10th - 13th October 2011

With only three weeks to cover the 3000 miles to Florida before our flight to the UK, we couldn't hang around. Our first day on the road was a full day of driving on Interstate 8, due east from San Diego and into Arizona. Along the way we skirted along the Mexican border, Border Patrol very much in evidence. At our one checkpoint stop in Arizona, before being waved through, we weren't even asked for our papers, despite our obviously foreign accents. We surmised that we just weren't the type of foreigners they were looking for and guessed we didn't look very Mexican.

We'd hoped to reach Tucson in one day, but this proved a little optimistic. We had to deal with breaks for petrol and refreshments, a shopping stop and the fact that, the farther east we headed, the earlier it got dark. We were also expecting to lose an hour, with Arizona being in a different time zone than California. However, we were bewildered by the fact that the time actually stayed the same as in California. Apparently Arizona didn't do daylight saving time, like its neighbouring mountain time zone states. This was only to be the start of time confusion on our trip eastwards.

Finally we decided to pull up for the night near the town of Casa Grande in Arizona, where I-8 joined into I-10. Despite our location, in a fork of land surrounded by the two freeways, that evening we enjoyed watching the big eared desert bunnies (surely that's the scientific name!) foraging near our camp site. Later, close to a nearby lamp post, we spotted winged creatures darting around, chasing the insects which the light attracted. At first we thought they must be bats but closer inspection with the aid of the light they were enjoying, showed that they were actually birds, nocturnal nighthawks. During the night, coyotes yipped around our camper. Who needed television for entertainment?

Arizona Sonora Desert.

Early next morning we were back on the road and headed the remaining seventy-odd miles towards Tucson. Here we wanted to visit the Saguaro National Park located in the Arizona Sonora Desert, home of the giant Saguaro cacti.

We arrived at the visitor centre in the park shortly after opening time, keen to get the chance to look around before the hottest part of the day. The ranger recommended that, to get a real taste of the desert and its wildlife in a short time, we should visit the neighbouring Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, as it was going to be really hot for hiking in the desert that day.

The museum displayed the desert's wildlife in their natural habitat, and this would give us a far better chance of seeing the animals in action, or as proved to be the case on most occasions, napping through the heat of the day!

Our plan to first of all check out the outdoor sections of the museum, including the habitats of mountain lions, wolves, coyotes, desert bighorn sheep and the hummingbird aviary, proved a wise decision. By the time we returned to shade of the reptile house around midday, not only was the outside temperature 107 degrees Fahrenheit, it was also feeding time for the snakes!

We watched in morbid fascination as the snakes circled their dead rodent lunch snacks, trying to work out the best angle at which to begin swallowing their meal. During the uncomfortable looking swallowing process, their jaws seemed to stretch many times wider than their original size. Once successfully swallowed, the meal could be clearly seen making its way through the thin bodied reptiles.

Giant Saguaro Cactus


By the time we finished our tour of the museum, it was seriously hot and we were feeling frazzled. Climbing back aboard Harvey-the-RV was like stepping into an oven. We'd parked next to a motor coach, hoping to take advantage of the shadow it cast, but it had thoughtlessly moved on, leaving Harvey to roast in the sun.

We sought out the neighbouring Tucson Mountain Park, a camp ground run by Pima County. With its beautiful setting, equally as stunning as the desert landscape in the National Park, here we could sit inside Harvey, in air conditioned luxury and ponder the nearby cacti for a while.

In the cool, we read that the giants lived 150 to 200 years, growing many "arms" to increase their surface area for photosynthesis. They would begin flowering at night when they could be pollinated by bats and flowers would stay open until the following afternoon, to allow birds and insects their chance to help. Each fruit contained around 2000 seeds and in its entire lifetime, a plant could produce 40 million seeds! Once the cactus died and the soft tissue of the plant, which could be up to 85% water, dried and crumbled away, a skeleton of the woody internal ribs would be left behind. They were pretty amazing plants not only to survive in the hostile desert but also decorate it with the huge, bizarre statues their bodies created.

Once the coolness of sunset approached, we decided to take a walk through the surreal landscape. Armed with our camp ground trail map and bottles of water, we set off. Walking the trail proved a little more tricky than we had anticipated. Although the trails were well marked on the map, marking on the ground was far less distinct. With the whole landscape consisting of dry gravel, it was hard to decide which gravel was trail and which was desert. In any case we enjoyed our aimless wandering for a while in the desert before returning to Harvey to cool off again! It was very clear how easy it would be to become lost in the desert

The path is that way guys!

Before opening time next morning we were at the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson. Here we hoped to take a tour of the so-called "boneyard". Tucson was the location where the armed forces stored aircraft that were out of commission for one reason or another and we were looking forward to another surreal desert spectacle. The tour, however didn't begin until 11.30 am, so we had two and a half hours to visit the main museum. Having already visited several air and space museums during our travels, we weren't overly enthusiastic, but this one proved to be excellent.

As on our previous museum visit the day before, we opted to view the outdoors things first. Even at 9 am we were baking in the sun as we toured the planes on display, glad to escape inside to hangers with displays giving histories of the Airforce base during the Second World War. In the Space Hangar, Christine attempted to undertake the complicated process of docking a spacecraft to the international space station on a simulator, somehow completely losing track of the space station altogether as she drifted disorientated in space. It was decided she better stick to parking boats!

How did that thing even take off, never mind carrying a cargo of rocket boosters?

Enough of the big nose jokes already!

I feel sad........

At 11.30 we began our coach tour of the nearby AMARG Airforce Facility. Over 4000 military aircraft were stored here, either awaiting refurbishment, dismantling or with an uncertain fate. Each of the planes were protected from the fierce sunlight with a coating of thick film sprayed over all sensitive areas. Our guide pointed out B52 bombers, cargo planes and fighters all stored at the base.

Planes which were being scrapped would be cannibalised for spares, the sales of which left the airbase running at a good profit. One whole series of fighter planes we saw was to be scrapped and totally destroyed. Apparently some of the series had been sold to a formerly friendly nation which had become distinctly less friendly. Now the planes were to be completely destroyed to ensure no spares would be available anywhere in the world for the foreign fleet of fighters.

Large bombers with nuclear capability were being chopped into large pieces, as a part of an arms reduction treaty. With satellite photography the other treaty nations could view the destroyed aircraft and verify that agreement was being upheld. It was a bizarre and fascinating sight seeing billions and billions of dollars worth of hi-tech military equipment just sitting in the desert!

Fighters Lying in Wait in Arizona

Anyone need a slightly used jet engine?

From one surreal desert landscape to another. Next we were headed north of Tucson to see Biosphere 2. Planet Earth being nominated as Biosphere 1, Biosphere 2 was a giant series of hermetically sealed glasshouse environments, constructed with the aid of an oil billionaire, for long term experiments.

Biosphere 2


Originally the Biosphere was almost complete airtight and contained various different types of Earth habitats. One section was a rainforest, initially complete with rainforest wildlife, another was grassland, there was a desert, an orchard and even an ocean. Scientists had attempted to live in this self-contained environment for many months to carry out research. However, the initial experiments hadn't been a complete success, as all of the scientists' time was spent in maintaining the systems controlling the sphere and growing the food they needed to survive. Oxygen levels grew very low, due to external environmental conditions and eventually some oxygen had to be pumped into the dome to keep the scientists alive and functioning. Finally they emerge, a little earlier than planned and much skinnier than they had gone in!


Once we'd toured the various habitats we had the chance to see the systems which kept the whole biosphere functioning. Massive water collection and air ducting systems were required, with air flow being controlled by two massive "lungs". These huge domes, enormous mechanisms based on the human lung, used air pressure and large flexible membranes to force air back up into the biosphere and keep everything alive. This gave us an appreciation of how well planet Earth takes care of us and how little we appreciate it!

Now no longer airtight, the facility was being managed by the University of Arizona as a research and conference centre. Revenue from public tours was essential to keep the centre open.

Biosphere's operating systems

Biosphere's giant lung.

By the time we finished our tour it was past 4 pm. We could have gone back towards Tucson a few miles and camped at a State Park we'd passed. However, it is not really in our nature to go back, so we decided to push on through scarred mining country, uphill to the forest near the town of Superior, where we'd spotted a Forest Service Campground on our map. The road was slow and winding and by the time we reached the outskirts of Superior, we were driving in the pitch black of night. Fortunately the camp ground existed, exactly at the spot where our map indicated it and was not far from the main road. We were glad to arrive, unaccustomed to night driving, especially in unfamiliar and mountainous territory. Even better, the camp ground was free of charge! We managed to work out in the dark what was road and what was a camp site, track down a relatively level one and park. We'd have to wait for daylight to see exactly where we were spending the night!

Salt River Canyon

Harvey climbs the canyon behind a shiny tanker.

Next morning we set off along route 60 through the town of Globe and towards the curiously named town of Show Low. On our map this road didn't look anything special but it turned out to be a stunning, scenic drive down one side of the Salt River Canyon, along the bottom, across the river bridge and back up the other steep side of the canyon. We were gob-smacked, no indication was given that this might be a scenic route but it felt and looked like the Grand Canyon, only we got to drive right down into the canyon and back up! It was an amazing piece of road!

Once we left this stunning area we began to cross miles and miles of fairly nondescript high moorland, towards the border with New Mexico, where we would have plenty more of the same!

Return to homepage