Tag Archives: history

The Science of Tucson

We are currently on our way back across the country to spend a bit of time with my daughter and her family in Atlanta.  In the meantime, I wanted to finish up talking about the Tucson area with one final post.

There is so much to see and do in this beautiful area of the country.   Earlier we covered the amazing Biosphere 2.  This week I wanted to talk a little about Pima Air and Space Museum, the huge aircraft boneyard, Titan Missile Museum and the amazing Kitt Peak National Observatory.  All are within a short driving distance of downtown Tucson!

Kitt Peak National Observatory

For those that love the science of observing the stars or those that just love a fantastic scenic view, a drive to Kitt Peak National Observatory is something you should not miss!

Kitt Peak Observatory includes 24 optical and two radio telescopes, and is the largest, most diverse group of astronomical instruments in the world.  It sits at 6875 feet above sea level overlooking the beautiful Sonoran Desert.

And talk about an amazing view!  The drive from Tucson is a little over an hour and the road up the mountain includes lots of switchbacks and a bit of steepness.  But it is very worth the drive.

Kitt Peak was chosen because of it’s high percentage of clear weather, low levels of humidity, and the fact that there is very little light pollution in the area.  A perfect place for an observatory!

One of the most interesting structures was the McMath-Pierce telescope.  It includes a tower nearly 100 feet high, and a shaft that slants two hundred feet into the ground.  The purpose?  McMath-Pierce telescope is used to study the sun!

The McMath-Pierce is used to study the structure of sunspots, as well as sunspot spectra. A sunspot is a temporary cool region in the sun’s photosphere.   This telescope makes it possible to look directly at the sun.

Kitt Peak is also famous for hosting the first telescope used to search for near-Earth asteroids, and calculating the probability of an impact with planet Earth.

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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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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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Two Guns; A Ghost Town with a haunted past…

We decided to drive out to see the Petrified Forest and the town of Winslow.  Because we felt the need to get a photo on the corner, right?

But just west of Winslow, we took a detour when we noticed some amazing looking ruins along side of the interstate.  And I’m so glad we did.  We stumbled upon the ghost town of Two Guns; a town with a sad and terrible past.

We were not aware of the history behind this place as we were exploring, but I managed to do some research and found out some very interesting things!

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The Death Cave

The area that became Two Guns was originally Navajo and Apache territory.  In the late 1800’s, a total of forty-two Apaches lost their lives in a show down with the Navajos.  The Apaches were burned to death in a cave in the canyon located on this property.

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After this terrible incident, the Apaches and the Navajos never returned to this area.  To this day, the Navajo believe the Two Guns area is possessed by Chindiis, their term for “ghosts of the dead”.

And the history of the area after the massacre is curiously dark.  Enough so that I was glad we did not stumble upon the Death cave or go anywhere near it.

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Two Guns and Route 66

In the early 1900’s, taking advantage of the traffic along the newly named Route 66, a local resident named Henry Miller created the town of Two Guns.

He added a gas station, over night accommodations, a cafe, souvenir shop and even a zoo.

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The zoo housed mountain lions, panthers, bobcats, gila monsters and more.

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