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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
One thing that we love about the high plateau of Williams and Flagstaff is the fact that the summer is very mild. Travel two hours in any direction and you come down from the plateau into 100+ degree weather.
This week, we decided to bite the bullet and head for the amazing vistas of Monument Valley.
Yes, it was 102 degrees in the shade. But we have to tell you that the adventure was totally worth the extra heat! If you have never gotten the chance to see Monument Valley in person, be sure to add it to your bucket list.
Monument Valley is about a four hour drive from Williams. Heading pretty much due north, it is just across the Arizona/Utah state line.
Monument Valley is characterized by vast sandstone buttes, many reaching over 1,000 ft above the valley floor. It is located almost entirely on the Navajo Nation Reservation.
The drive was a long one. Once we went down into the valley, we passed from the pine tree forests into the hot desert. It wasn’t long before we started seeing red rock in the distance.
Because it was going to be a very long day, we decided to take the dogs with us.
Seems that they are not as easy to impress as we are. They spent the entire journey in the back of the car with the air conditioner running.
Look familiar at all?
Monument Valley has been featured in many forms of media since as early as the 1930s. Director John Ford used the location for a number of his best-known films, including Stagecoach, starring John Wayne.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
On our way across country from Atlanta, GA to Williams, AZ, we made several stops. One of which was to spend a couple days in Oklahoma City, visiting with my oldest daughter, Laura.
We stayed at the Oklahoma City East KOA. Check out this amazing site! We were so impressed by how beautiful this little campground was- and how well kept! Frankly, if it wasn’t for the scary tornado potential in the area, we would consider working here.
But there is the tornado thing and the fact that we really don’t have a basement. And I’m sure that is something that I just have to get over now that I live in a virtual tin can, but at the moment I am good with heading west.
The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge
My daughter took us on a tour of the area, including a drive out to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, roughly 100 miles south of Oklahoma City. It is the oldest managed wildlife facility in the United States.
The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge was important in saving the American buffalo from extinction. In 1907 the American Bison Society transported 15 buffalo, from the New York Zoological Park to the refuge. At that time, buffalo had been extinct on the southern Great Plains for over 30 years.
The buffalo herd now numbers about 650 on the refuge!
One “rule of thumb” when you are around wild animals. If you hold up your thumb in front of them, and you can still see them, you are too close.
And as you can tell from the photo, wild animals come in all forms!
Our tour of the mountains included a trip to the summit of Mount Scott which offers amazing views of the Oklahoma countryside.
And of course a visit to Meer’s Restaurant- a popular place in the area famous for it’s giant Meer’s Burgers. Because we had to eat, right?
Here is a short video of our visit! To see is in large screen, click here.
We are now on our way south, heading to St. Petersburg, FL for our winter destination. I wanted to put together a final post on the beautiful area of the country that we had the pleasure of living in- Bar Harbor, Maine.
One of the questions that I was asked the most while working at the front desk of the campground was, “What are the best things to do in Bar Harbor?”
Well, I have the answers for you, at least from our point of view. These are the things that you should really not miss if you ever get the chance to enjoy the coast of Maine.
Cadillac Mountain is located in the nearby Acadia National Park and at 1,530 feet, it is the highest point along the North Atlantic seaboard. There are various hiking trails to the summit, some more challenging than others. There is also a paved road to the top.
From the summit, you can see most of Mount Desert Island. On a clear day, it is a beautiful site to see!
At certain times of the year, Cadillac Mountain is the first place in the United States to see the sunrise. Getting up to see a sunrise from the top of the mountain is a common attraction.
Sunsets there are beautiful too.
Schoodic Point is the only part of Acadia National Park that is located on the main land of Maine rather than on Mount Desert Island. For that reason, Schoodic is a much more secluded, less crowded opportunity to actually see some wildlife. Because of the fact that it is located away from barrier islands, you can enjoy the crashing of the waves from an unobstructed Atlantic Ocean.
It is about a 45 minute drive from the tip of Mount Desert Island, but well worth the time. From Schoodic, you can see the peak of Cadillac Mountain and enjoy another beautiful Maine sunset.
Schoodic is where we ran across several huge porcupines. I’d say they were as big as my VW Bug, but I’d be exaggerating just a tad. Suffice it to say, they were huge!
Nearly everyone that checked in at the campground asked me, “Where do the locals go?” As visiting “locals”, we soon discovered our favorites:
Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound– in Maine, any place that sells lobster by the pound is called a Lobster Pound. Imagine that. There are many of them all over Mount Desert Island and the mainland. They all compete with each other, sell similar items and their prices are very similar depending upon the varying prices of lobster. Trenton Bridge has the advantage of a great view and awesome Maine atmosphere.
Chart Room Restaurant– This restaurant is located right along the water on Route 3 headed toward downtown Bar Harbor. Because they are not downtown, they are not usually as crowded as those in Bar Harbor. You can eat right on the water and the food is just amazing. Loved their Stuffed Haddock. They also serve steak for those of us that are a bit tired of seafood, and of course, lobster!
Ben & Bill’s Chocolate Emporium located on Main Street in Bar Harbor has lots of fun flavors in their homemade ice cream selection including Dulce de Leche, Bubblegum, (KGB) Kahlua and Bailey’s Irish Cream base ice cream with a Grand Marnier fudge swirl, Rum Raisin, Root Beer Float, and many more!
Oh, and Lobster icecream! Yes, I tried it. Imagine butter pecan with little chunks of meat in it… yeah, that. I have to say that it wasn’t my favorite, but at least I can say I tried it! Ha!
Blueberry Hill Dairy Bar- If you love soft serve, good prices and lots of ice cream for money, you can’t beat Blueberry Hill Dairy Bar. It is located off of Mount Desert Island in the little town of Ellesworth right on Route 3.
It was one of our most frequent stops when going back and forth to Ellesworth for groceries. While the ice cream is fabulous, the folks that worked there never seemed to like their jobs much. I have to say it was a very surly group of individuals. Cash only. No samples. Make sure you know what you want when you get to the window.
In spite of the help, the ice cream was awesome! And well worth the stop.
Hadley Point is a great place to go if you love mussels. In the state of Maine, you do not need a license to go mussel fishing. Simply wait until low tide. In Maine, the tide drops 10 to 20 feet depending upon where you are. This leaves quite a bit of the seaweed covered rocks exposed. Put on some boots march out there, and start lifting up some of that seaweed. Underneath you will find mussels!
Place them in a bucket of salt water, add about a cup of cornmeal and let them sit overnight, stirring them and adding fresh water every now and then. This will get them to spit out any sand. Rinse them and then either steam or boil them with garlic.
A true Maine experience!
Whale Watching, Lighthouse Cruises
The town of Bar Harbor is the base for many different boat tours including Whale Watching, Lighthouse Cruises, Wildlife cruises, Schooners, Lobster Fishing and more.
Which one is the best?
Well, we think they all have their good points. Pricing can be as much as $50 per person, so be prepared. Decide what you would best enjoy and take advantage of the opportunity to get out on the water. You will love it!
Oh, and take a warm jacket and some anti-motion sickness meds with you just in case. It is at least 20 degrees colder out on the water and windy too!
Acadia Park Loop
Acadia National Park offers much to do including hiking, biking, kayaking, rock climbing, and more. For those of us that love to watch nature in action, it is a fabulous place to go. The Acadia Park Loop is a 27 mile road beginning at the Hulls Cove Visitor Center (near Route 3 on the northern side of the island) and connects the Park’s lakes, mountains, forests, and rocky coast.
Baxter State Park
Want a chance at seeing a moose? Head about 2 hours northwest of Acadia to Baxter State Park in central Maine. It is worth the trip. Miles and miles of wilderness where the opportunity to witness wildlife is at its best.
If you love to hike, you can climb to the top of Mount Katahdin which is Maine’s highest peak at 5,267 feet (1,605 m). This mountain is also the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.
Some things to note: Baxter State Park has restrictions- no pets, no RV’s, no motorcycles, no large trucks. It is remote, so little to no cell phone coverage.
West Quoddy Lighthouse
The little town of Lubec is the home of the beautiful West Quoddy Head Lighthouse. But even more interesting, Lubec is the easternmost town in the contiguous United States. Since we have already been to Key West (the southern most point); it seemed fitting!
A visit to this beautiful lighthouse and the area around it is a must-see!
Located about 2 hours south of Acadia is Pemaquid Point Lighthouse Park. And…it is the lighthouse on the Maine State Quarter, making it the first lighthouse to be featured on a piece of US currency!
Coincidentally, this particular lighthouse is a top destination for weddings with its beautiful rocky cliffs and crashing waves. The lighthouse is one of the most photographed on the Maine coast.
So there you have it! Unfortunately, the list leaves out so many things. I could talk on and on about how much there is to see and do in the area. We are currently on our way south, and are already missing it. Who knows? One day we just may return!
Seems like the further we head north, the more we go back in time. We left spring behind somewhere on the Pennsylvania line, and were met with chilly weather and trees that have just now started recovering from a harsh winter.
The Hershey Johnstown KOA was our campground of choice. Tucked in beside the beautiful Swatara creek, we loved the ambiance of this little campground! Our rig was a bit to big to fit in the spaces along the creek, so we were set back on the wooded side, but walking the dogs was a treat here.
Of course when in Hershey, one must go see what all the fuss is about! And if it required eating chocolate, well Dave and I would just have to make the sacrifice. We are just that dedicated…
Dave and I are history buffs, so we were excited to learn everything we could about this interesting town and the man that originated it.
The Hershey Company originated with candy-manufacturer Milton Hershey’s decision in 1894 to produce sweet chocolate as a coating for his caramels. In 1900, the company began producing milk chocolate in bars, wafers and other shapes.
Hershey used mass production in his factories and was able to lower the per-unit cost and make milk chocolate, once a luxury item for the wealthy, affordable to all.
Our first stop was at Hershey’s Chocolate World. Entrance is free, which is totally up our alley. Chocolate as far as you could see. I made Dave put that humongous Hershey kiss back. And then we both backed slowly away…
Fun Fact: Did you know that Hershey’s kisses have been around since 1907?
We then took the free Hershey’s Chocolate Tour. It was about a 10 minute ride through a Hershey “factory” where some animated cows show you how chocolate bars are made. It was campy and fun! And that cow song “Hershey’s Milk Chocolate!” will stick in your head.
Literally for days.
Oh, and you get chocolate at the end of the ride!
HERSHEY’S markets its products in approximately 70 countries worldwide. They currently have around 14,000 employees and net sales in excess of $6.6 billion.
And the cool thing is that The Hershey Company remains committed to the vision and values of the man who started it all so many years ago.
For a small fee, we took the Hershey Trolley Works tour of the city, where we were told the history of the city, the Hershey Company and Milton Hershey, the founder.
One of the stops was the Milton Hershey School. We were able to go inside, but I have to tell you that my camera just didn’t do it justice. So here is a short video that talks a bit about the school and it’s history.
In 1918, Milton Hershey and his wife, Catherine Hershey, donated all of their considerable wealth, of around 60 million dollars, to the boarding school upon Catherine Hershey’s death. Before his own death in 1945, Milton Hershey ensured the school would live on by donating 30% of all future Hershey profits to the school.
Due to this generous donation, Milton Hershey School now has over 7 billion dollars in assets, making it one of the richest schools in the world.
Part of the trolley ride included driving by the Hershey mansion, which is the home that Milton built for his beloved wife in the early 1900’s. It now serves as an office building for those that handle the Milton Hershey School trust.
We learned a whole lot on our tour of Hershey and highly recommend the Trolley rides and the free Hershey’s Chocolate tour.
Special Note: Due to the time of year, we did not have to deal with crowds. If you happen to be in the area during the summer season, be prepared. They told us that the population of Hershey triples during the height of the summer season.
Our next stop is the coast of Connecticut. See you there!.