Monday, September 19, 2011

Day 55: The End of A Journey

September 19, 2011 - Today is my last day on this wonderful trip.  While I am a little sad; I know that all trips must come to an end.  I will miss my travel companion, my battle buddy; Bruce.  He's been a great friend to have around on this trip.  I wouldn't of had as much fun on this trip without him.  I will definitely leave Tucson today with good memories.

The weather has been very nice this past week, and I have to admit that I have grown somewhat accustomed to warm temperatures.  While I am an Alaskan boy and revel in 68 degree weather, 90 degrees isn't really that bad at all once you get used to it.  Additionally, the extra sunlight is fun to just sit in and soak up in preparation for winter back home; I think I actually have a tan.

The Mission of San Xavier del Bac

The final place that Bruce and I visited was the Mission of San Xavier.  San Xavier is a historic Spanish Catholic mission that can be found right outside of Tucson.  The mission was founded in 1692 by the Jesuit missionary, Father Kino.  The actual building that you see today wasn’t built until 1783, still making this church over 200 years old.

Our final destination for this part of the journey.

The outside of the Mission is reminiscent of Moorish design with domes and spirals.  However, it is the entrance that catches your eyes before even entering this working church. The large double door is carved mesquite and the front of the Mission depicts religious icons and motifs; lions, grape vines, and crosses. Additionally, statues of four female saints are represented on the front; although which saints they depict has been lost in the history of the Mission.

The majority of the saints on the front of the mission have,
unfortunately, lost their heads.
The inside of the Mission of San is amazing.  The actual construction and decoration of the Mission was done by the local natives, and the work is impressive.  Walking into the Mission, you are reminded of old European churches.  The frescoes, statuary, and gilded carved wood is impressive.  While all of this rich adornment looks real, it is important to note that the native tribe that built the mission had limited supplies.

Detail of the stonework on the front outside of the mission.

The colors used are representative of the local native culture.

The walls are made of adobe and painted to look like marble and tile, the carved wood is local and painted with yellow paint to look like it is covered in gold, and the ceiling medallions are made of rope covered in plaster.  None of this detracts from the beauty of the Mission; it adds to the impressive resourcefulness of the craftsmen.

A good example of fresco that imitates marble.

Instead of purchasing religious art work, craftsmen created fresco's of the same art.

The most impressive part of the interior of San Xavier is the apse behind the altar. Words cannot describe it, so I offer this picture instead

The magnificent apse of San Xavier.

The tour was given by a docent and included the modest museum, through some of the halls, and ended in the main part of the church, the sanctuary.  Bruce and I ended up in the gift shop after the tour to help with the restoration through monetary contributions…in other words, we bought things.

The Airport

After the Mission of San Xavier, Bruce drove me directly to the airport.  We said our goodbyes, promised to keep in touch, and then I headed into the airport.  It was hard to get on that plane and leave my friend behind, but I knew that it wouldn't be forever.

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Day 54: "Wasn't John Wayne Here?"

September 18, 2011 - The morning, while starting off a little slow, was a perfect opener for the adventures that we faced today.  Our original plans, made earlier that day, meant nothing in the grand scheme of things, and we ended up visiting two amazing places that we normally wouldn't have visited, and completely missed the Sonora Desert Museum.

Bruce likes to call this "rigid flexibility," but I like to think of it as pure luck.

The Old Tucson Studios

On our way to the Sonora Desert Museum, located outside of Tucson, we came across this gem of a tourist trap.  It's something that might we might have missed if we weren't getting bored of the cacti in the local scenery.

I think this was one of Bruce's favorite places...

The Tucson Studios were built by Columbia Pictures in 1938 for the movie Arizona starring William Holden and Jean Arthur.  Fifty building were built within 40 days, many of which are still standing on the lot today.  This working lot has been in plenty of movies and television shows, four of the movies starred John Wayne and one of the movies shot on Tucson Studios starred Ronald Reagan.  Additionally, the lot served as a partial set for the popular series Little House on the Prairie.

Our first stop was to get tickets from the gift shop.  From there Bruce and I walked back into the Old  movie memorabilia or displays, while others housed modern shops and food venues.  A few actors in western costumes were walking around, which helped lend to the atmosphere.

We stopped into the Tucson Hotel and Saloon to watch a variety act and something to eat.  After watching a comedy show trying to sell "miracle elixirs" we headed off to take a self-guided tour of Old Tucson.  The amount of buildings was amazing, and every corner offered a photo opportunity.

One of the many sets that have been turned into shops.

A nice place to sit outside in the shade.

Another studio set.

A native village set with a mission in the background.

The Old Tucson Studios was definitely an amazing place to visit.  With movie history around every corner it was a great place to look around and be immersed in movie history.

The International Wildlife Museum

We continued on our way to the Sonora Desert Museum.  However, we ended up taking a wrong turn and wound up at Tucson's International Wildlife Museum, which we took an opportunity to explore.  The museum, founded in 1988, highlights over 400 species of animals and insects artfully displayed.

Yes, I said displayed…this museum is full of stuffed dead animals.

While not exactly what I had in mind, I took the chance to photograph animals that I would not normally see.  Since they are stuffed, and coincidentally, do not move; it was easy to get the perfect pose without having to worry about taking a picture of a lion's posterior.

Lets start of with a bear...

An all too familiar scene in my native land of Alaska.

Didn't I see these guys near Canada?

A Secretary bird...very cool.

Probably the most amazing part about the museum was the Africa Room, full of the Safari-esqe animals that people in the early 1900's would have gone after.  The room had a giraffe, plenty of deer, some bears (although none are found in the African continent), and lots of lions and other large cats.

Additionally, I found the penguin exhibit fun to look at.  I never realized how large the Emperor Penguin actually was!

Peng-zilla attacks!

As with much of my visits to any location along the trip, the end of our self-guided tour brought me to the gift shop, where I waited for Bruce to finish up his tour.  After we met back up, we headed back to the base camp and to finish up packing for my return trip home.

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Day 53: Biosphere 2, Not Like The Movie

September 17, 2011 - For the past couple of days, I have been reading about the University of Arizona's Biosphere.  The travel guides all spoke highly of the Biosphere, but all of the articles in the book were very cryptic or contained little to no information.  It was only after looking it up online, something I should have done in the first place, that I became excited to visit.  With my interest piqued and with Bruce in tow, we decided to take a drive out to see this unique tourist spot. 

The University of Arizona's Biosphere 2

The drive time took a lot longer than Bruce or I expected, but we managed to get to the Biosphere in time for the last tour of the day.  The trip to the actual Biosphere was pretty.  Lots of cacti and a couple of cows (so is most of the scenery far outside of the Tucson metropolitan area).  We finally managed to arrive at the entrance which is located a short walk away from the actual Biosphere itself.

The gift shop and museum were small in comparison to many of the places that we have visited on our trip, but offered a good amount of information to help us digest what the Biosphere was actually about before we took the guided tour.  Additionally, there was barbecue sauce to take home for my dad, which greatly amused Bruce.

As part of the tour, we walked through a model community that was designed and created with the ecosystem in mind, particularly the desert.  The homes were designed as cubes, with front gardens being covered in rock and sporting natural flora.  From the literature provided, the homes were created with recycled products and were extremely energy efficient.  In all, the model community was very interesting to walk through and offered a glimpse of an eco-friendly village.

The model community was very impressive... walking through a Pablo Picasso painting, very surreal.

We came out of the mock community to a small cliff that gave a view of the Biosphere in what can only be described as amazing.  A huge structure made of glass and steel shined in the afternoon light ahead of us.  Inside you could see tall trees that seemed to strain against the glass.  The effect was amazing. 

The main structure of Biodome 2; it looks like a step pyramid.

We followed the signs for the tour and ended up inside.  Here we awaited our guide through the actual Biosphere itself.

The tour took us through the different parts of the Biosphere; the jungle biome, the coastal biome (complete with a million gallon ocean), the Mangrove wetlands, the savanna, the fog desert, and the agricultural area.  It was amazing to see the jungle, especially one in Arizona.  In addition, the tour of the "guts" of the Biosphere was a unique opportunity to see the basic workings of this enormous science project.

A jungle in the middle of Arizona; I thought it was awesome.

The real ocean-front property in Arizona.  Comes complete with coral reef!

Oh my God! Let me out!!!

I'm glad to see somebody has a sense of humor...

The Biosphere 2 project is considered the largest closed system ever created.  Roughly the size of two and half football fields, this project was constructed between 1987 and 1991 as a means to study the interaction between the life systems of five biomes.  A team of eight scientist were locked inside from 1991 to 1993 in an attempt to live and work inside the Biosphere.  Though some troubles were faced, the team managed to survive on their own for two years by growing crops and living off the animals that were brought inside before the doors were sealed.

Some people ask where Biosphere 1 is, and after some research it turns out that the planet Earth is considered the original Biosphere, hence the given name of the facilities that we toured; Biosphere 2.
Here are some more shots of Biosphere 2 as Bruce and I were leaving.  The afternoon sun really shows up well, and the structures look likes something you might find on Mars.

Another picture of the main structure, which houses the jungle biome.

A better angle to show the rest of the structures.

The seldom photographed backside of Biodome 2.

I'd hate to be the guy that has to wash the windows.

We traveled back to Tucson after our visit, and stopped for a bite to eat before returning to Base Camp to plan the next couple of days.  On our way back, the beautiful Santa Catalina Mountains were too impressive not to take a picture of.

No, I do not work for the Tucson Chamber of Tourism.

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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Day 46-52: Relaxing in Tucson

September 10-16, 2011 - Bruce has been busy getting situated into his new job.  This involved a lot of running around, turning in paperwork, and generally trying to get things situated for his new home.  The camper was removed from the truck within the first day, and the trailer was situated out of the way.

The camper is off the truck; signaling the end of the journey for me.

Left with nothing much to do, I decided to take pictures of the local flora.

Spiky cacti.

Tall cacti.

Alcoholic cacti.

Colorful cacti.

Rude cacti.

Pet cacti.

Really tall cacti.

Sharp cacti.

and Prickly Pear.

Embrace the cacti, love the cacti, respect the cacti…well, maybe not.

Oh, and I saw some desert trees and shrubs too, just in case you got tired of looking at cacti.

Not sure what type it is, but it was cool.

Still no idea what this one was...sorry, I'm not a horticulturist.

I'm guessing a baby palm tree.

Other than snapping photographs of my prickly companions, I did manage to enjoy the hot weather; for the most part.  Apparently, Bruce and I showed up on the final days of the monsoon season.  This meant that in the afternoons we would be witness to amazing lightning storms and a lot of rain; who would have thought it actually rained in the desert!?

After being around somebody all the time for trip; it was difficult being on my own.  Funny as that sounds, you really get used to having a friend hanging out with you all the time.  However, Bruce and I had plenty of opportunities to do stuff together in the evenings.  We often went out to dinner, went to the cinema to catch a couple of movies, or just drove around town.

Oh, and shoe shopping.  Yeah, never mind.  Don't ask.

During the relaxing part in Tucson I have to admit I was deathly afraid of running into a scorpion or spider.  Call me paranoid, but those things creep me out.  Luckily, while I was out and about wandering around killing time, I didn’t run into a single one.  Most of my wanderings included walking to the store or just around the block.  I did my walking in the afternoon when the weather turned cooler, though.  It would have been too hot during the day for me.

Locked In

There was one time that I was actually locked away inside the camper for several hours.  The place that we stayed at was a military installation (one of the benefits of being a retired soldier).  Unfortunately, there was a report of a possibly armed person on the installation; and I don't think they were talking about a soldier.
The entire base was put on lock down, and since I was in the camper, that’s where I stayed.  Bruce happened to be at the base library doing research on trying to find a more permanent home and was locked up in there. Bruce and I texted back and forth, with me frantically sending news updates to Bruce, which in retrospect, he probably didn’t need.  Eventually things were figured out and we were allowed to leave our respective locations.

We decided to leave post that night for dinner instead of eating in the camper.

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Friday, September 9, 2011

Day 45: Tucson, Arizona

September 9, 2011 - We have officially arrived in Tucson. Driving directly to the base, we set up camp at Bruce's future homestead. With not being sure what the next step would be, I started getting ready to head back home. However, after discussing the situation with Bruce, we decided that I would stay an extra week to make sure that Bruce's move would go smoothly. Plus, who else would help him get the camper off the truck?

Tucson is quite interesting. There are many things that I found enjoyable and many that I wasn't too fond of. That being said, I am not planning on living here any time soon, and as such, I kept my opinions to myself. I won't be listing the items here except to say that I am tired of seeing cactus and mesquite trees everywhere.

A brief snapshot of what it looks like in Tucson.

A golf course near where we stayed.

Local scenery.  If you look carefully, you can see some grass.

The Thing

Along the way from Deming to our destination, I started noticing signs on the side of the road for "The Thing" featuring the enigmatic question "what is it?" quite prominently. Being a sucker for a mystery I would have liked to see what it was, but I concluded that we were on a schedule and I didn't speak up and ask Bruce to head to it. Sad, yes, I know.

Later I found out that The Thing is a modern day cabinet of curiosities that features what appears to be a mummified woman and child and some "interesting" art work and half moldy unknown artefact's. In retrospect, I still would have liked to have seen this attraction. Maybe one day.

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Day 44: White Sands, Not White Plains

September 8, 2011 - Bruce and I left the campground at Carlsbad, New Mexico today and headed out towards our final destination; Tucson. The day started off as hot, and only got hotter as we traveled the desert. However, it was a beautiful drive even if a little bit disconcerting in the beginning.

The Desert is Empty

It literally is. We ended up taking a little used road to get to our next destination, good old Highway 82. The first part of this road is in the middle of nowhere.No cell phone towers, no people, no cows; just plenty of fence and cacti…everywhere. If we broke down here, we could expect to stay for quite a while.  Luckily, we did just fine.

Yep, empty.

We ended up pulling off to the side for a bathroom break, and I took the opportunity to take some pictures of an armadillo. Sadly, the armadillo wasn't real, but a stuffed animal that I picked up from the campground we had just left. However, since this was the only armadillo that I expected to see I wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass me by. So I took pictures of the armadillo on the road, the armadillo on the side of the road, and the armadillo in the middle of the road.

The only armadillo in my entire trip.

He's a brave armadillo, luckily there was no traffic.

Bruce then wanted to take pictures of Batman, the gnome, and the armadillo, and guess what…we took pictures of that too. Seriously, there was nothing else to take pictures of.

Humberto wanted in the photographs too and I couldn't find a reason to say no.

Batman showing off as usual.

Group photo.

Somehow, the armadillo got stuck on the other side of the fence, so Batman and Humberto went to rescue him.

Batman forgot his grappling bat-erang, so he had to climb the fence.

Batman saves the day!

Lincoln National Forest and Cloudcroft 

After driving for a while through the desert we noticed that the scenery was subtly changing. Eventually the scrub turned into a few more trees and eventually turned into the Lincoln National Forest. What a sight! It felt like we were back in Alaska again, well, at least in the Southeast. The tree's were impressive in their height and a definite reprieve from cactus and mesquite trees.

Notice the subtle change in scenery?

A forest in the desert?  Inconceivable!

The terrain steadily changed from flat to mountainous as we continued driving through the forest. Eventually we passed through the town of Cloudcroft; a small town situated at the extremely high elevation of 8,600 feet! Because of its high elevation, Cloudcroft enjoys a mild summer in "The Land of Enchantment" and Bruce and I enjoyed watching the temperature steadily go down from around 100 degrees to about 68 degrees. We actually felt a little chilled.

Are those real trees?  Do my eyes deceive me?

The Lincoln Forest is beautiful.

After driving through the town, we started our downward descent out of the Lincoln National Forest. While driving up to the top was leisurely and had a moderate grade, the trip down the mountain was harrowing. At least twice We had to pull over and allow the brakes to cool off; remember, we are carrying a camper and towing a trailer (Bruce and I joke around that we are a small semi). Eventually we passed out of the forest and made our way to the city of Alamogordo.

We didn’t stay in Alamogordo for very long simply because we were just passing through. Our main destination was ahead, but we had one place that we really wanted to see; luckily it was on the side of the highway; The White Sands.

White Sands

What a sight. This National Monument looks like mounds of snow. The "sand" is in fact gypsum that is carried down from the surrounding mountains which are rich in deposits. The gypsum-laden water flows towards two ephemeral lakes. When the water evaporates from these lakes, the minerals are left behind which are then blown by the wind to form the dunes and, eventually, the White Sands National Monument. At 275 square miles, there is a lot of gypsum, making it the largest gypsum dune field in the world.

After browsing through the gift shop and museum, Bruce and I decided to drive out to the National Monument. We drove out on a road that took us to breathtaking vistas. The dunes can move about 30 feet per year, and snowplows are used to keep the roads accessible (Bruce and I got a chuckle out of that one too).

It looks like snow.

The gypsum dunes roll over anything in their slow advance.

Nope, not snow.

More dunes.

We were able to drive pretty far in. Along the way there are different areas where you can walk deeper into the dunes to view the flora and fauna that live there. There are some interesting characteristics of some species, mostly animals that have adapted to the terrain. For example, desert mice will often develop a lighter coloration in order to blend in with their surroundings.

All the way in now; the "center" of the dune fields.

Along the way, we could see that people had written messages on the sides of the dunes by creating letters and images by shuffling their feet. Bruce thought this would be a great idea and made a personalized message on one of the dunes. After taking pictures, I decided that I would like to walk on the dunes myself. There is something fun about walking on the dunes with your bare feet, and it was definitely an experience that I will remember.

We left the White Sands National Monument as the sun was starting to sink into the horizon.  On the way out, I took more pictures of this amazing natural wonder.

I looked and looked but I couldn't find an ocean.

The closer out of the dunes you go, the more local flora is visible.

Almost There…

We ended up staying at the Wal-Mart in Deming, New Mexico for the night. Our next stretch of the trip would take us into Arizona and Bruce's final destination. The trip is starting to wind down, and I feel a little sad and excited at the same time. What adventures would we face in Arizona?

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