I’ve been a bit slow writing a blog about the US. I will blame this on several factors. First is my natural inclination to sloth. But secondly its awesome and I’ve been too busy soaking it in.
Tucson Arizona might not be the first stop in the United States of America for most people, but its a place that gets a thorough 100% recommendation from me. Several hours north of the Mexican border, Tucson is a small spread out town surrounded by desert but I also found it to be super friendly and with lots to do and with a cheap easy bus system that made getting around as easy as any other place I’ve been too on my trip. Within minutes of arriving I knew I was going to love the place, and the sight of things on the way to the town centre of things that the rest of the world doesn’t see as necessary, such as Drive-in Pharmacies only confirmed that, The presence of two microbreweries/bars within 3minutes walk of my hostel might also have helped the formation of my positive opinion of the place. A comment should also be given to the Tucson speciality that is the Sonoran Hot Dog. This is a hot dog seemingly designed by Homer Simpson, being as it is a hot dog wrapped up in bacon topped with tomatoes, pinto beans and other random things. It is delightfully messy, and probably takes years of your life expectancy, but hey who doesn’t like bacon? (Ok vegetarians don’t obviously….)
It’s a MAD MAD world
But good beer and good company and weird food were simply bonuses, because I was visiting Tucson to see two unique museums.
The first was a Titan II Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Silo, with missile still inside. The only one of the USA’s Titan II missile silos to have been preserved, visiting this was not only a fascinating insight into cold war history (and a pretty darn chilling one at that) but also turned out to be a glimpse of the space race too. It turns out the Titan II missile had a slightly more peaceful use as the rocket that took the Gemini Astronauts into space. Staring down the silo doors at the missile below it was strange to think that whilst one variant of this machine carried the power to wipe out entire cities and several 100,000 people, another carried Neil Armstrong…
The tour of the missile silo is relatively brief, it last an hour including a quick introductory video and only includes Level 2 of the complex, which is the control centre, the walkway to the missile and the viewing platform for the missile. The guide did a good job of answering questions and making a compelling argument of the logic and rational behind the idea of defence through the deterrent of Mutually Assured Destruction. On various other occasions throughout the year they run bigger all-encompassing tours showing off all the levels, from the crew’s quarters to the blast pit. My basic tour certainly whet the appetite for that, should I even get the chance to go back…
Welcome to the Boneyard…
Second, Tucson is the location for something I think most people became familiar with when Google Earth first came out. Young ‘uns probably don’t remember, but upon its release people got quite into sharing random things that had been caught on view by the satellites, such as a Lancaster bomber in flight over northern England, numerous representations of phalluses drawn upon the roofs of school buildings by cheeky students and a section of the desert in the United States that appeared to be full of an insane amount of military aircraft of all shapes and sizes…
This was the “Boneyard” where the United States sends its aircraft to die, and it just so happens to be in Tucson.
Now unfortunately you cannot actually just wander around the “Boneyard” because it’s actually called the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. Luckily however, just opposite this base is the largest privately funder aircraft museum in the world, the PIMA Air and Space Museum and they do bus tours of the site. (They are actually also the guys who run the Titan II museum) Being on a bus, the photo opportunities are not always the best and when it gets to the actual “Boneyard” part of the base I felt it could have driven a little slower to give more time to take it in, but it is still undeniable awesome if you have any sort of passing interest in aircraft. To see, stacked up in enormous rows, huge behemoths like the B52 and B1, or lines of more helicopters than I have ever seen before, waiting to be taken apart for scrap is very cool. It’s possibly one of those experiences whereby you are best to leave the photography and just try to take it in through your Mark 1 Eyeballs instead. But I went and took a load of photos anyway.
And the museum itself is also really, really good. Whilst the focus is on US aircraft, there are a good selection of cool British and Commonwealth aircraft as well, with the highlights for me being an EE Lightning (how can anyone not love what is essentially a jet engine bolted onto a jet engine with a pilot stuck on top?) a Hawker Hunter (all beautiful curves) and even an Avro Shackleton, which I can’t say I’ve ever seen before.
And the US planes are first-rate two, not only is there a B52, a B36, a B47, several variations of the B29, President Kennedy’s Air Force One, together with heaps of other WWII craft and post war transport and civilians airliners, the place has an SR71!
Yes an SR71. Alas as the thing is so freaking huge I’ve not managed to get a decent photo of it, (they could do with their being some sort of viewing platform to see it from above) but it is a thing of extraordinary…well beauty is probably not the right word, but it is certainly unique, and remains the highest, fastest flying plane mankind has ever built. It is an awesome sight in the truest most literal sense of the word.
Maybe my next road trip will take in Tucson’s museums and breweries.
Are you getting in a major league baseball game on your travels? Worth doing for the ‘all American’ experience of their national game.
The plan is to take in LA v San Francisco when I get to the west coast
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