Friday, January 27, 2012

Pima Air and Space Museum

Last week I finished a very good book -- "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption," by Laura Hillenbrand. It’s the story of Louie Zamperini, a self-described kid thug who later became an Olympic runner and probably would have been the first man to break the four minute mile -- if World War II had not gotten in the way.  Louie (who is still alive) was a bombardier whose plane went down while on a search mission. 
Today Jim and I visited the Pima Air and Space Museum. I have  ambivalent feelings about most things military; I want to follow the Rodney King’s “Can’t we all just get along" statement but realize that's naive .   And while I’m extremely grateful to anyone who served in the military, all the war machines bother me.
Which brings me back to Louie Zamperini and the Pima Air and Space Museum:  One of the planes on display was the B-24 bomber, the plane Louie was on when it went down during a search mission over the Pacific.  Seeing the type of airplane that started Louie’s story of survival was the highlight of the museum for me.

Louie Zamperini and his friend and captain, Russell Allen Phillips, flew in two B-24 bombers (similar to the one above).  The first one was christened "Superman."  Their second plane (which went down) was the "Green Hornet."
Another shot of a B-24.  The planes flew so close to the enemy that crews could see each other's faces. Ten people were in the crew; above you can see a dummy representing one of the two gunners who were on either side of the plane just behind the wing.
In "Unbroken," author Hillenbrand quotes a pilot as saying flying a B-24 was like "sitting on the front porch and flying the house."  Crews also called the planes flying boxcars and were not impressed by the planes' looks.  
Jim below the B-24.
Above and below are photos of the results of an art project currently on display at the PimaAir Museum:  planes in the "boneyard" or storage area being used as canvases by artists.

And, a pigeon making its home in the former home of an engine.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

"Do you know where your children are?"

We watch the local and national news here almost every night.  Well, at least Jim does.  Lots of times I’m reading.  But I’ll walk the few steps from the front of the rig to watch the weather ... so I can see hype for a “big drop” in temperatures when the daily forecast is 60 degrees.  
It makes you realize how much national consultants impact local news, as we see alot of the same slogans wherever we go:  News for You, On Your Side, Action News, News Now, First Alert, etc.  One of the stations in Tucson starts the newscast with “It’s ten p.m. Do you know where your children are?” which I’m pretty sure was done on the Cleveland news I watched as a kid. Except in Cleveland it was “It’s 11 p.m....”   
One of the unique things we see on Tucson TV is crime story mug shots. All the accused are wearing what looks like the same pale blue/gray snuggie -- a soft blanket/poncho made to keep you warm while curling up on the couch.  
The first couple of times we thought we were seeing the same person over and over (what a bad guy!) Then we realized they were different people wearing the same “outfit.”  According to a Pima County Department spokesman (and I found this in an Arizona Star article on line -- I haven't started interviewing people for quotes for our blog, except for Jim) they call it a “smock,” use if for a uniform look, and say it makes it easier to look at faces, especially when someone has to look at a lot of mug shots at once.  Pima County has been photographing detainees wearing the smocks for about 15 years.
Local snuggy-wearing person.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Desert gardening

Yesterday we moved to our new camping spot at the Davis-Monthan AirForce Base FamCamp.   We were number four on the overflow list, so we were fourth in line to pick a spot.  When it was our turn, three of our four top picks were already taken -- but the one left was our first choice.  
We are now in a big space that has it’s own little desert garden right outside our door.  All I need is a rake so I can do the Arizona equivilent of gardening:  rake the gravel.
Our new campsite.  In the background you see some base housing.
At the end of our "street" are planes at the Air Force Base's storage area or "boneyard."
This afternoon we went to the Tucson Botanical Gardens.  It was originally the home of the Porter family, who raised their family and built a nursery there.
The Botanical Garden included a tropical butterfly exhibit.  If you look closely you can see a butterfly on Jim's cap.  Several butterflies tried to leave with us, but a volunteer with a feather duster was there to brush them off.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

We’ve been overflowed

The rule at the FamCamp is that if the campground is full and people are waiting to get in, campers have to move into what they call “overflow” after 21 days 
Yesterday was our Day 21.  Since this is a popular place, we are spending tonight in overflow, which means our camp site has no electric, water or sewer hooks ups.  That’s not a big deal for us, as our rig has solar, a generator, water tanks, etc. Plus, it looks like we’ll only be in overflow one night.  In the recent past, hurricanes and the oil spill were sending people to Tucson who normally would go to the Gulf, and people were in overflow as many as six days.     
The system that moves you in and out of overflow was a little confusing to us at first.  But if you want to stay at the FamCamp longer than 21 days, this is how it works: 
On Day 21 you go to the FamCamp office in the afternoon. If the camp is not full and no one is in overflow, you can sign up for another 21 days.  If people are waiting to get in, the staff lets you know that you’ll need to move into the overflow area the next morning.
On Day 22, you are to be at the FamCamp office by 8 a.m. to get a first come/first served number. That number determines where you are on the overflow list and you move into overflow.  At the end of the day, the staff posts a list of all the camp sites expected to be available the next day, plus the names of everyone (listed in order of the number you got earlier in the day) on the overflow list.
The next day, you are to be in the office at 9 a.m. The staff calls people up to the front desk by their number, you get to pick an available camp sites and move to your new home. If you aren’t there when your number is called, you go to the end of the list. This is the military, after all. And we will definitely be at the office before 9 a.m.
Our overflow camping spot -- a campsite without electric, water, and sewer hook ups -- is actually bigger than the campsite we had with full hook ups.  But full hook ups make life cushy, so we'll move into a spot with hook ups in the morning.  

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Dog tale

Tucson isn’t as dog friendly as Salt Lake City.  In Tucson, a lot of local parks don't allow leashed dogs and some Farmers Markets are making dogs off limits.  Yesterday we saw one of the reason why that happens.
We’d just left Sabino Canyon, which doesn't even allow dogs in the parking lot (so our visit was short, since Cooper was with us) and were looking for a place to walk Cooper.  We found Smiling Dog Ranch, a big, fenced, shady, dog park in one of the city parks, with lots of room for dogs to run off leash. It also had a great hiking path that we were more interested in, as Cooper isn’t especially interested in doggy socializing that is the big attractions of off-leash parks for many dog owners.
We stopped to talk with two women, one with an Australian Shepard, the other a Doberman Pincher.  When the Doby playfully bumped into me, I told the owner that his head felt like it was made of steel and she laughingly said she called him “Steel Plate.”   Then Steel Plate mowed down the owner of the Australian Shepherd.  Flat-on-her-back lady had a hard time getting up, but was OK.
Jim and Cooper at the entrance to Smiling Dog Ranch. 
Cooper and one of the very nice dogs we met at Smiling Dog Ranch, a pretty standard Poodle named Ella.
One more dog park photo. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Monday we visited Colossal Cave Mountain Park, about 15 miles from the Air Force Base where we’re staying. It feature a cave (of course), riding stables, a Civilian Conservation Corps Museum, and hiking trails.  We’re not much on caves or horses, but we took advantage of hiking and the museum.
And yesterday we celebrated our 8th wedding anniversary with dinner at the steak and wine restaurant Flemings (with help from a gift certificate from a coworker before I retired). Very nice.  
Bev at Colossal Cave Mountain Park with "The Cowboy," a bronze tribute to the cowboy.  The park includes a ranch called La Posta Quemada, a working ranch since the mid 1870;s. La Posta Quemada roughly translates as "burned up mail" or "burned up post office" -- had I known that at the time I might not have stood there with the ranch's cowboy.  

Jim and Coop on the trail.

Still on the trail.
Jim and Cooper near a rare crested saguaro we saw at Colossal Cave Mountain Park. A 2007 article I read said 641 crested saguaro had been discovered as of that year.  No one seems to know what triggers the growth of the crests, although the article speculated exposure to frost might be the cause.

The Civilian Conservation Corps developed the park's cave tour route,  built picnic areas, roads and more in a project that began in 1934 and last almost 4 years.  They also built this building which houses the CCC museum.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Camping with the Air Force

The Agave Gulch “FamCamp” at Davis-Monthan Air Force is one of about 144 campgrounds at military bases across the country.  People on active military duty, retired veterans, veterans with 100 percent disabilities, and civilians who have retired from the Department of Defense can use the facilities. Jim retired from the Navy Reserves, so we're included.
Agave Gulch has 266 sites with electric water and sewer hook ups that cost $19 a day.  They also have what they say are an unlimited number of overflow spots where you can camp without hook ups for $8 a day.  You can stay at the sites with hook ups for up to three weeks and can stay another three if spots are available.  If the camp is full, you go into the overflow area and wait until someone’s three weeks is up, then you get a spot.  
The only other military base RV park we’ve been to was in Corpus Christi, Texas.  It was not as well maintained as Agave Gulch; however, it was right on the Gulf of Mexico, a location that’s hard to beat.  From what I’ve read, some military camping parks have only trailers that people can rent, or are filled with folks who live there full time.  But others, like the FamCamp in Tucson, are just like a very nice, private RV park -- an RV park with a grocery store, department store, two 7 Eleven-type shops, rec centers, gas stations, a Burger King, banks, housing, schools and more -- plus fighter jets and missiles. 
Also, for an air force base, this place is amazingly quiet.  Today fighter jets were doing fly overs, and on a couple of days there was a big plane with four propellers repeatedly taking off, flying low, and landing.  (Jim said they must have been doing some sort of loading exercise.) But most of the time we don't hear the plane.  However, I read an online review of Agave Gulch where someone complained about the noise from the planes.  Hello? This is an Air Force base.
This is the front entrance of the Air Force Base where we drive in and show our military ID cards.
The FamCamp Office.  

That's our rig in the middle.  Our neighbors to the left are from Washington State; the neighbor on the right is from Minnesota.  
Our Minnesota neighbor has this guy behind his rig. 
Our Washington neighbors are traveling with their cat, Tommy.

Our rig and the Catalina mountains as seen in the reflection of our neighbor's window.  
The FamCamp has a big dog walk area; we walk Cooper every morning for two miles.
Jim finishing up our walk, along with other dog-owning FamCampers.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Staying in one place

Tomorrow marks two full weeks at the Agave Gulch “FamCamp” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, AZ.  And for the first time since we started our RV trip 5 1/2 months ago, we aren’t thinking about where we're going next. 

It was interesting/exciting to always be planning the next move:  Looking at maps, reading on line reviews, gathering tourist information.  But after a few months,  I wanted to stay put.  I didn’t want to have to worry about hooking up the tow car, about triple checking driving directions, about unforeseen problems with campsites and roads.  (Just because those problems were almost nonexistent doesn’t mean I won’t worry about them. Got to break that habit.)  I just wanted to be somewhere new. And stay there.
So here we are in Tucson, and here's our routine:  We get up about 7 a.m., take Cooper for a two-mile walk, have breakfast, and look at each other and say, “Well, what are we going to do today?”  Here are some of the things that got the nod:

--Hiked in the Santa Ritas, about 40 miles southeast of Tucson in the Coronado National Forest.  We saw snow on the highest peak, Mt. Wrightson (9,453 feet) and the bark on many trees looked scorched; turns out they were alligator juniper and the bark gets deep, square, dark cracks.
--Driven around Tucson to get a feel for the city.  Tucson does not have a freeway through it or a belt route route around it.  Instead, its streets are laid out at right angles, so its fairly easy to get around even for the directionally impaired like me.
--Gone back to Saguaro National Forest to watch two of their movies about the desert and to add to Jim’s t-shirt collection.
-- Visited two beer pubs for lunch and so Jim could try out the IPAs
--Eaten twice at a Mexican restaurant called El Charro, which claims to be the oldest Mexican restaurant in the USA continuously run by the same family. The food is great. 
--Went house hunting just for fun and found a great development with actually affordable houses.  
--We’ve also explored the Air Force Base, walked in a city park and along a river parkway, and enjoyed consistently warm, sunny weather (even though I wear my parka every morning while Jim often has on shorts.)
It’s fun to leisurely explore a new city.  But if I were going to be here -- or anywhere -- for the long haul, I’d also be looking for a meaningful part-time job or volunteer work.

Friday, January 13, 2012

They Sting, Stick, or Stink

The title above is what our "Ranger Judge" (see post dated January 6, 2012) told us about plants and creatures of the desert.  As for the plants:  Below are photos and info about the new-to-us flora Jim and I are seeing in and near Tucson.

We first saw the ocotillo, which at this time of the year just looks like a bunch of stick, in New Mexico.  It's supposed to leaf out in the spring with red flowers at the tips of the branches.  When settlers used ocotillo branches for fences, the fence would sprout.
Saguaro cactus, the iconic symbol of the desert, blooms at night and each blossom lasts less than 24 hours.  In most cases -- and the saguaro is included in this --  it’s a myth that you can cut into a cactus and find drinkable water.  In fact, eating the pulpy insides of some cactuses can make you ill or even kill you.  Besides, the skin is tough --- how would you cut into one without a machete?
Prickly pear cactus.  It’s everywhere; people make jams, jellies and wine from it’s fruit.  And as hard as Bev tries, she can't touch the flesh between the needles without getting stuck.
Purple prickly pear.  Used a lot in landscaping.
Barrel cactus.  They they look a little like young saguaros, but don’t get beyond 6 feet tall; a saguaro can get to 50 feet.
The Paolo verde tree.  Palo verde means “green stick” in Spanish, and these trees have green bark and very small leaves.  During droughts they shed their leave and even smaller branches to conserve water. 
Teddy Bear Cholla.  From a distance they look soft.  Again, Bev keeps trying to touch them unscathed but has not been successful.  They are not soft.
Chain fruit cholla.  Also called the “jumping cholla” because the joints break off so easily they almost seem to leap out at you.  Our hiker guide told us a story of a young girl who touched one.  When it stuck to her hand, Grandma tried to pull it off.  They ended up with their hands painfully stuck together.  Rangers pulled granddaughter and Grandma apart and used duct tape to get out the needles.
Creosote tree.  Our Ranger Judge told us to cup the Creosote leaves, blow on them and inhale -- and then we'd experience the smell of the desert after a rain.  To me it smelled like burning sugar.  Think almost burnt marshmallows over a campfire or sweet potato drippings in the oven. 
Brittlebush.  It’s everywhere.  in early spring it's supposed to have a big display of yellow flowers.
The rosette shaped succulents are Agave, and are used a lot in urban landscaping in Tucson.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

First:  Season (Jim's daughter) had her second little boy this morning.  His name is Connor James and he is so precious. Congrats to Season, Lee, and big brother Owen.  And welcome Connor. 

After Bev was done compulsively checking Facebook to get word of Connor's birth (thank you Lee for sending out message shortly after 9 a.m.) we went to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, just north west of Tucson.  It’s a zoo, natural history museum and botanical garden all in one.  Jim is not a big zoo guy -- he thinks animals should be left alone in the wild and not caged for people’s enjoyment. I empathize with his viewpoint but think good zoos are educational and encourage kids toward careers in conservation, nature and the environment.  However, we’d heard good things about the Desert Museum, so we made the trip. Jim liked being able to see animals in a relatively natural habitat.  We both are trying to learn the names of desert plants.  And the scenery was gorgeous (can’t get enough of those saguaros).  And the prairie dogs... well, see photos below.

A large prairie dog town was separated from humans by just a tall glass partition.  The prairie dogs were going about life as if no one was on the other side.
Another prairie dog photo.
Landscaping at the zoo was beautiful and many of the plants were marked.  The blue/green succulents are agave; prickly pear is in the middle.  Many dessert plants are toxic, but agave is edible.  
 Javalinas look like pigs but we were told that they are not pigs but peccaries.  When I looked up peccary, it was defined as a "pig-like animal."  But here are a few of the differences:  Javalinas are more social and live in groups; pigs are more competitive.  Javalinas are smaller than pigs and usually don't weigh more than 50 pounds.   Javalinas have a straight tails; a pig tail is curly. Javalinas don't have gall bladders; pigs do.  Bottom line:  they look like pigs.
One of the lovely views from the Desert Museum.
Jim pondering.
Where we had lunch after our Desert Museum visit.  

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Adventures in acupuncture

My right shoulder hurts.  I’ve been doing stretching exercises and saw a physical therapist  when I was in Salt Lake City for the holidays.  But today I tried something new:  acupuncture.
An on-line search for acupuncture in Tucson lead me to Tucson Community Acupuncture.    You set your own price, the 8 online reviews were all positive and ... my shoulder (actually my entire right arm) really hurts.
When I got to the clinic, I filled out paperwork and the receptionist asked me what I wanted to pay.  I said $20; lower than my insurance co pay (if this were covered by insurance, which it's not)  but more than their lowest suggested payment.  Then the accupuncturist -- a young man named Josh who reminds me of my son (lanky, cute, fashionably messy hair) talked to me about my shoulder, suggested I try 4-6 sessions, and took me into the treatment room -- a 20 by 60 space with 12 Lazy-boy-like loungers at the edges, pale green and purple walls, dim lights, and soft, new age-y music. 
One of the reasons TCA can offer acupuncture so inexpensively is that it really is “community” acupuncture.  That is, all treatments are given in a group setting.  While I picked out my Lazy Boy, I looked around and saw 6 other people already seated.  Most looked my age or older, including a guy in a “wife beater” and two totally tattooed arms.  But with the exception of wife beater/tattoo guy, most looked pretty much like me.  
I’d imagined myself with something like knitting needles sticking in my shoulder, but the needles were very slim and about two inches long.   Josh stuck 5 on the back of my left hand.  The rest went in my ankles, knees, right hand ... and two in the top of my head.
After several minutes, I remembered something about myself:  I figet.  At a movie, for example, I watch Jim just sit.  Meanwhile, I cross one leg and then the other.  I fiddle with my wedding ring.  I take off my watch and put it back on.  I push my hair out of my eyes.  I scratch my nose.   Can I do all that with pins in?  Crossing my legs is out of the question with pins in my knees. So I make a fist, and a pain shoots through my hand.  After that, I sit very, very quietly.  For 40 minutes.  Until both my arms --- not just my right one -- seem numb.
Josh pulls out the pins and I make another appointment for Thursday.  And tonight my arm actually seems better.  We’ll see.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Cacti. Cactuses. Whatever.

I’m having a hard time getting back into the blogging mode.  But it reinforces my memories, so here goes:  What we’ve been up to is learning about the saguaro forests, home to those amazing cactus. Cacti.  Cactuses.  Whatever. 
Earlier this week we hiked at Catalina State Park just north of Tucson.  Thursday and Friday we went to Saguaro National Forest, only 10 miles from our camping spot at the Air Force base.  We’ll be going back to both but will probably be making more trips to the National Forest; it has guided educational hikes, films, and we get in for free because Jim has his $10 National Parks “Old Guy” pass.  Plus it’s an amazing place. More info and many photos below.
Bev at Catalina State Park, just north of Tucson and on the western slope of the Catalina Mountains. In the early 1970s the area was slated to be golf courses and housing development, but there was so much opposition that the plan was put on hold.  After a lot of hassle, law suits, etc, it was opened to the public as a state park in 1983.
At Saguaro National Forest we took a guided hike.  Our volunteer guide was Neil Travis, a retired municipal judge from Montana.  He did a great job.
We were told that saguaros (pronounced sah-WAW-rows) grow best on slopes.  The cactus have acordian-like pleats that expand to hold water and their root system is only about three inches below the ground and stretches as far as the cactus is high.  This photo was taken at Catalina State Park.
More saguaros at Catalina State Park. Saguaros only grow wild in the Sonoran Desert, which covers parts of Nevada, California, Arizona, northwest Mexico, and Baja California.
Jim, Cooper and the saguaros.  A saguaro begins to grow branches (arms) when its between 50 and 100 years old.   The saguaros seen here behind Jim are probably between 100 and 150 years old.
It takes a saguaro 5 to 10 years to reach one inch in height; it may get as tall as 50 feet. They sprout and grow near what are called "nurse trees" that provide shade needed by the baby cactus.
Another shot at Catalina State Park.  There is a proposal to change the overnight use fee (with electric hook ups) at Arizona state parks from $25 to $50.  That would be the highest state park fee we've encountered.
Jim getting creative. 
This giant cactus at Saguaro National Forest was was hit by lightening last summer.  Prolonged frost -- frost that lasts longer than 20 hours -- can kill them, too.  
There are about 1.8 million saguaros at Saguaro National Forest.
A saguaro with a newly sprouted arm. 
One in every several thousand saguaros sprouts a "crest" at the top for unknown reasons.  This crested cactus was at Saguaro National Forest; a  bigger shot of the same cactus is below.