Saturday, February 23, 2013

The January Arizona Trip

In late January we traveled to Phoenix and Tucson 

to get out of cold wet Oregon, to visit Anne’s sister, Bev, and her family, to do a little touring, and play a little golf.  Though on our eight day trip we were only moderately successful in accomplishing our goals, the trip was uniquely interesting.  
Catalina Mountains near Tucson
Family came first.  We spent three and a half days with Bev and Noel and for the girls it was non-stop visiting.  One evening we spent at our niece Stacie and her  husband  EJ’s getting to know our grand-nephew and grand-niece, Stavros and Alex.

A boy for you and a girl for me.

Although we did play golf twice in Phoenix, at Painted Mountain GC and Toka Sticks GC, the weather was not what we had hoped for.  In Scotland it would be called jumper (sweater) weather. 

In Phoenix it was just called damned cold--below freezing at night and barely into the 50s during the day.  Except for the cactus and other desert flora, the over-seeded grass, the signs about being wary of crawling critters, we could have been playing in Scotland.  Then the weather turned nasty.  On Saturday, Anne and I wanted to have breakfast at a local diner we had heard about, The Farmhouse Restaurant, in Gilbert.  

We knew it had rained overnight, but when we found half the streets on our five mile trip from Chandler to Gilbert flooded we realized it had been a record rainfall.  The Farmhouse was crowded with others trying not to be too discouraged by the weather.  Breakfast was worth the trouble to get to, especially the sugary cinnamon roll.  The sellers at a local Saturday market were more disgruntled 

as they tried to keep products and produce dry in the pouring rain. 
In Tucson, the last four days of our trip, the weather was a little better for some of the things we wanted to do, but then for other things the weather was shiite.  We did play golf at del Lago Resort GC about 15 miles south of town.  

On this round at least the weather was shirt-sleeve warm (though Anne still wore a jumper).  We did manage a good visit to the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum southwest of Tucson.  This zoo, natural history museum, and botanical gardens with its restaurants and cafes, gift shops, and aquarium was established in 1952.  

The main features are desert plants in special gardens, a walk-in aviary, a hummingbird aviary, a small natural environment zoo (Mexican wolf, black bear, mountain lion), and a new aquarium.  

Very few birds were about, and those that were seemed to huddle with fluffed feathers against the cold.  

In town, at the Tucson Botanical Gardens, we got out of the cool when we entered the humid 85° temperatures in the garden’s butterfly and tropical flower exhibit. 

Two-hundred-fifty butterflies of 40 different species fluttered around various orchids and other tropic blooms, 

while outside half the plants of the gardens were covered with tarps to protect them from the cold nights.

Because of the poor weather prospects, we had already cancelled one of our planned activities--a night sky observing program at Kitt Peak National Observatory in the mountains southwest of Tucson.  We decided instead to take a 1:30 PM tour of the largest telescope at the facility.  We started the day with a visit to the San Xavier del Bac Mission, known as “the White Dove of the Desert,”

which was on our way to the observatories at Kitt Peak.  The Spanish Catholic mission, established in 1692 by the Jesuits (later run by Franciscans), is a white Moorish-inspired design in the settlement of Tohono O’odham.  It was nice to be able to visit the lovely interior 
since it had been closed for worship the last time we visited.  

Forty-five minutes after leaving the mission we started the eleven mile climb from the base of Quinlan Mountains to the observatory visitor’s center at 6875 feet elevation.  

Observatory in swirling clouds from the base of the mountain.
The Kitt Peak National Observatory complex was started in 1958 on land leased from the Tohono O’odham Reservation.  The complex now consists of 22 optical and two radio telescopes, including the Mayall 4-meter telescope, the WIYN 3.5-meter telescope, the McMath-Pierce Solar Observatory (the largest in the world), and one of the Very Long Baseline Array radio telescopes.  
The solar telescope is odd triangle-shaped building.
As we drove up the mountain the weather got wilder and wilder.  At the top we discovered that we were the only visitors to the mountain (besides resident astronomers who were desperate for the weather to break).  We did get a private tour of the Mayall telescope by Vance,

a retired engineer, but we had to get a special permit to drive to the scope since at 30° in heavy cloud and 60-80 mph winds it was considered too dangerous to walk the 400 yards up to the telescope.   Vance gave us a splendid tour once we got inside the observatory.  
The Mayall 4-m telescope.
It wasn’t a great day for photography--after the tour I could only last about five minutes out in the freezing conditions even though the sun poked through the clouds--but it was a wild and wonderful experience.
Rural Arizona on the way back from Kitt Peak.
Our purpose for the trip had been to visit Anne’s sister and family, to visit the desert gardens and Kitt Peak observatories, to play golf, and to get warm.  We did three of the four--I guess that’s not a bad trip. 

SPECIAL NOTE: I’ve been slow getting this post of the blog published because both Anne and I have been very busy doing the final proof of our fourth golf guide.  Golf in Scotland: the Hidden Gems is a revised edition of our first (2005) golf guide.  It’s a completely new format with the addition of 34 new golf courses, numerous pubs and eateries, and includes recommended B&Bs and Guest Houses.  The book will soon be available from our website and from Amazon as a print or Kindle edition.