Bill and Kit’s 2016 Excellent Adventure, Journal #9

Bill and Kit's Woody and Airstream-2015

Don’t tell me how educated you are, tell me how much you traveled.

Mohammed

 

Tuesday, January 26 through Wednesday, January 27, 2016-Paradise RV, Sun City, Arizona:  Kit and I are in Sun City, a retirement enclave just to the west of Phoenix, to visit with two very pleasant and very good friends.

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Tommy, a former actor, and Marti who is retired from medical administration and an actor in her own right, are fun to be around and possess the unique quality of perseverance and resolve in the face of health and physical limitations…..they are true inspirations!  Kit and I thoroughly enjoyed dining with them, sharing fond memories of earlier years and catching up on each other’s current lives.

The park where we are camped is a five star RV Resort and one of Kit’s favorite camping facilities.

Paradise RV

I have reported out on Paradise RV in past journals……however; if you want to learn more about this very nice and full featured RV Resort, check out their website:  http://www.rvonthego.com/arizona/paradise-rv-resort/

One of the benefits of staying at Paradise RV is their willingness to allow overnight campers the opportunity to wash their rigs…..a very unusual policy at any RV park and even more remarkable in the draught stricken Southwest.  So during out stay, we conducted a camper cleaning blitz, inside and out…..a periodic task that is both necessary and sorely needed after our off-road excursions of recent weeks.

Following our “chores”, Kit and I walked about the resort and visited with a few of the 1600 plus residents that spend the winter here.  Then, upon returning to our humble RV, we enjoyed a great meal before turning in for the evening.

 

Thursday, January 28, 2016:  Up, broke camp and hit the road shortly after 1100 under mostly sunny and warm skies.  We grabbed the Aqua Fria highway south to intersect with I-10 where we headed west.

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Within the hour we came to US-85 and headed south toward the small dusty town of Gila Bend, and an opportunity to sample some fine Mexican cuisine that Dewey and Bea have been raving about.

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The food was worthy of their praise and to lend credence to the authenticity of Sophia’s offerings we were the only gringos in the place!  Thanks folks for the tip, this just became our new favorite Mexican place!

Since it was getting late, Kit and I decided to stop at our go-to divert campground at Gila Bend US Air Force Auxiliary Field.  This inexpensive no-frills campground is next to the Barry Goldwater Bombing Range, so we cautiously selected a nice campsite for what hopefully will be a quiet and peaceful stay.

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If the location looks familiar, it may be because we stayed at this isolated and spacious desert camping facility just last month.  While other campgrounds seem to increase their fees annually, the Gila Bend folks keep them quite low and, as a bonus we can always find an available spot…..perhaps it’s all due to the close proximity of exploding ordinance!?!?

Speaking of such, as I explored the area to the east of the campground, I came upon this interesting piece of shrapnel.

GBAFF Bomb Piece

My imagination tells me it was from a top secret missile tested at the nearby bombing range, but in all likelihood it was probably the remnants of a snowbirds trailer that was hit by said missile.  Any of my Lockheed friends want to design an RV sized CIWS for use by us retirees crazy enough to camp near an active bombing range?

Following a nice meal, I took a walk into this stark terrain and photographed the lengthening shadows as dusk overcame the desert.

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Good night!

 

Friday, January 29, 2016:  This morning, we pulled out early and headed west on I-8…..it is a bright sunny day with temperatures hovering in the mid 70’s.  Before departing, Kit and I had made arrangements to stop in Yuma and share lunch at Famous Dave’s Barbeque, with our good friends from Bend, Oregon…..John and Karen.

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These nice folks have the same camper we do, however John has installed 650 Watts of solar power on its roof which allows them to winter over, without utilities, on the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Dispersed Camping Area known as Snowbird Mesa.

Following a great meal with great people, Kit and I continued on I-8 and by 1500 hours we were crossing into the State of California where we encountered the Pacific Time Zone.  Continuing westerly soon found us passing through the Algodones Sand Dunes of Southeastern California and paralleling the All-American Irrigation Canal.

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This 270 square mile sandbox is managed by the BLM for off road recreational use.  On any given day, there are ATV’s, Dune Buggies, and Sand Rails launching themselves off the lips of the steeply banked dunes.

Just as the sand petered out the Imperial Valley Agricultural area came into view.  Miles and miles of everything needed for a healthy vegetarian meal was growing in the fertile soil.  Kit really enjoyed seeing the world’s largest salad stream by her window.

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An hour later we pulled off the interstate and entered the El Centro Naval Air Facility, the winter home of the US Navy’s Blue Angels.

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Here, we found an available camp spot for the next few days.

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Usually, we just blow through El Centro on our way to the coast, or at the very least stop for a quick overnight stay at the Wal*Mart…..however this trip, it’s time to explore this desert city!

 

Saturday, January 30 through Monday, February 1, 2016-El Centro, California:  Spent the three days here poking about the area, resupplying at the base commissary, and resting up for our push to the left coast.

We also took advantage of a movie that was showing at the base theater…..The Big Short.  The film explained in layman’s terms how the subprime mortgage fiasco torpedoed the US economy a few years back.  If you haven’t seen this excellent film, we highly recommend you do so.

I have a simple and naïve concept of the world of high finance.  It’s my belief that working Bill put some of his salary into a future box for retiree Bill…..kind of a currency time travel if you will.  Then retired Bill would be able to live comfortably on the thoughtful contributions of young working Bill which, hopefully, would have been enlarged by Dow or Jones (the dollars, not Bill).

Well the financial meltdown of the US economy and the resulting erosion of retired Bill’s portfolio hit him square in the assets (pun intended)!!  You see, at the very moment the market was crashing all around us, Kit and I were traveling along in ignorant bliss enjoying our newly purchased camper pulled by our newly purchased truck which we acquired using newly retired Bill’s newly acquired cash (are you following all that?).  That is until we stopped to see a friend in Eastern Ohio who happened to mention that the sky was indeed falling…..Yikes!  Fortunately we didn’t panic and over the ensuing eight years our portfolio has rebounded…..it was a scary time for newly minted pensioners however!

The film “The Big Short” helped explain what went wrong and who was to blame, and what happened to the bozos that caused all this to happen.  Spoiler alert…..not much!?!?

As mentioned earlier, “The Blues” train for their upcoming show season over the vast desert terrain surrounding the town of El Centro.

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The F/A-18 Hornet aircraft with their famous blue and gold paint scheme were in the air everyday but Sunday and on their return to base, the team would put on a mini air show with loops, spirals, and low passes.

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During these times, I’m sure all productive work pauses for miles around as folks crane their necks skyward to watch the world finest Flight Exhibition Team (yea, I’m biased) do their thing.

Also mentioned earlier, was the Imperial Valleys contribution to the world’s supermarkets.

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The fields for miles around were planted with lettuce, spinach, kale, soybeans and 70 other crops……all this farming requires millions of gallons of water for irrigation.

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Much of this water comes from the Colorado River via the All-American Canal.  As the local motto goes, “Water is King, and this is its Kingdom”.  The irony is that the 180,000 folks that inhabit the Imperial Valley receive 70% of Southern California’s allocation of Colorado River water and the remaining 20,000,000 people living outside the valley receive the remaining 30%.  As the southwest enters its fifth straight year of drought, the Imperial Valley’s legal claim to all that water is in jeopardy…..be prepared for rising vegetable prices!

One of the days during our stay, we made a road trip on CA-111 to investigate some interesting locals to the north.

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On the way, we passed through the town of Brawley which sits at 112 feet below sea level, a fact that is advertised on the storage silos of one of the town’s main employer’s, The Spreckels Sugar Company.

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As Kit and I neared the town of Niland, we followed a few dusty roads to the unusual enclave of Slab City.

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Slab City, or “The Slab’s” as it called by the inhabitants, is a squatter community of folks that have set up their winter homes on the concrete foundations (slabs) of a deactivated US Marine Corps base formally known as Camp Dunlap.

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Residing at Slab City is free…..in more ways than one.  There is no running water, sewer disposal, trash pick-up or electricity other than that generated by the “slabbers” using solar panels or wind turbines.  This place is quite unique, relys on a barter economy, and the location places it virtually “at the end of the road”.

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Slab City is a mecca for displaced or disenfranchised folks that live on the government dole, and a smattering of retired snowbirds.

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Slabbers stake out their property lines using signs, stones, tires, or other barriers, and whoa be the slabber that violates this unwritten and largely unenforceable property rights policy.

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In addition, there are a few well-to-do snowbirds that have discovered Slab City and have gentrified their corner of this desert commune.

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However, the majority of slabbers are either low income or mentally ill folks that have found acceptance and accommodations at The Slab’s.

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Slab City is, well….a city!  Complete with its own social media apparatus in the form of a bulletin board.

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And a town center with a performance stage where “town meetings” are occasionally held, but more likely the musically talented play and sing on Saturday nights for the dancing pleasure of the free-spirited community.

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A few entrepreneurs reside at The Slabs as well, including itinerant craftsman in the creative and necessary art of roach clip manufacturing.   There is also a few mechanics, a barber and a purveyor of solar panels, all who work and reside in Slab City.

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Located in front of one Slabber’s abode sits a long neglected “Art Car”, likely a refuge from a past Burning Man Festival…… http://burningman.org/.

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Leaving Slab City, the obverse of the sentry post has art work that speaks to the feelings of most Slabbers.

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Slab City is a wild, wonderful and truly free place…..might be just the last such place on earth.

Just down the road a piece stands another interesting area to explore.

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Salvation Mountain was created and decorated by local resident Leonard Knight, on a small sandstone hill a mile or so from Slab City.

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Leonard propped up old tree trunks along a hillside and covered them with straw and adobe mud.  He then painted his “mountain” with bright colors using thousands of gallons of donated acrylic paint.

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His theme was spiritual salvation which is evident by the many bible verses and inspirational messages painted on his mountain.

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As the structure grew, Leonard carved out and created equally colorful passageways that honeycombed the mountain.

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Many of these pathways lead into meditation rooms adorned with messages of peace and love.

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Incorporating found objects into his sculpture, Leonard not only was able to recycle junk that was littering the desert floor but also help define the pure meaning of mixed-media art.

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As one wanders about Salvation Mountain, it is obvious that his art improved and his writing evolved during the 28 years it took to create this folk-art masterpiece.

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Leonard owned a vintage Airstream travel trailer that he decorated with additional prose and was used as his primary residence.

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However he preferred to stay in his homemade camper truck embellished with more of his signature artwork.

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Leonard Knight passed into heaven two years ago at the age of 83, but his mountain continues to be cared for by a cadre of volunteers.  The man may be gone but his life will live on in the inspirational structure he designed and created by hand…..RIP Leonard.

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As we headed back to the campground, Kit and I decided to detour westerly and take a peak at the great Salton Sea.

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This inland ocean was created in 1905 as a result of man tampering with dug canals from the Colorado River in an effort to increase irrigation flow to the fertile Imperial Valley.  A major breech in a large canal allowed river water to flood the former dry lake bed of the Salton Sink.  It took over two years for engineers to stem the flow and by then the Salton Sea, as it became known, grew to approximately 340 square miles.

While poking about the area, Kit and I stumbled upon a most unique ghost town, the once thriving seaside resort community of Bombay Beach.  Back in the 1950’s investors seeing an economic opportunity in developing the shore of the Salton Sea started to build resort villages and promote them as a vacation and retiree destination to newly discharged veterans of World War II.

Salton Sea Postcard-1950's

In addition to pandering to the moneyed resort crowd, Bombay Beach was also famous for being the lowest town in the United States due to its negative 225 foot elevation.  Over the ensuing decades the seas rising salinity coupled with agricultural runoff, caused massive fish and bird die-off and the resultant stench at the self-proclaimed “California Riviera” caused Bombay Beach to lose a lot of its appeal.  The final death knell was the result of torrential El Nino rains in the mid 1970’s that flooded the low lying beachfront area.  Today, all that remains of Bombay Beach are the crumbling foundations of former resort hotels.

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And the bones of beach homes that have succumbed to time, scavengers, and the harsh environment.

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In addition to the salt encrusted remnants of early “caravan trailers” owned by early RV’rs.

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Since there isn’t any natural drainage from the Salton Sink, the state had to wait for the water to recede by evaporation before building a levy.  Later, the protected area of Bombay Beach was repurposed as a low income retiree community.

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None of the current residents of the new Bombay Beach can see the water due to the levy and beyond the earthen barrier the once thriving beach community remains in its desolate state as a lasting testament to what can happen when man fiddles with Mother Nature!

While returning to the camper, Kit and I were treated to a spectacular sunset that compared starkly with the mono-color tones of Bombay Beach.

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Well, tomorrow we head to the coast and a long term stay in our ancestral hometown…..stay tuned!

Kit’s Bit’s:  We thoroughly enjoyed our visits with both Tommy & Martha and John & Karen!  It’s always good to see them.  Passing through El Centro, for maybe the 100th time over the years, I was glad to finally have the opportunity to explore the area.  It’s quite a nice town with some beautiful parks for the community to enjoy.  I was looking for a park where we took the kids many years ago for an afternoon picnic.  In the park, there was a huge wooden barrel where the kids could roll around in.  They had so much fun in that thing!  We have pictures (somewhere) of them playing in it.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t find it.  I even asked a few ‘elderly’ folks we saw about it and they couldn’t remember it.  So, my mission when I get home is to find the pics and figure out exactly where this barrel was.

Bill and Kit’s 2016 Excellent Adventure, Journal #8

Bill and Kit's Woody and Airstream-2015

Travel is the frivolous part of serious lives, and the serious part of frivolous ones.

Anne Sophie Swetchine

 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016:  Up and away from Agave Gulch at Davis Monthan Air Force Base but not before another stop at the Base Exchange for some essentials…..including breakfast at the food court.

It’s a clear cool morning, perfect for the nineteen mile trek to our next destination.  As a change of pace, we decided to take a more direct route north by using Swan Road toward the Catalina Foothills before winding our way to the west toward one of our favorite dooryard surfing opportunities, The Doobie RV Resort.

This beautiful property is owned by one of our favorite couples, our bruzzin Dew and sister-in-law Bea are kindred RV’rs and best of all they are separately related to us by marriage…..yep, both of them (See if you can figure that one out?!).

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Dew and Bea (Doobie…..get it?) have recently upgraded to a very nice Fox Mountain fifth wheel trailer…..another fine product of Northwood Manufacturing.  In addition, they have put in what amounts to an ideal RV camping site in their spacious driveway…..complete with a 30amp electrical connection, a water connection and a discharge port for grey water.  As a result, they can not only store their fifth wheel trailer at home it can also be pressed into service as a casita for their guests!  However, since we have our own camper Dew just transferred the water and electrical connections to us and we were basically fully self-contained for our entire seven day stay…..one of the best camp sites at any price, and this one was free!  Thanks folks!!

Speaking of guests, in addition to hosting Kit and I they are frequently visited by other animals of the realm, such as this Screech Owl that has set up housekeeping in a nearby carport.

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This bird of prey is only ten inches tall and mates for life (well, not all the time, but…..well, you know).  The male acquires a prefab home, then feathers the nest and puts in a store of food to entice a feathered concubine to cohabitate with him.  The offspring are guarded and fed by both parents until mature and ready to attend Birdbrain University.

As a nocturnal hunter, the Screech Owl locates its prey by sound and then uses its raptor claws to reduce their meal to manageable pieces.  I observed this fellow for some time and didn’t detect much movement or hear a peep, or screech, out of him…..I bet he was stuffed from last night’s Bacchus partying.

Also nearby, I noticed the Screech Owls menu offering for this evening.

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Yea, I know it’s cute…..but I bet it will be tasty as well!

Other nocturnal hunters that paid the Doobie RV Resort a visit during our stay were these two hooligans that mooned me as I tried to snap a photo.

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Javelinas, or Skunk Pigs, roam the Desert Southwest in pairs.  Primarily plant eating, they possess small tusks that are self-sharpening when the animal opens and closes his mouth.  The two buddies above were spotted shortly after midnight after they attacked a garbage can.  The ensuing racket woke me from a sound sleep.  Before I could open the camper window and grab my camera they were sauntering off into the darkness.  However, a few years ago I was able to get quite close to one of these beauties while bike riding in Big Bend National Park.

Javielina-BBNP

So, where did the peculiar nickname Skunk Pig come from?  Well the pig part is obvious, even though the Javelina is a peccary and not a member of the pig family.  And similar to a skunk, the Javelina possess scent glands that are used to mark their territory, mark their family members and as a method of defense.

There are three domesticated critters ruling the Doobie household as well.

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Kali, Pillito, and Nile are near human in their ability to manipulate any given situation.  Above you see them negotiating with their “master” (ha-ha) about moving up the time for their evening meal.

Kit and I have visited this section of Arizona numerous times over the past fifty years.  And even prior to that I recall driving out to the desert home of my Uncle Dewey and Aunt Mary’s when a mere ten years old.  These early family road trips were accomplished in the evening to take advantage of the relatively cooler temperatures in those non air-conditioned days.  One of the highlights of these excursions was to hang out with my cousin Dewey.  I had adopted him as an older brother, and he put up with me following his every footstep and basically being a pest…..come to think of it, he still does.  Being four years older, Dewey, or Ducey as he was known back then, led my brother Don and me on many an exciting adventure.  Below is an early photo of us three, taken in the year 1959.

Dewey, Bill and Don-1959-Sepia

Yea, I was pretty dorky back then…..good thing I outgrew that phase!

That lead-in brings us to today’s adventure, an old fashioned Dewey Road Trip to a unique facility just to the north of the city.

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Near the town of Oracle lies the experimental habitat, Biosphere 2…..currently owned and administered by the University of Arizona.

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Are you surprised it still exists?  Yep, so were we…..there has been virtually no press about Biosphere2 since its initial construction and habitation back in the early 1990’s.  Turns out during the ensuing years it has served a number of owners that have used the facility for a number of different reasons, most of which were not related to its initial mission.

Situated on 1,600 acres of Sonoran Desert land, this 136,778 square foot complex was built as an experiment in self-sufficient living by Space Biosphere Ventures.

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Known as a “vivarium”, which is basically a terrarium for people, Biosphere 2 is the largest closed system habitat ever created.  Initially it was designed to test the suitability of humans to live in an isolated and self-sustained environment in anticipation of colonizing other planets in our solar system.  Even though a great deal of scientific information was learned from this unique experiment, it never was a total success in its original mission.  Poor air quality, insufficient food production, and squabbling amongst the enclosed scientists created problems after a few short months……however, the first mission team did live in the biosphere for two years with minimal outside intervention.

On the day we visited, one of the original biospherians’, as they called themselves, was on campus to talk of her experiences.  Linda Leigh is a research biologist and a member of Mission Team One and she spent two years with eight other folks living and working inside Bioshpere2.

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Linda is a resident of Oracle, and makes frequent visits to her old homestead to conduct talks and hold seminars in her newest obsession…..worms!  Or more accurately, how worms can reduce our organic waste into useable soil amendments.  Her business, Vermillion Wormery, provides the resources and instruction on creating a robust worm driven composting system…..not that worms can actually drive, that would be silly……they have no arms or fingers, how could they flip off other drivers?!?!  Linda was an interesting person to chat with and made the wait time for the next guided tour of the facility a pleasant one.

Inside Biosphere 2, there are five distinct environmental regions, or biomes, that generalize the various ecosystems on earth.

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The vivarium also houses intricate mechanical systems to monitor and control the environment to replicate that of earth as close as possible.

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Well, wouldn’t it be simpler and cheaper to open a few windows?  Yep, but that would defeat the purpose of trying to design a completely closed and sustainable environment……and besides, there are no opening windows in the place.  In fact there are only a few access points which are double doors separated by an airlock.  During the two years that the nine biospherians’ were living and working in Biosphere 2 the doors were never locked…..primarily for safety and secondarily to allow anyone who had had enough to simply walk out and terminate their role in the experiment, which only happened once.

One of the more unique mechanical systems of Biosphere 2 is called “Lungs” and unlike their human counterpart, these huge air pressure regulation systems keep the entire complex at a constant and slightly positive air pressure.  The Biosphere Lungs are huge rubber bladders shaped like gigantic inner tubes sliced in half and suspended from a structural supporting ring on the outside with a smaller supported ring on the inside.

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As the air pressure rises or drops, the lung moves correspondingly and this keeps the Biosphere 2’s air volume constant.  So how does a closed systems air volume change in the first place?  By human respiration and plant transpiration, in addition there are minute losses through the miles of sealant used in the domes windows.  If Biosphere 2 were shut down the inner ring would settle gently on the lung’s floor supported by the legs placed around the perimeter of the inner ring……very simple and effective system to help prevent outside air from contaminating inside air.

Biosphere 2 also features an agricultural region as well as living areas and working laboratories that are contained within the same enclosed envelope.

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There were also a variety of carefully selected four legged animals that participated in the experiment…..some adapted very well and others not so much.  By the end of the two year experiment, Biosphere 2 had lost a few domestic and wild animals due to sickness but the ant and cockroach population thrived.  Yea, I know…..big surprise!

So was the Biosphere 2 experiment a success and was the $200,000,000 to build the facility worth the money?  Well, as with most things in life, it depends on whom you ask.  Biosphere 2, for the most part, worked as intended.  There were some problems with air quality, animal viability, human dynamics, and food quantity with its corresponding human weight loss.  But Mission Team One did prove it’s possible to live in an enclosed, self-sufficient environment…..at least for a while.  However, rumors and accusations of “cheating” were, and still are, rampant.  These rumors were never proven but the negative climate (no pun intended) caused the second group of scientist, Mission Team Two, innumerable problems and resulted in the truncation of the closed system experiment for good.

After a number of years during which Biosphere 2 was managed, and mismanaged, by a series of owners and investors, it became the property of the University of Arizona and evolved from a closed system to a “flow-through” system and is being used for research in environmental science and as a teaching laboratory for the agricultural department.

So, was there ever a Biosphere”1”?  Yep, it’s called planet earth and ironically has some of the same issues that plagued those nine folks that spent two years inside Biosphere 2!

Visiting Biosphere2 in the Arizona desert is definitely worth the effort…..Kit and I highly recommend that folks take advantage of the opportunity to see and learn about this fascinating facility.

On the way back to town, we drove under a newly constructed “Animal Land Bridge”.

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The very roads that allow Kit and me the opportunity to roam about our great country have fragmented the habitat of indigenous animals, isolating them from their traditional hunting and roaming grounds.  These land bridges help mitigate the problem and they also answer that age old question: “Why did the chicken cross the road”?!

Being late afternoon, and a bit hungry, Bea recommended stopping at a Mexican restaurant she favored.

El Molinito

El Molinito’s is located in a shopping center, and as such wouldn’t normally attract our attention, this being the land of incredible local Mexican food opportunities, but the meals and service were excellent!

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And the company we shared it with even better!  Thanks, Dewey and Bea for an outstanding, fun-filled day!

Tucson is our preferred city to take care of any mid-trip maintenance on truck and trailer.  Since our new Silverado was creeping up on 24,000 miles, it was due for its fourth and final free (promotional) oil change.  While the truck was in the garage bay, and Kit was comfortably settled in the nicely appointed, Wi-Fi enabled, and snack stocked, customer waiting lounge, I decided to take a stroll through the car and truck offerings for 2016 and spied this beauty.

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No, it’s not just any “ordinary” Corvette…..this machine is the ZO6 model!  The 650 horsepower supercharged V8 beast is consistently rated amongst the world’s top high performance automobiles.  With a zero to sixty MPH time of 3.3 seconds, the ZO6 beats much higher priced foreign exotics in acceleration, handling, and most importantly, braking!

So, who needs a $90,000.00 US made supercar?  Actually, no one….however if we only drove what we actually needed, then most of us would be poking around in the $2,000.00 Tata Nano.

Tata Nano

Don’t laugh…..this micro car built in India retails for one-lakh-rupee (about $2,000.00 US) and is powered by a 38 horsepower engine featuring zero to sixty mile per hour performance of 57 seconds.  Cheap basic transportation yes, but the Nano has a disturbing trait of spontaneously erupting into flames and, if that wasn’t bad enough, the zero star crash safety rating keeps it out of most world markets.

Leaving the dealer, Kit and I then attended to haircuts, followed by some shopping at Summit Hut (an Arizona version of REI), and wandering through The Wal*Mart.  Since it was way past our lunch hour, we Googled the location of our favorite chain fast food joint…..Rubio’s Baja Grill!

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Here, the food is consistently fresh and really quite good, also it is hard to beat their extensive salsa bar.  I ordered a new offering on the menu, the Smoky Oaxacan Shrimp Taco plate.

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It was incredible!  I need to initiate a letter writing campaign to bring Rubio’s to Maine!!  If that ever happens, Taco Bell would be in trouble!!

Speaking of Maine (notice the fractured segue?), there are authentic Maine restaurants in Arizona as well!

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And, for Brother Dan’s 52nd birthday dinner, that is the place he wanted to go!  While waiting to be seated, I noticed an actual Maine native that was being held hostage!!

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Notice the yellow Livestrong bracelet on his/her right wrist?  Must be a cyclist and as a bicycle nut myself, I shared a kinship with “Lance”, as I called him, and tried to orchestrate his/her release.  However, the desert didn’t seem like the best place to free a shellfish so he/she will languish in his fake ocean environment.  Local folks that come to the restaurant won’t select Lance for their meal as his coloring doesn’t seem right to them…..after all, Maine Lobsters are supposed to be brilliant red, as depicted on the restaurants sign!

Next on Dan’s birthday agenda was a rousing, highly competitive game of the great American sport, bowling!

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Sporting those fancy slippery shoes, and hefting age appropriate balls, we competed for the family championship.  And, as in another sport involving balls that go everywhere but where intended, we determined that the lowest score wins!

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You may notice that we each used a nom-de-bowl…..this was to confuse any professional bowling scouts that may have been lurking about.

Later we all convened at Dewey and Bea’s place for the traditional birthday cake which dyslexic Bill affixed the appropriately numbered candle upon.

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As the setting sun painted the sky a brilliant red, we all sat on the rooftop deck with an evening cocktail in hand and agreed that life is indeed good!

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Kit and I have thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the world class Doobie RV Resort but tomorrow we must mosey along…..good night.

 

Monday, January 25, 2016:  Up to sunny skies and rapidly warming temperatures.  Following a nice home cooked breakfast, Kit and I were on the road at 1145 heading toward the northwest on Interstate 10.

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If it seems to anyone that we may be going in circles, that’s because we are.  Over the years, Kit and I have made an art of traveling in circles.  Whether it’s a huge circle created by leaving Maine in December, heading south until it gets reasonably warm, then turning right to head west only to turn right once again before heading north and then the final right turn which brings us to our point of initial departure in early June.   However, today’s much smaller circle has us returning to the Phoenix area in order to see some old friends and for Kit to get her “glamping” (glamour-camping) fix at Paradise RV Resort.

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So, who are we here to visit?  Stay tuned!

Kit’s Bit’s: We always enjoy our stay with Dewey & Bea!  Bill and Dewey hash over old times when they were kids and Bea and I can go off and do something fun!  Not only that, we’ve heard the same stories many times before.  I thoroughly enjoyed the visit to Biosphere 2.  It was much more than what I expected.  It was so interesting because I remember reading about it when it first began.  Would love to visit it again, next time through.

Bill and Kit’s 2016 Excellent Adventure, Journal #7

Bill and Kit's Woody and Airstream-2015

A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.

John Steinbeck

 

Wednesday, January 13 through Tuesday, January 19, 2016-Agave Gulch Campground, Tucson, Arizona:  Yesterday, we relocated from Catalina State Park north of Tucson, to Agave Gulch located on the Davis Monthan Air Force Base, just south of the city.  This move of a mere 23 miles made sense for a variety of reasons.  First off, being a military base, the camping fees are substantially cheaper.  Secondly, I have a lot of business concerning my mother’s estate to transact in the City of Tucson, and this location is very convenient to downtown.  And finally, with family in the area with whom we normally dooryard surf we seldom get to experience this fine camping facility which, by the way, is consistently rated in the top five on www. militarycampgrounds.us!  So with bruzzin Dewey visiting his kinfolk in Culver City, and sister-in-law Bea spending time with her girlfriends on various adventures, it was a perfect opportunity to stay at Agave Gulch for a few days.

DMAFB Fam Camp

This military campground has one of the best rotation policies of any that we have stayed.  They do not support “homesteading” and only allow a 21 day consecutive stay before rolling (no pun intended) off to overflow thereby allowing other camper’s an opportunity to move into a full hookup site.  Of course, that policy also means that someone just checking in will likely have to camp in an overflow site…..which is what we had to do.

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Overflow, which is dry camping only, is next door to the famed USAF ‘Boneyard”, so a lot of surplus aircraft were sitting nearby in the dry desert air awaiting their ultimate fate…..kinda like us old military retirees!

A wait in overflow will usually be a few days until your turn for one of the 198 full hookup spaces arises.  However, in our case we only had to wait one day before moving to the nicer site.

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As mentioned, I spent a few days downtown Tucson at the Superior Court House and the Registrar’s Office playing attorney.

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My mother’s estate was fairly small, consisting mainly of real estate, and Arizona state law allows one to act in their own behalf in small estate probate filings, thereby forgoing expensive legal representation.  It’s a bit confusing and esoteric, but I muddled through.  Ironically, I received some of the best guidance from the Arizona Bar Association!?!?

So with the legal hurdles overcome, brother Dan and I made a pilgrimage to our vast land holdings out in the small town of Oracle, Arizona.

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Wonder if there are any minerals or oil deposits under this land?  There sure isn’t much on top of it…..well, unless one considers snow!

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Yep, at an elevation of 4,500 feet, Oracle does indeed receive winter snow….it’s kinda weird to see snow surrounded by desert vegetation!

We had a blast tooling about the back roads of Oracle and Dan enjoyed reminiscing about his formative days growing up in such an isolated and rural environment.

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On the way back to civilization, we stopped for lunch at Lupe’s, the regional choice for fine Mexican cuisine!

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We enjoyed a great meal before heading back to civilization.  After dropping Dan off at his house I returned to the camper for the evening.

Our stay at Agave Gulch allowed Kit and I to explore what was to the south of the city.  As usual, we were on a mission to find the more unusual or “off the beaten path” attractions.   Our first discovery actually was a mission…..San Xavier del Bac, also known as “The Dove of the Desert”, is an active Catholic Church in the Franciscan Order.

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San Xavier del Bac was founded in 1680 by Father Eusibo Francisco Kino and is believed to be one of the finest examples of Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States.  The left tower in the photo above is not damaged….it was never completed due to local hostilities, lack of funds and an absence of willing workers (read; Native Americans).

After Spain claimed the right to land that is currently the Southern United States, the Catholic Church sent missionaries to colonize and convert the native heathens.  Of the dozens of missions in what was called “New Spain”, there were six built in Arizona and another twenty-one in California.  To protect these religious institutions from marauding natives, armed garrisons called “presidios” were constructed close by.  Unfortunately the European settlers also brought contagious diseases that the native peoples were not immune to.  This helped to decimate the very people the missionaries were sent to reform into Christians…..sad, but somewhat ironic as well.  The region remained under the thumb of Spain until it was brought under U.S. rule following the Gadsden Purchase of 1854.  In my research for this segment I learned a surprising historical fact…..originally the Gadsden Purchase was to include the entire landmass of the Baja California Peninsula!  How different would a map of the United States look if that had happened?!?!

The Mission San Xavier del Bac honors 53 saints in its statuary, all exquisitely sculpted and painted.  This collection of icons is reported to be the most in any one Catholic Church in the world.  In addition, there is symbolic representation of 171 angels painted on the walls as well!

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The vibrant colors, textures and religious symbolism is overwhelming to the senses…..and, it covers every square inch of the sanctuary!  Much of the statuary and interior design elements were actually produced in Mexico then brought north by donkey train for installation, painting or gilding.

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The beautiful religious motif is evident throughout the church ensconced in various niches or painted on the walls.

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You may notice the symmetry of the interior in the photo above, The Franciscan Order liked to keep things, well, orderly…..to the point where if a door was built on the left side of the mission, then a corresponding faux door was painted on the right to create the illusion of balance.

The Franciscan Coat of Arms is evident through the church.

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I thought it a bit humorous that the Coat of Arms consists of actual arms sticking out of coats!

San Xavier del Bac is a viable church with a very active parish community.  Mass is said daily and there are frequent weddings and baptisms celebrated in the church.

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The two gilded smiling lions that graces either side of the main alter are gold gilded and after peacefully residing inside the unlocked mission for over 300 years were abruptly stolen a few years back.  The thief was apprehended but not before burning the idols.  Distressed that such a heinous act of desecrating a centuries old mission, an art conservator named Gloria Giffords, researched and paid for their replacement dictating that the same materials and techniques be used to replicate the originals.  If that name seems familiar it may be due to the fact that she is the mother of Gabrielle Gifford’s, former US Representative from Arizona, who was shot by a nutcase, is slowly recovering, and has been honored for her courage and resiliency by having a US Navy warship named after her.

Gabrielle Giffords LCS-10

Yea…..you just knew I would slip a photo of a US Navy ship in here somewhere!  After 43 years dinking around with these things, I just can’t help it!!

Before departing The Mission San Xavier del Bac, Kit and I purchased a votive candle to light in honor of all family members that have passed.

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Following a great visit at a wonderful and inspirational mission, we continued south under a beautiful winter sky.

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As we passed the town of Tumacacori it was early afternoon and time for lunch.  So I recommended the same place Dewey and I dined last week during our trip to Nogales, Mexico.  Wisdom’s Café was busy with weekend folks out enjoying the great weather, but following a short wait we were seated.

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Kit agreed with me that the food at Wisdom’s was outstanding…..she enjoyed a taco plate and I went for the shrimp tacos and refried beans.

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After which we shared one of those incredible Fruit Burritos that Wisdom’s is famous for!

Following the excellent meal, a short drive brought us to Tumacacori National Historical Park.

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This 360 acre National Historical Park consists of three mission sites, of which only one is open to the general public, and none of which have been restored.

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As its more famous neighbor to the north, this Spanish mission was founded by Father Kino as Mission San José de Tumacácori.  Originally a small adobe structure served as the church until the mid-1700’s when an elaborate desert cathedral was planned.  Construction was slow and sporadic, with active building only during times of prosperity or peace.  As was the case of so many missions scattered across the southwest it was in use and attending to the religious needs of the newly converted population during construction, but was never fully completed.

Constructed of adobe brick covered with plaster made from mud and Prickly Pear Cactus the mission has stood for many years…..ironically a stabilizing project undertaken by the park service a number of years ago caused more harm than good!

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Note the niches that originally contained statues depicting the Stations of the Cross.  The wall shown surrounds the cemetery where many early parishioners lay entombed.

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As the day wore on I noticed the moon rising above the missions walls and realized that the same moon was looking down on this mission as it was being built by the missionaries and their native parishioners over 300 years earlier.

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And that both may shine for many a moon to come (pun intended)!

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Kit and I thoroughly enjoyed exploring this area and have decided to seek out other Spanish Missions in the American Southwest.  Many are featured along the famed Spanish Mission Trail that has now been added to our Bucket List!

Returning to our campsite we enjoyed an evening cocktail as the sun set into the western sky.

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Our stay at Agave Gulch has come to an end and we must move on…..stay tuned.

Kit’s Bit’s: I thoroughly enjoyed visiting both missions.  As for the White Dove of the Desert, it is so incredibly beautiful.  Tumacácori, though not fully restored, was so interesting; it was easier to understand how the natives lived during that time.  It was a very hard life, indeed!  While visiting these missions, my thoughts were with Miriam the entire time.  She loved churches and attended many in the Tucson area over the years.  Being a devout Catholic, her faith provided comfort during many hardships in her life.  With Bill and Dan attending to some of the details of her estate during this time, it was a nice respite to visit both missions and remember her fondly during our time in both of them.  She was so loving and a wonderful mother-in-law and Nana to our kids and grandkids.

Bill’s Two Bit’s:  OK…..time for my annual rant on spelling!  Those who have suffered through reading these ramblings over the past eight years have come to realize that I am not a good spelr……I personally believe that spelling is highly overrated.  After all, humans had to come up with words, determine what they meant, and decide how to spell them.  This was closely followed by compiling these invented words into a dictionary that today we blindly follow.  What made these folks right, why can’t I create my own words?  One may think that it would be impossible to read a document with misspelled words.  Not so…..and to amplify that point the following was extracted from a popular Facebook Post that has been making the circuit:

The phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mnid, aoccdrnig to a rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mtaetr in what oerdr the ltteres in a word are, the olny iproamtnt tihng is that the frsit and last ltteer be in the rghit pclae.  The rset can be a taotl mses and you can still raed it whotuit a pboerlm.  This is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the word as a wlohe.  Azanmig huh?

So, who’s going to join me and revolt against the tyranny of Mr. Funk and Mr. Wagnalls?!?!

Kit’s Four-Bits:  Not your wifey!  J