Sunday, April 08, 2012

Tour Guides in Tucson

We’ve left Texas after what seemed like days of driving across desolate stretches of I-10….oh wait, it WAS days of driving!  It’s always intimidating when you cross the border into Texas from the East and see the first mile marker – 880!
But we made it to Tucson after a stop in Las Cruces for enchiladas and chili Rellenos at La Posta, and we spent a week at Lazy Days RV Campground  meeting our daughter Kim and husband Bill who flew in from Los Angeles.  This was Bill’s first time in Tucson, Bill and Kim at Windy Pointso we played tour guide and spent a few days showing them around the area.  We started by taking an easy drive  up  to Mount Lemmon high above Tucson.  It’s a real contrast from the valley floor; pine forests, cool temperatures, and interesting rock formations.  Sahuaros and MoonWe visited Summerhaven, the small community at 8200 feet, still recovering from a devastating fire in 2003.  Coming down the mountain, we headed to the East side of town and Saguaro National Park, a beautiful area that reflects the best elements of the area – towering saguaro cactus, blooming Ocotillo, emerald green Palo Verde trees, and miles of beautiful vistas.  Working up an appetite seeing all the scenery, we headed for dinner at the Pinnacle Peak Steakhouse, a place we’ve dined at since 1971, for a couple of Big Cowboy Porterhouse Steaks, cooked over an open mesquite fire.  We had a great time watching people who wore ties get them cut off to the clanging of a cow bell, and afterward browsed the shops, and  watched a bit of the nightly gunfight show.  The perfect ending to a great day.
Tombstone StreetThe next day we headed for Tombstone, the “town too tough to die”….as long as the tourist dollars keep coming.  It’s a blend of interesting history (Wyatt Earp, gunfight at the OK corral), and annoying touristy exhibits, all for a hefty admission price.  Big Nose Kate'sGunfight at the OK corral reenactment?  Mine tour?  Gunfight?  Stagecoach ride?  Birdcage Opera House?  Bring your wallet, they all have an admission fee.  The only attraction that doesn’t is one of the most interesting; the original “Boot Hill”, which is maintained by the Chamber of Commerce.  After lunch at Big Nose Kate’s saloon, we explored the town, then headed for Boot Hill.  Tombstone Boot HillAfter a walk through the historical and often funny gravesites – “Here lies Lester Moore, four slugs from a .44.  No Les, No more”.  The website has a row-by-row description of the occupants and makes interesting reading.  You can view it here.

We spent the better part of a day visiting the Pima Air and Space Museum, the largest private air museum in the country.  Being next door to the “boneyardGuppy” of aircraft at Davis-Monthan AFB has resulted in the museum obtaining an extraordinary number of aircraft for display, with over 300 aircraft in both indoor and outdoor exhibits.   Just about every type of military aircraft is represented here, along with some unique aircraft like the “Pregnant Guppy”, a modified KC-97 used to transport oversized cargo for the space program. Boneyard View We took the bus tour of the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center,  where aircraft that have exceeded their lifetime or are no longer needed are stored.  When I was stationed here in the early 70s, there were between eight and ten thousand aircraft here; now there are a little over four thousand. F-117 The tour took us past rows and rows of aircraft, including a “show row” where aircraft had signs to tell you what they were.  As we learned from our tour guide, only the wheels of the F-117 Stealth Fighter are visible in the “stealth” mode…….a little bit of humor in an otherwise serious experience. 

One of the most interesting places in the area to visit is the Titan II Missile Museum.  From 1963 to 1987, 18 of these sites were scattered around Tucson, on alert 24 hours/day, capable of delivering a nine-megaton nuclear weapon to any target in the Soviet Union.  The museum is an actual Titan II site that has Titan II Missile Sitebeen preserved just as it was, including the missile (inert, of course), crew capsule, and support equipment.  The tour guides are all former missile crew members, and their personal knowledge of how these incredibly destructive weapons were maintained is fascinating. Titan II in Silo It’s hard to believe that these missiles, with a weapon that would destroy anything in a 300-square mile area, were functional in an era of rotary-dial phones and computers with less power than your phone.  It’s a both fascinating and sobering experience to sit in the crew capsule as the tour guide conducts a simulated launch; a truly worthwhile place to visit.

Bill and Kim at San XavierTo end on a more uplifting note, we stopped at the Mission San Xavier Del Bac, also known as the “White Dove of the Desert”.  Completed in 1797, it is still in use today and can be seen for miles with it’s bright white walls and bell tower.  We always enjoy visiting the mission, although it’s become more tourist oriented over the years.  Where in years past there were only tribal members selling crafts, there is now a “gift plaza” – it won’t be long before they’ll build a “mission mall”.

San Xavier Mission
We had a great visit, but now it’s time to pack up and continue our journey, so we’re off to Northern Arizona for a few days.  Be sure and check back and see how we’re doing!


  1. We did everything you two did when we were in Tucson. Our favorite by far was Titan II Missile Museum. Our guide was awesome. Our least favorite by far...Tombstone. We didn't spend a penny there. Walked down both sides of the street and said Nope We are out of here. We went to that is a really neat town! Glad you had so much fun kids. Hope you enjoy this week as much. Safe travels. ~wheresweaver

  2. Lucky Bill - what excellent tour guides he had! Loved your photo of the stealth fighter. :)