door, the launch control center where officers "turned the keys" to launch the missile, and views of the decommissioned missile, the largest land-based missile ever deployed by the US. There were lots of stairs taking us more than 3 stories underground, and we were required to wear hardhats when moving through the complex. 

Inside the launch center

During the tour in the launch control center, Mike was selected to “turn the key” along with the docent. 

Mike turns the key, but fortunately no missiles were launched :-) 

Looking at the Titan missile from below ground

Looking down at the missile from topside

Sunday we drove to nearby Honeybee Canyon and hiked out to a small rock art site. This was a sweet little hike, with the trail, actually mostly a wash, surrounded by a neighborhood of homes which probably contributed to the lack of vandalism at the site.

The hike started at the green icon at bottom with red pin at the petroglyphs; note housing areas

The first part of the Honeybee Canyon hike went through these old rock structures

Most of the hike was in sandy washes, with a few muddy spots

The rocks at center right had the well-preserved petroglyphs

Susan with the petroglyphs

Petroglyph detail

We started the next week with a bike ride out to Saguaro National Park’s east unit which has a one way loop road perfect for biking. We had planned to borrow a bike rack from the bike rental shop, but when we arrived, learned that they didn’t have one for us to use after all. But no problem, Tucson has a bike trail that encircles the city. 

So we hopped on the trail which runs along the Rillito River, currently dry, and headed east. We weren’t expecting to see a javelina in the city, but one popped up out of the big wash right in front of us! He was gone in a moment so there was no time for a photo.

View of the terrain east of Tucson

Pedaling around the saguaros was really fun and thought it was neat that volunteer park rangers patrol on bicycles.

While we were comfortable most of the day, on the way home it got pretty chilly. We were coming in much later in the day than planned because we lingered and possibly made a wrong turn or two. How ironic the coldest we have felt on a bike ride was in southern Arizona. We fueled up, and warmed up at a restaurant a short walk from the bike rental before heading back north. 

The map below shows our ride, our longest to-date, at over 52 miles, with 1350 feet of gain. It took us a bit less than 6 hours. 

Track (in orange) of our route from Tucson to Saguaro NP East

Neither of us had ever been to Madera Canyon, so the next day we decided to drive down and check it out. It was a quick “windshield” tour, but we really liked what we saw for birding and hiking, and look forward to booking a room there during the spring migration another time.

Wednesday was our last full day in Tucson, and we spent it at the Pima Air & Space Museum and the Davis Monthan AFB Boneyard

B-17 Flying Fortress named "I'll Be Around", a mainstay bomber of WWII in Europe

The museum was excellent, with lots of indoor and outdoor displays and exhibits of aircraft, aviation, and war history. Mike not only enjoyed seeing aircraft that were active during his US Air Force career (1972-1992), but also older aircraft that his father had worked on during his career (1953-1976).

The B-36 was the first aircraft Mike's dad worked on in 1954, the year Mike was born

Mike with the B-36 named "City of Fort Worth"; Mike was born in Fort Worth on Carswell AFB,
where his father was stationed and worked on its engines

It was fun for Mike to walk up to, and around, military aircraft he'd been a passenger on. 

Mike with the C-141B Starlifter, an aircraft he once took a "hop" on from Europe to the US

There were several aircraft which were contemporary art installations

Aircraft on display in one of several hangers at Pima Air & Space Museum

The boneyard tour was also excellent, though for most of the tour we were confined to the tour bus, without much opportunity to wander around the aircraft. Security was very tight for this tour, as the busload of mostly civilians had to go through security at Davis-Monthan's gate. And this was after registering for the tour online in advance. Large cameras with telescopic lenses were not allowed. 

We got back in time to have dessert and play one last game of Upwords with Aunt Lois. She is quite good at word games and sure kept us on our toes during the numerous rounds of Upwords we played with her in the afternoons following our adventures around town. (Little did we know that a few weeks later, we would continue playing Upwards daily at home during the COVID lockdown.)

Thursday morning we headed towards home, only going as far as Winslow to visit Meteor Crater. We have known each other for 18 years yet Susan never knew the crater was on Mike’s bucket list. 

Panorama of the crater, shot from the edge during our walking tour along the rim

Aerial view of the crater, about 3/4 mile wide and as deep as 600 ft
(image from Wikipedia)

We were surprised to learn that the meteor crater is privately owned by the Barringer family, since 1903. At the time, Barringer was interested in mining for iron, and well before science had confirmed it, he suspected the crater was formed by an impact. 

After we left the Meteor Crater we decided to take advantage of the evening light, so we went out to the Little Painted Desert County Park, a neat area of badlands not far from Winslow, and well worth a stop. 

Panorama of the badlands at Little Painted Desert County Park

After sunset at the badlands we had dinner at the Relic Road Brewery, and afterwards we did the obligatory “Standing on the Corner” photo op in Winslow. 

Susan standing on the corner

We spent the last day of the month at the Aztec Ruins National Monument. This is yet another under-visited national monument that is well worth a stop. The reconstructed great Kiva, complete with a roof, was especially interesting because it conveyed the feeling of what it must have been like to live in that time.

The restored Great Kiva structure

Interior of the Great Kiva

After staying the night in Durango, Saturday February 1st we returned to snow country, and had an easy drive back to Dillon.

Mike on the snow-packed trail at Sapphire Point

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