Thursday, March 31, 2011

Benson Arizona: Saguaro National Park (East) and Pima Air and Space Museum

Wrong Turn and KT loaded up this morning to make the run back to the Chiricahua National Monument to pick up his missing glasses. Then they planned to head back towards Yuma. We had breakfast together at Denny's, where Sandy and I decided to share an order. After we ate, we rode to the Circle K gas station (WT tells me no ethanol) together and fueled up. After goodbyes and promises to meet in Maggie Valley in May, we went our separate ways.

WT and KT getting ready to head back to Chiricahua

Sandy and I turned the Wing towards Tucson on I-10 but got off at Exit 279 to take what was billed as the "scenic route". We almost immediately entered the City of Tucson and found that it includes a substantial amount of open range. Following some back roads, we eventually arrived at the gate of the east (Rincon) portion of Saguaro National Park.

Cow along the road inside the Tucson City Limits

The 11 mile loop through the edge of the park (most of it is inaccessible by road) went by countless saguaro cacti, as well as many other varieties. This would have been even more impressive had we not been driving past so many saguaro over the last few weeks. Still, it is nice that an area immediately adjacent to the city is being protected for future generations.

In the loop, we met a German fellow on a rented Harley. He picked the bike up in Miami and will drop it off in Los Angeles. Then he will meet his wife, who is flying into LA because she doesn't like to ride, and they will drive a rented motorhome back to the east coast.

We decided to lose the helmets and jacket outer panels at the first stop on the loop

Prickly pear cactus

Saguaro cacti

Different shapes

A related pair

Lots of arms

This one is getting a little busy

One lobe looks like an afterthought

Close-up of the top of a barrel cactus

Someone please tell me what this is

The Wing at Saguaro National Park

At the end of the loop, we stopped at the Visitor Center and stamped the Passport book. I managed to get a photo of a centipede on exhibit just in case Leo reads this. This venomous creature is about the size of the one Brian caught in a garbage can in our motel room in Ruidoso, New Mexico back in 1981 and then took over to Leo's room.

A large centipede about the same size as the one in Ruidoso

Leaving the park, we programmed the Pima Air and Space Museum into the Zumo. On the way, we passed some fields of stored aircraft at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Then the Zumo took us down to I-10 and led us a few miles west where we exited and rode to the Pima Museum gate. I found out later that when we were going past Davis-Monthan, the museum gate was only a couple of blocks away. Sometimes the Zumo routing makes me scratch my head.  Then again, I always maintain that using a GPS is an art, not a science.

We arrived at the Pima Museum at 11:00 AM and signed up for the tour of the Davis-Monthan aircraft bone yard leaving at 1:30 and the tram tour of the outdoor museum aircraft at 3:00. Then we wandered the main building before taking a guided walking tour of naval aircraft (commemorating the 100th anniversary of Naval Aviation) at noon. This sounds like a lot and it was. We probably should have skipped the bone yard and explored the two buildings of WW II aircraft that we ended up missing due to a lack of time.

Me at the Pima Museum

The tiny Bumble Bee

Sandy just inside the entrance

An F-86 Sabre sporting RCAF markings

The Top Gun F-14 Tomcat

A huge Martin Mariner amphibious flying boat

The Naval Aviation tour took us through the buildings and then we took a short tram ride to see some of the outside aircraft. We also made a stop to look at the SR-71 Blackbird even though it wasn't a naval aircraft. The people on our tram car were from Escanaba, Michigan. Imagine finding Yoopers way down here.

The tour of the Davis-Monthan was in an air conditioned coach. The volunteers who work here are almost all older veterans and the one guiding our tour was knowledgeable and spoke quickly. He had to because there are presently 4,100 aircraft mothballed on the field. These are all planes which might be recalled to service. Once there is no hope of being recalled, the aircraft are scrapped. Except for the F-4 Phantoms, which are currently being converted into unmanned target drones for the top guns to practice on.

I looked at the myriad aircraft here with sadness. Some types like the F-111 have been retired but many others are versions of current aircraft (A-10, F-15, F-16, C-130) which have been replaced by newer versions. Then I thought of the 66 CF-18's that represent Canada's total air combat strength and have been flying for decades while thousands of much newer planes have been just tossed aside here by the USA. In my opinion, the US military can be saddled with the designation "conspicuous consumers".

Rows of idle C-130 Hercules

Sidelined C-17 Globemasters

Parked B-1 Lancers

F-4 Phantoms which will each fly one more time

At the end of the tour, we just had time to get through the building and catch our tram tour. Unlike the coach, the tram was open and not air conditioned. Our driver/guide spent 32 years in the Air Force and flew Phantoms much of that time. He drove us past the many outdoor aircraft and explained a bit about each and every one.

USCG helicopter for Sherm

One of my favourites, the ten engine B-36 Peacemaker

A civilian Vickers Viscount, the second commercial plane I flew in

The last of the tri-motors

Another Sherm type aircraft

NASA's Pregnant guppy rocket hauler

A super fast B-58 Hustler

Back from the tram tour, we just had time before closing to look at the  390th Bombardment Group Memorial which featured many exhibits centred around a fully restored B-17G. This exhibit is separate from the Pima Museum but is included in the admission price. Our spry guide, who didn't look his age, was a WW II pilot with the 390th and flew 28 missions over Germany. One mission he missed due to being hospitalized, his plane was shot down and the crew lost. Of the first 35 aircraft that went overseas, only on plane survived the war.

B-17G I'll Be Around at the 390th Memorial

An interesting thing I learned about the Pima Air and Space Museum is that, unlike the large collections at the Smithsonian Institute and Air Force Museum at Wright Patterson AFB in Ohio, this operation is not funded by taxpayer dollars.  My hat is off to them and their many volunteers.

We were hot, tired and hungry when we left the museum just before 5:00 PM. On the ride back to Benson at 90F, the temperature gauge on the bike started to climb even at 75 MPH. Although the heat and steady upgrade contributed to the increase, I found black spots on the left side covers when we got back as if some fluid had been leaking. This bears further investigation.

Back at the park, I spent some time talking to our new neighbors who were down from Wickenburg in their 24' Class C. The gentleman was a retired sheriff's deputy who served for 32 years. Then I loaded the bike and sorted some blog photos. I'm now four days behind and will probably soon be hearing about it. Too tired to finish a single post, I soon joined Sandy in bed.

Today's Route (106 motorcycle miles):

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