After ten trips from the second floor condo in Mesa to the Subaru in the parking lot, we’re packed up and heading down the highway to Tucson. We arrive in the early afternoon and check into our Airbnb rental – a charming little casita in an old neighborhood about a mile from the University of Arizona campus. The accommodations are comfy, the garden is lovely, and we promptly make friends with Leo, the resident greeter kitty. Pretty sure he thinks he’s doing us a favor by saying hello. I love cats!
University of Arizona
With a couple of hours to kill before dinnertime, we take a look around the U of A campus. In my consulting life, I stayed several times at the Marriott just across from the campus but never had time to explore. Our first stop is the music building, and Bill looks up Chad Nicholson, a former CSU colleague who is now the Director of Bands at U of A. Unfortunately, he’s out of town, so Bill leaves him a note and we move on.
It’s a lovely campus, so I take a few photos, of course, and we stop to learn about the Women’s Plaza of Honor, a dedicated gathering space that celebrates women who have made significant contributions to the state’s history or enriched the lives of others. It’s a work in progress, and individuals can commemorate the important women in their lives by contributing to an endowment fund for the University’s women’s studies program. Our walk around campus is relaxing and interesting, while providing some much needed exercise for the day.
Twenty-eight years ago, a crew of eight individuals walked into the Biosphere 2 amidst much fanfare and publicity, closed the doors and stayed for two years. The purpose was to test the viability of closed ecological systems to support and maintain human life in outer space. Although it sounds dry, apparently there was plenty of drama and intrigue among the biospherians living in the sealed environment, as well as on the outside among the project’s investors, directors and management team – a made-for-TV reality show before that was a thing. In a nutshell, the original company that created Biosphere 2 collapsed in the mid 1990s, and the site is now owned and operated as a research facility by the University of Arizona. You can learn all about the Biosphere 2 saga on Wikipedia.
We drive about an hour north of Tucson to Oracle, where Biosphere 2 is located. We pay the admission fee and take the tour, which is excellent. Claude, our guide, has been associated with Biosphere 2 since the early days, so I’m sure he has a lot of interesting stories, but he doesn’t go there. Instead, he focuses on the technical aspects of the facility as it was originally constructed, how it is being utilized currently, and the vision for the future. It’s a good way to spend a morning or an afternoon if you are in the Tucson area.
Photos from Outside Biosphere 2
Photos from Inside Biosphere 2
Tucson Botanical Gardens
The next attraction on our ‘to do’ list is the Tucson Botanical Gardens, specifically because we want to visit the ‘Earth, Life, Man’ special exhibit of sculptures by Robert J. Wick. Thanks to Bill’s sister Becky and her husband Jim for the heads up.
Mr. Wick’s signature style is the incorporation of living plants into large bronze sculptures. The exhibit features 17 pieces – I’ve included photos of a few (you can see the name of each sculpture by hovering over the photo with your mouse). You can learn more about Robert J. Wick here.
And here are a few non-sculpture photos from our visit. The Butterfly House was especially cool.
Hiking in Saguaro National Park
The day is picture perfect for outdoor pursuits, so we decide on a hike in Saguaro National Park. The park, which is split into two sections flanking the city of Tucson, is known for its dense concentration of the majestic giant saguaro cactus. We opt for a visit to the east side for no particular reason and, with the help of a volunteer at the visitor’s center, select a ‘just right’ hiking trail – not too long, not too short, not too steep and offering scenic views.
The cacti are breathtaking, both in numbers and size. It takes around 75 years before the first arm appears on a giant saguaro, so you can imagine that many of the plants shown in the photos below are well over 100 years old. The photo in the bottom right shows several young plants without arms.
And here are some other views and sights from our most enjoyable morning walk in the desert.
And in the blink of an eye, it’s time to depart Tucson and head south and east to the Elgin-Sonoita area to learn about Arizona wines. But first, we have to extricate Leo from the back of the Subaru, where he has made himself comfortable while we were packing up to leave!