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The Human Experiment called Biosphere 2

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I love science and I love history and our next place to visit just happened to fall into both categories!  You see, in the fall of 1991, eight men and women confined themselves into a glass and steel complex known as Biosphere 2 for a total of two years.  Their mission was to see if they could live in a self-sustaining sealed off environment.  A possible model for colonizing outer space.

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Twenty five years later, Biosphere 2 still stands.  It is located in the town of Oracle, about 40 miles north of Tucson.  Depending upon who you talk to, it is a representative of a massively expensive failed experiment, or a unique and fascinating look into future possibilities.

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Now owned and operated by the University of Arizona who currently use it for research, Biosphere 2 is a popular attraction for those of us that are fascinated by what was later called, “The Human Experiment”

Back in 1991, I was the mom to two young children and busy with job and family, I remember vaguely about this place in the news.  So, we decided to take a tour of the facility and learn a bit more!

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Named Biosphere 2, as the original Biosphere is the current one that we all live in, it was built to demonstrate how a closed ecological system can support and maintain human life.

It is a 3.14-acre structure and remains the largest closed system ever created.  Costing nearly $150 million, it was entirely funded by one man- Edward Bass, an environmentalist heir to a Texas oil fortune.

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Biosphere 2 contains five separate biome areas:  a rainforest, an ocean with a coral reef, a mangrove wetlands, a savannah grassland, and a fog desert.  It also includes a human habitat and a huge below ground infrastructure that supports it all.

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Here we are looking down at the biome that includes the self contained “ocean”.  This includes a wave making machine and at one time, a nice coral reef.

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This is the rain forest.  It was meant to be the main source of oxygen in this sealed environment.  The Biosphere 2 contained over 3000 documented species of plants and animals across its five biomes.

The premise of the experiment was that the eight people would be locked into this self-sustaining environment for two years.  No coming or going permitted.  It was meant to test if living inside an artificial reconstruction of Earth’s environment for long term was possible.

Biosphere 2 was only used twice for its original intended purposes as a closed-system experiment.  Originally from 1991 to 1993, and then again for just a few months in 1994.  Both attempts ran into major problems.

How did those eight people fare after two years closed up in this ultra huge terrarium?

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Both heavily publicized experiments ran into problems including low amounts of food and oxygen, die-offs of many animal and plant species, squabbling among the resident scientists and management issues.

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This is one of the two “lungs” for Biosphere 2.  As we stood here, we could watch the ceiling rise and fall as air pressure regulated it.

With the Sun’s heat frequently causing Biosphere 2’s contained volume of atmosphere to expand, the formation of cracks started to indicate some structural stress on the building’s exterior.

The solution for this problem was provided with an additional set of chambers or ‘lungs’ which allowed for the overflow and extraction of air.

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But as problems were solved, more presented themselves.  An unusually dark and overcast winter was to blame for reduced plant and crop production.  Lowered oxygen and increased carbon dioxide affected the crew’s health.

The human experiment itself was widely considered a failure.  However, much was learned in the Biosphere 2, and still continues to this day.

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The University of Arizona assumed full ownership of the structure in 2011 and continues biological research onsite, with an emphasis on growing plants in space, on earth in closed biospheres and possible space colonization.

Want to know more about what actually went on inside Biosphere 2 during those two years of enclosure?  I did too.  I figured with 4 men and 4 women, there had to be drama.  So I bought the book, The Human Experiment by Jane Poynter.

It is an interesting look from her point of view as one of those 8 people enclosed in this fascinating place.

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Mission San Xavier del Bac

We love the fact that on our days off from work camping, we can take the time to enjoy the beauty around us.  We were told by the locals that Mission San Xavier del Bac was an experience that we really couldn’t miss while we are here in Tucson.

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Mission San Xavier del Bac is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona and is widely considered to be the finest example of Spanish architecture in the United States.  It is located just 9 miles south of downtown Tucson and draws around 200,000 visitors each year.

We decided to take a trip out there to see it this week.

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And we were not disappointed!

Mission San Xavier del Bac is affectionately called the “White Dove of the Desert”.  It sits on the land of the Tohono O’odham Indians who have protected the mission for hundreds of years.

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San Xavier Mission was founded as a Catholic mission by Father Eusebio Kino in 1692.  This particular church was completed in 1797 with the help of the local Tohono O’odham Indians, over 220 years ago!

As we walked inside, we were in awe of the amazing detail in every nook and crevice of this fabulous church.

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Little is known about the people who decorated the interior. It is assumed that much of the artwork was probably created by artists from Queretero in New Spain (now Mexico).

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The sculptures were created elsewhere and then carried by donkey through the desert to their destination at the Mission.

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We were told that what we were seeing today is the result of careful restoration.  Because of it’s age, the structure of the Mission obtained damage over the years.  An earthquake in 1887 caused major damage, and in 1939, lightning struck the West Tower lantern.

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In 1978, a group of community leaders began a five-year program to conserve and restore this national treasure.  An international team of conservators were brought in to clean, remove over-painting and repair the beautiful murals and sculptures within the Mission.

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Exterior preservation is still in process when funds are available.

Walking the grounds, we discovered several beautiful desert gardens and a small museum and gift shop.

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Through the gate, you can walk up to the hill next door that has a large cross on top.  The view is worth the small climb.

And don’t miss the local Tohono O’odham Indians who have set up stands in the parking lot selling lots of freshly made fry bread.

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I just love it when I run across a totally unexpected sign.  Certainly, don’t feed the coyotes.

Apparently they like fry bread too!

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If you are visiting the Tucson area, don’t miss this historic landmark!  It is free to the public and is an awe inspiring look into ancient architecture, amazing art, and religious history!

Do keep in mind that this is still an active church.  Masses are held daily.  All are welcome to attend mass, but be aware that no photos are allowed at that time.

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A visit to Saguaro National Park

First things first: it’s pronounced “suh-wahr-oh.”  Do you know how many years I have mispronounced this cactus?  Yep, I am ridiculously southern and can’t seem to shake it.

Anyway, we decided to make the short drive out to Saguaro National Park to see what all the fuss was about.

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And there you have it.  Cactus as far as you can see.

Since 1933 this extraordinary giant cactus has been protected within Saguaro National Park. There are two sections of the park, one on the west side of Tucson and one on the east side.  Our visit this week was to the west.

The Sonoran Desert is one of the hottest and driest regions on the continent. In the summer, it is common for the temperatures to climb over 100 degrees and it gets less than 12 inches of rain in a typical year.

With that in mind, it was surprisingly lush and beautiful!

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The plants and animals are able to survive this environment with adaptations specially designed for desert survival.  At first glance, desert life seems rather unfriendly.

Talk about a bunch of defense mechanisms!  It would not be a great thing to trip and fall while hiking around this part of the country!

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But in an extreme environment such as this, I imagine a great defense is necessary.

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Even the local wildlife is extreme.  The Sonoran Desert is home to 18 species of rattlesnakes.  There are also poisonous Gila Monsters,  and Coyotes, and Javelinas.

Not a lot of friendly in this part of the country, that’s for sure.

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The star of the show is the Saguaro Cactus.  It is not only the state symbol of Arizona, but a universally recognized image of the Southwest!

It is the largest and slowest growing of all cacti.  The shorter ones to the left of me in the photo above are about 75 years old.  The one to the right of me could be as old as 200 years.

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These amazing cacti can weigh up to 8 tons, partly because of the large amount of water the stems can hold. Giant saguaro cacti, unique to the Sonoran Desert, sometimes reach a height of 50 feet.

Click here for more!

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A little break from the real world at Lake Havasu

Our contract at the Williams Circle Pines KOA ended on Oct 31, and our new job at the KOA in Tucson began on Nov 15.  That gave us about 2 weeks to take a break as we make our way down to Tucson.

Bet you wondered what happened to us.  I’m a bit behind on my posting!

Over the summer, many of our guests had come from southern Nevada, Laughlin and Lake Havasu.  They had come to Williams to get a break from the heat as that area of the country sees triple digits all summer.  We decided that we would check out that area of the country in a round about way to Tucson.

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Our first stop was the Laughlin Avi Casino KOA in Laughlin, Nevada.   Laughlin is located on the southernmost tip of Nevada along the Colorado river where Nevada, California and Arizona meet.   The town is known as a fun casino town.

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It is about a half day drive from Williams.  And all down hill.  We went from over 7000 feet above sea level in Williams to about 500 feet above sea level in Laughlin.

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While we missed the heat of the summer, it was still nice and warm there.  I enjoyed sitting under the palm trees and working on my laptop in my beautiful new back yard.

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On our second day there, we took the London Bridge Jet Boat tour down the Colorado River from Laughlin to the London Bridge in Lake Havasu City.

This is a great way to see the area from the water.  The trip takes about 2 hours to get to Lake Havasu City, you get a 2 hour break there to check out the bridge and grab a lunch, and then take the 2 hour ride back up the river.

And best of all, it was very affordable at about $70 a person.

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We really enjoyed the boat tour and our tour guide was incredibly informative.  Check out the green tint of the water behind Dave.  It was really that green!  Apparently from minerals in the water.

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Historic Williams, Arizona and a visit with family!

We are less than three weeks away from leaving the Williams, Arizona area and heading to our next destination.  It has been a wonderful five months here and we do plan on coming back one day!  I think we are both going to miss this beautiful part of Arizona.visiting the grand canyon

We had a fun surprise this month!  Both of our daughters came to visit us.  Our youngest and her husband flew in from Atlanta, and our oldest and her boyfriend drove in from Oklahoma City.  It was a wonderful family reunion!

They stayed in a beautiful cabin on our KOA campground and we showed them the area while they were here.  The Grand Canyon and Bearizona were favorite destinations.  We also taught the guys the fine art of s’more making over a campfire.

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And…we found out that we are going to be grandparents!

So that changes a whole lot of plans.  You see, we are currently scheduled to work the winter at Tucson KOA, and then work Polson KOA in Montana starting May 1.  With the baby arriving around the beginning of May, we are scrambling to make a few changes to our schedule in order to be in the Atlanta area for the birth.

One of the main advantages to living in a house on wheels is the fact that you can be anywhere you want to be.   Stay tuned for more info as we figure it out!

Williams Arizona

Now that we are beginning our goodbye’s to the area, I wanted to post a little about the historic town of Williams.  Williams is known as the “Gateway to the Grand Canyon”, and is the very last town on Historic Route 66 to be bypassed by Interstate 40 in 1984.

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Unlike many other towns that died a quick death after the interstate, Williams has continued to thrive on tourism.  Based about a 50 minute drive to the south rim of the Grand Canyon, Williams offers fun restaurants, shopping, and a unique look into the past.

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In the beginning, Williams, like so many other towns of the Old West, gained a reputation as a rough and rowdy settlement filled with saloons, brothels, gambling houses and opium dens.

Click here for more history and even a ghost story!

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Local Secrets of Northern Arizona!

Work camping jobs are normally around six months long.  One of the things we love about being able to stay in an area for a while is the fact that eventually, we get to check out some of the things that the locals know about, but the average tourist never gets to experience.

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Here are three of our favorite “local secrets” that we have enjoyed over the past few months…

Bill Williams Mountain

The tiny town of Williams is surrounded by beautiful mountain peaks.  These are part of the San Francisco volcanic field.  Now dormant, these beautiful peaks used to be active volcanos!

Bill Williams Mountain is the tallest of those peaks surrounding Williams and is named after Old Bill Williams, a scout, guide and mountain man who lived in the 1800s.

We heard that there was a dirt road available to get to the top.  At 9,256 feet above sea level at the peak, it was sure to be an amazing view.  So we set out to find it!

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Instructions to get to this local secret are as follows:

Take 4th street out of town toward Dogtown lake.  Go 4.7 miles from downtown and turn at the first dirt road on the right, just after the speed limit drops to 35 miles per hour.

Yep, it isn’t marked very well.  Hence the local secret, right?

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Warning- do not try to take this road in inclement weather, right after a rain, or in a vehicle that sits very low to the ground.

It is a total of 6.9 miles from the main road to the top of the mountain.  The road is in relatively good shape, but is steep and full of many switch backs and hairpin turns.

Oh, and there is no guard rail.

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The view is well worth it.  Our little KIA “I-think-I-canned” the whole way up.  We were glad we traded the VW bug in.  It sat so low to the ground that it never would have made it.

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At the very top of the mountain you will find a large antenna farm.  We were careful to respect any no trespassing signs as we took in the view from the top.

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Here we were at 9,256 feet above sea level and we could literally see for miles!

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Want to go a little higher?  Well, there is a fire tower on the top of the mountain too!

Dave refused to climb it, but I decided to brave it and climbed about half way up.

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From there I had an amazing, unblocked view of all directions.  Down below I was able to make out the campground.

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Fall is in the air this time of year and the journey to the top of Bill Williams Mountain was full of beautiful photo opportunities.

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The ride to the top and back down is full of beautiful scenery and definitely worth the effort.  For those that enjoy a good strenuous hike, there are some great trails that also go to the top of this mountain.  Just be aware of changing weather, and local wildlife.

And true to most local secrets, we didn’t run into a single person the entire trip.  I love these kind of secrets!

Click here for secret #2!

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Wild Arizona- Bearizona and Grand Canyon Deer Farm

One of the perks of working for KOA campgrounds is that often we are given free tickets to check out local attractions.  This helps us to better recommend these attractions to our campers.  That being said, we decided to take advantage of this perk and visited two animal parks within a few miles of the campground.

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Bearizona Drive-Thru Wildlife Park

Bearizona was our first stop.  Located in the town of Williams, approximately three miles from the campground, It is a must see for children and animal lovers alike.

Bearizona does not want to be known strictly as a zoo.  It is a drive-through wildlife park where visitors can get up close and personal with some amazingly beautiful and wild animals.

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Yep, up close and personal with wild bears!

For a $20 admission for adults and $10 for children, you can actually drive your own vehicle along a three mile gravel road to see bears, wolves, buffalo, deer, elk and other wild animals right up next to your car!

The question we get asked the most is do you really see lots of bears there?  Up close and in your face?

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Um…yes.

There are many, many bears there.  In fact, the park asks that as you drive through the bear exhibit, you do not stop your car.

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You see, the bears love to climb and have been known to not only climb on top of vehicles, but take their own little souvenirs too.  Like maybe your license plate, side mirror or bumper.

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Fortunately for those of us that kinda like our cars, they also offer a free shuttle into the drive through area.  You can drive through in your own car, take the shuttle, or even do both!

The nice thing about the shuttle is that you have a very informed driver who talks about the animals, gives you their names as she sees them and tells you background stories on them.

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Along with the drive through section is Fort Bearizona, where bear cubs, river otters, foxes, pigs, goats, and other animals are on display in man-made habitats.

Fort Bearizona has a great set-up where the animals are easily seen, but we aren’t a bother to them.  They are happy to bask in the sun nearby and allow beautiful photos.

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If the premise of Bearizona sounds familiar, it is because it is owned and run by the sons of the owners of Bear Country in the Black Hills of North Dakota.

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Taking a ski lift up into the clouds…

We work five days a week with two days off right now.  So on those two days, we like to become tourists and visit something fun in the area.

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I mean, who wants to stay in the RV all day?

Fortunately, there is so much to choose from around here that I doubt we will have a single weekend without some place new to see.

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This photo was taken in May, shortly after we got here.  We were very surprised to see snow capped mountains right in our back yard. This mountain range is called The San Francisco Peaks.

The tallest mountain in the range, Humphreys Peak, is the highest point in the state of Arizona at 12,633 feet in elevation.

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We took a ride out to the Arizona Snowbowl, a ski resort located on the San Francisco Peaks.   Opened in 1938, the Arizona Snowbowl is one of the longest running resorts in the West having been open for 75 years.

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You see, we heard that they will take you up on the ski lift for a nominal fee.

And we totally couldn’t pass that up!
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The chair lift officially opened for the summer right after Memorial Day.  We were very excited to check it out.

Dave and I were skiers in our younger days.  We choose not to break any bones at this stage in our lives, so we have to settle for a summer ski lift.  But I have to tell you, that it brought back great memories!

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A Yabba Dabba Doo Time!

On the way back from visiting the south rim of the Grand Canyon, we noticed this fabulous sign from the past welcoming us to a campground/roadside attraction named Bedrock City.

We totally had to stop. 

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We both grew up in the 60’s and 70’s, and like many of our generation, we absolutely loved the Flintstones.  After taking several photos at the entrance, we decided to come up with the $5 entrance fee and see what was hidden behind those big brick walls.  

I’ve always been a sucker for campy and fun.  And Bedrock City, located smack in the middle of the dusty high desert seemed very promising!

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After paying our entrance fees, we walked into a stone age ghost town.

Originally opening in 1972 at the height of the Flintstones popularity, Bedrock City once was a thriving road side attraction, offering live actors playing Fred Flintstone and the rest of the stone age crew, rides, a theater and much more.

Fourty-four years later, this little attraction is not much than a run down shadow of its former self.

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Bedrock City also included a small restaurant, a dark and dusty gift shop, and a campground that has seen better days.  Of course, this did not deter us much.  I love a photo opportunity, and there were plenty of those to choose from.

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The amusement park, while silent, was full of colorful representations of the old cartoon series.  Unfortunately, the remaining structures at Bedrock City are in currently in terrible disrepair, with crumbling buildings and character replicas that need more than just a fresh coat of paint after baking in the desert sun for 44 years.

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Northern Arizona and the Grand Canyon!

We are currently living and working at the Circle Pines KOA in Williams, AZ.  We arrived here about a month ago and were assigned a spot in the center of the campground.

I have to say that in our work camping career so far, this site is the best that we have had!  It includes trees, a nice size yard (even when campers are around us), a huge fire pit and lots of flat space to store the motorcycle!

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We love this laid back campground!  It is a lot smaller than Bar Harbor, and St. Petersburg.  With just 20 cabins, and about 150 pull through sites, it is not only pleasant to live here, but working behind the counter is that much easier.

We will be here until October 31, which gives us plenty of time to explore the area and take in all that we can.

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And Circle Pines also owns a Go Cart track, putting a little variety into our work routines!

So why did we choose northern Arizona for the summer?  Well, there were several reasons.  At about 7000 feet above sea level, this area of the country does not get extreme heat in the summer.  In fact, evenings are jacket weather!

But the biggest draw of the area has to be The Grand Canyon.  Since neither one of us had ever seen it before, this area of the country was on our “bucket list”.

The Grand Canyon National Park

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It is about a 60 mile drive from Williams to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.  The drive is actually very interesting as you move from pine forests to dry desert land.   Keep an eye out for deer.  They are everywhere!

Along the way, you will find the occasional camper parked off the roadway.   You see in this area of the state, you can dry camp off road for as long as two weeks.

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Entrance to the Grand Canyon National Park is $30 per vehicle. Parking spaces are plentiful and even include areas for RVs and buses.

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Once parked, you can either hike along the rim trail, or take free shuttles to restaurants, stores and view points along the South Rim.

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The canyon itself is absolutely breathtaking.  No photos or words actually do it justice.  You have to see it for yourself to understand the magnitude of this amazing Natural Wonder.

The Grand Canyon is about 277 miles long. At its widest point it is 18 miles wide. The average width is a distance about 10 miles. The average depth is about 1 mile.

Click here for more photos and info on the Grand Canyon!

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