Monday, April 18, 2016

Santa Catalina Mountains - Stop 1 in our Trek North to Alaska

We left Quartzsite on Friday and were surprised by how many RVs were still in LaPosa South.  We thought we’d be the ones to roll up the carpet and turn out the lights!


Our first stop on our trek North to Alaska is Catalina State Park, just four hours from Quartzsite.  As we leave Interstate 10, the extensive development going on in the Tucson area is surreal!  Oro Valley, an upscale suburb of Tucson, has only been incorporated since 1974.  But it is overflowing with new housing construction projects.  Nearby is every huge department, clothing, and box store imaginable.  Walgreen’s isn’t kidding when it says it's on the corner of healthy and happy--it is literally at EVERY corner.  Having all these stores nearby comes in handy for us in Catalina State Park—we rode our bicycles (yes, bicycles--the motorcycles never left the truck garage) to pick up a few groceries.  Only 3 miles round trip!  We ate dinner one night at Zona 78, a locally owned and locally sourced Italian restaurant.  They cure their own meats and make their own cheeses, too!  These facts account for their higher than usual prices (For example, $16.50 for spaghetti and meatballs.  And everything is ala carte, even bread.  Back in the Northeast, it is almost a criminal offense not to get bread with your meal at an Italian restaurant)!   But it was money well spent.  The homemade mozzarella on my panko covered eggplant was outrageously de-lish-ous!  And the San Marzano tomatoes added just the right touch.  Decent portions as well—we all took home leftovers!

Catalina State Park is a welcome change from the desert of Quartzsite--we have electric and water hookups!  We can blast the air conditioner (something we did not do in Quartzsite with our solar/wind system) and resume doing laundry in our rig—no more laundromats!  It offers terrific views of the Santa Catalina Mountains and has some great activities included with your park admission fee.  For example, we attended a classic country music concert (the Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard kind of “classic”) on Saturday night.   Then on Sunday morning, we participated in a 7-mile hike, with our guide, Gaston, leading us on portions of every trail within the park.  Between the pace, elevation changes, and different terrains, we certainly got a good workout!


We visited Mt. Lemmon within the Coronado National Forest, which is the highest point within the Santa Catalina Mountains at 9,159 feet.  And wow, was it chilly!  The temperatures dropped 25 degrees when we reached the summit!  The aroma of pine cones, the feel of cool crisp air, and the thrill of throwing a snowball sure was a treat! The Sky Island Scenic Byway offers many magnificent vistas and breathtaking panoramic views of the valley below.

We also stopped at the Mission San Xavier del Bac, a National Historic Landmark known as the White Dove of the Desert.  The original church was completed in 1797 and maintains its original function:  to minister to the needs of the Tohono O’odham people, on whose reservation this landmark resides.  Many of the statues and paintings here at Mission San Xavier are originals, giving you a historically accurate portrayal of what this church looked like over 200 years ago.

We were told repeatedly that the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum was a “must see” attraction in this area, and I concur wholeheartedly!  It’s like a zoo, aquarium, natural history museum, and botanical garden all wrapped up in one wonderful place!  The docents are very informative and engaging.   Did you know the Sonoran Desert actually has five seasons, not four?  They have Winter (Jan-Feb), Spring (Mar-Apr), Dry or ForeSummer (May-Jun), Monsoon Summer (Jul-mid Sep), and Fall (mid Sep-Dec).  We thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of this place, including the picnic facilities with fantastic views.  We actually had the opportunity to see a new baby long-horn sheep!  The little lass was born in late March, and is pretty as a picture!  I was introduced to my first javalena, and really had fun watching the rock squirrels.   We even saw a momma hummingbird feeding her fledglings in the nest!  How cool is that!  I could go on and on about this place, but I won’t.  Suffice to say, it earns a 5-cheese rating from Rambling RV Rat!


Today we toured Biosphere 2.  Are you wondering (like I was) where is Biosphere 1?  Wonder no more—it’s our planet Earth!  Biosphere 2 originated as a closed environment experiment to support the possibility of sustaining human life for space colonization.  The first experiment in 1991 lasted for two years with eight participants who had to grow, harvest, and nourish themselves with foods grown right in their compound.  Nothing from outside the biosphere could be used.  (This Rambling RV Rat would never survive for two years eating mostly veggies)!   It was a privately-funded project, which, based on most accounts, did not achieve its ultimate goal.   It is now owned (gifted from a VERY wealthy Texan) and operated by the University of Arizona to serve as a research, outreach, and teaching center about Earth, its living systems, and its place in the universe.  They have several biomes, including a savannah, rain forest, and “ocean” complete with simulated waves.  The construction and layout of the complex are a marvel in and of themselves!  7.2 million feet enclosed by 6,500 windows!  A “lung” to control the amount of air pressure to ensure against implosion and explosion.  A price tag of $150 million to build!  A truly unique place conceptually, scientifically, and architecturally.

"The Ocean"


"The Lung"

"The Rain Forest"


Well, we hit the road early tomorrow, so I need my beauty sleep.  Talk to you soon!

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