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Hacienda del Sol | Tucson Hotel Review
- Tucson Travel (Pima, Aircraft Boneyard, and Cactus Forest Drive)
- Tucson Sightseeing Part 2 (Mt. Lemmon Byway, Titan Missile Museum, & Mission San Xavier)
We did a LOT of sightseeing on our five day trip to Tucson. And the weather was so beautiful. When we got out of the car in Tucson after making the drive from Phoenix’s airport, Ken said, “Wow!! Can we move here!?!” Tucson weather in February is perfect, especially when escaping a cold and snowy climate. That perfect weather also helped us maximize all our sightseeing, the majority of which was outdoors.
Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson
I am a total sucker for air and space-related things (ahem, visiting the Military Aviation Museum during our camping trip last year, going to a space shuttle launch in 2010, and visiting the Intrepid Air and Space Museum in NYC. Plus the gazillions of other things not blogged about. Including my 1992 trip to Space Camp. I’m not kidding.). Growing up in with airline-employee family members and always traveling by plane growing up, I love seeing airplanes close up.
So, it was probably no surprise that, on my birthday, I wanted my first stop to be the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson.
There was an indoor portion and outdoor portion to the museum.
Because the desert air is so dry and relatively stable, this part of the country is apparently the best place to store airplanes outdoors. There is little chance of corrosion, water damage, or the damage that could come of wild swings to very hot and very cold weather. The outdoor part of Pima Air and Space Museum really stole the show!
(I’ll just let the pictures do the talking here!)
There was a tram ride that departed regularly that we also took at the museum. The guide was so knowledgeable and gave so many details about all the planes outside at Pima Air and Space Museum. It was also a nice way to rest our legs after walking around so much of the museum on foot!
It is crazy to see just how big some of these airplanes are, especially up close. Just massive!
And then there were some teeny tiny planes too.
Airplane Boneyard Tour at Davis Monthan Air Force Base
From Pima Air and Space Museum, there is a separate tour that departs to the Airplane Boneyard at nearby Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. You have to sign up for this particular tour at least two weeks in advance. (From what I understand, that was not always the case previously, but it was how it worked when we went there). There is some sort of background check required for the tour, and we were notified about 5 days before our tour that we had been approved for the tour.
We boarded a coach-style bus at Pima, and drove about 15 minutes to the Air Force Base Bonyard. (Fun fact! The boneyard’s formal name is actually the “Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group,” or AMARG. But I think Boneyard is a lot easier!)
The entire tour is done from inside the bus (there is no opportunity to walk around or anything), but the views were still great from the bus.
According to our guide, the white “tape” covering the planes is to protect it from heat and sun damage in the Tucson summers. The protection is necessary because these planes might enter service again. They are frequently stored for militaries of other countries, or sold to other countries in the future. Therefore, they like to preserve the planes as much as possible.
For some reason, I found the arrangement of the planes to be incredibly orderly and symmetrical and evenly spaced apart. I found this oddly satisfying. Our guide pointed out that even the propellers for the planes are all set in the same arrangement.
One photography tip here. If you have an SLR, make sure you bring a polarizer lens for this tour. I didn’t bring mine, and I was cursing every bus window reflection I was getting. (The polarizer lens is how I was able to get so many clear views from our Amtrak Cascades train window a few years earlier).
As a bit of humor, they also have a Stealth Aircraft “on display.”
The bus tour at the Davis-Monthan boneyard was about 90 minutes, and afterwards, the bus dropped us off back at Pima Air and Space Museum. And that was it for our time there!
Cactus Forest Drive at Saguaro National Park
The Saguaro is a type of cactus that you would probably think of being a “stereotypical” looking cactus. The Saguaro is native to this particular area of Arizona. But if you go even a little farther north, these stereotypical cacti are not around. For example, during our big two-week Southwest USA road trip several years ago, we did not see a single one of these types of cacti!
The drive along Cactus Forest Drive was lovely, with plenty of spots to pull over and take pictures.
It was also home to some funny signs.
Share the road! Ah yes. Cars, bikes, pedestrians. Wait, what? Turtles?? Which one of these is not like the other?
Oh, and I thought it looked like this Saguaro was giving “the finger.”
There was an information placard at one of the stops along Cactus Forest Drive, explaining how there used to be SO MANY MORE cactus in that area. (Take a look at the photos on the sign). It truly did used to be a “forest” of cacti!
In addition to the Saguaro Cactus, there were also other little types of cacti.
And just a few more photos to round out Cactus Forest Drive!
And with that, we finished up our tour of Cactus Forest Drive!
There’s a small visitor center there with park rangers, as well as a gift shop and clean restrooms.
We went back to the hotel to relax for a bit, then ate some dinner, and went to bed. It had been a great birthday for me!