The Family

The Family
Airstream Weekend Warriors

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Grand Canyon National Park

Spring Break 2015 Part 6
Mather Campground
Grand Canyon National Park
South Rim

     I wanted to call this post Rim Job but was afraid of the number of hits I might get. Everyone reading this knows about this canyon. It's the Grandaddy of them all folks. Maybe you know it from the Brady Bunch episode or perhaps you have seen a picture of it. There a deeper canyons but nowhere else on the planet is there a more spectacular, scenic and colorful canyon. Every other canyon in the world is the Grand Canyon of this or that but there is only one original. Despite the crowds, the Grand Canyon is a must see bucket list sight. Our visit coincided with Spring Break but we managed to sidestep the crowds for the most part. Our home in the park was Mather Campground on the South Rim. That put us in the Times Square of the Grand Canyon National Park. I found the campground to be an oasis from the chaos at Mather Point. Our campsite was a tight shaded pull through with no hookups. It backed onto a bike trail that led us to the famous Mather Point on a one mile trail. We enjoyed morning walks and evening bike rides to the rim.

Melizza and Maggie at Mather Point
     It has been a number of years since Melizza and I have visited the Grand Canyon. In fact, our last visit was prior to having children. The most remarkable difference is the major improvements in infrastructure and the buildings. The canyon has not changed much. The Colorado River is still down there creating an divide from Lake Mead to Glen Canyon. The visitor center at Mather Point is modern and immaculate. All of the trails, signs, pathways and lighting are state of the art. It has a Disney like quality to it and I approve of that. Edward Abbey would strongly disagree with me but this natural wonder attracts a worldwide crowd and should represent this amazing country and how we value our National Parks. The Grand Canyon will always be a wild place despite the millions of tourists that come and peer into the abyss. I found it took very little to escape the crowds and well worth the effort.

     The North Rim campground was not open on our early Spring visit. That was where I wanted to go but the timing of our visit did not allow for that. We drove the scenic and highly recommended Desert View Drive that follows the rim for twenty five miles. Although it is hardly a secret, the crowds thin out quickly and there are numerous stops to gain a different perspective of the canyon. The iconic Desert View Watchtower is an architectural masterpiece that complement the natural setting. The view does not suck either.

Painted Desert

     Lucy and Ethan earned their Junior Ranger badges. Jack is too cool for that but he is all about the National Park Passport Book.

This ranger loves her rim job
Junior Ranger Swearing In

     There are a number of sights west of Mather that are accessible only by bus. Melizza did not want to be packed in a bus like sardines so we skipped many of those destinations.

     We contemplated taking a couple hour hike down one of the popular trails like Bright Angel but ultimately decided against it until Lucy is a bit older. She is tough as nails but after a couple of days, we opted for a change of scenery and headed toward Page, Arizona and southern Utah.

Monday, May 18, 2015

A Quick Passage Through Red Rock Arizona

Spring Break 2015 Part 5
Dead Horse Ranch State Park
Cottonwood, Arizona


    After a few short days in Tucson, we slapped leather and blazed a trail through Phoenix. Our next destination was Red Rock Country, Arizona. I have always wanted to visit Sedona and our Airstream options were to boondock or pick a state park. We opted for the latter since this would be a short stay and we would have the chance to meet some fellow Streamers. Dead Horse Ranch State Park was recommended be some fellow travelers so we decided to give it a try. It is close to Sedona and the towns of Cottonwood and Jerome.

     This is an area I would have liked to have spent more time in. Our travel during spring break does not provide for a great deal of flexibility given the popularity of our next destination at the Grand Canyon. Our overnight stay provided us the opportunity to explore Jerome. This former copper mining town is perched on a mountain and the approach reminds me of a wild west version of an Italian hill town. The town has the perfect mix of bohemian skinny mountain hippie meets old west. The locals are colorful. I don't think they were wearing costumes or donning the long beards ironically. It appears that the historic facades in the town are preserved but not made too shiny to spoil the look. There are former bordellos turned bars and this is a good place to get a pizza and a beer. We spent an evening in Jerome and it left us wanting a bit more.

     In the morning we met up with our Instagram friends Jess and Sam Curren. They are a full timing Airstream family with three children. They are homeschooling their children and seem to be up to the task. I have a great respect for that and for those who make sacrifices to live the way they want. It is nice to meet people you follow on Instagram in person. We toured our respective Airstreams and Sam walked me through his solar setup which I am hoping to install or have installed this season. Next time we will spend more time hanging out with our new friends. For now, we had to be content with our brief crossing of paths.

The future is so bright that Jess forget to wear shades

     Boy did we screw up our visit to Sedona. We should have left the Airstream and our dog in Cottonwood. Sedona is as beautiful as I imagined. It sits in a valley surrounded by the most majestic red rock mountains imaginable. The town is clearly a high end tourist destination. We tried to go to Red Rock State Park but were turned away because of our dog. Bummer. I told Melizza to put Maggie in the Airstream but that is also against the rules. For those of you traveling to Red Rock State Park. Leave your dog at home wherever that may be. It sure looked great from the driver's seat. We then decided to go check out Chapel of the Holy Cross. That was also a fail as there was nowhere to park with an Airstream in tow. I think the vortex was telling us to get the heck out of Sedona so we made our way up Oak Creek Canyon.

The vortex purged us from Sedona
     We finally found a place to park and have lunch at Slide Rock State Park. Again, this place was not terribly dog friendly which is always a bummer for us. The namesake Slide Rock is gorgeous and was filled with people on the day we visited. Ethan braved the cold waters while the rest of us watched.

Chapel of the Holy Cross
Lunch at Slide Rock State Park

You go boy

The colors of Oak Creek Canyon

     After our frolic at Slide Rock State Park, it was time to climb out of the canyon and head to the Grand Canyon a make some memories.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Museums of Tucson

Spring Break 2015 Part 4
Sonoran Desert Museum
Titan Missile Museum
Biosphere 2

The birthday boy posing in front of a Titan Missile in the silo

     The museums available in the areas surrounding Tucson provide a fascinating glimpse into the world of science. Since I pulled my kids out of school for a few days to lengthen our Spring Break, we always make sure that to add an educational component to our travels. During our time at Gilbert Ray, we visited the Sonora Desert Museum, the Titan Missile Museum and the Biosphere 2. All three were worthwhile for children and adults alike. We spend a good amount of time visiting museums and I feel that all three of these offered something unique and educational.

     The first museum we explored was just a couple miles down the road from our campground. The Sonora Desert Museum is the perfect introduction to the flora and fauna of the surrounding area. There are a number of indoor exhibits showcasing animals but the real star of the show is the Desert Loop Trail. You see everything from javelinas to coyotes and you learn to identify all of the plant life so you know your paloverde from your cholla. This museum is on par with the Monterey Bay Aquarium for being unique and worth the price of admission.

Lots of snakes to avoid in this environment


    A short drive twenty five miles south of Tucson takes you the Titan Missile Museum. This museum sits atop a decommissioned Titan Missile launch site. This museum is run by a private foundation and takes you through the Launch Center and the missile silo. If you have ever wondered what it would be like to take launch an ICBM, this is the place. Ethan visited on his birthday so they let him close the blast doors. This is a good education for my children so they can understand the Cold War mentality of what ultimately became the stalemate of mutually assured destruction. War Games is a great movie but this museum kind of drives it home.

     You get to climb through 3 ton blast doors and concrete that is reinforced with steel and eight feet thick. There were three cities that were surrounded with around eighteen of these launch facilities. In addition to Tucson, Wichita and Little Rock also had identical silos. The Titan Missile is still in the silo minus the 9 megaton nuclear warhead and is an imposing 103 feet tall. This is the only Titan Missile site that you can tour. There is a Minuteman Missile Silo run by the National Park Service in South Dakota as well. I highly recommend this site.

Ethan is able to move the three ton blast doors.
Inside the launch room

The tunnel to the silo


     On our way north from Tucson towards Sedona, we visited the Biosphere 2. This facility is an earth systems science facility that is currently managed by the University of Arizona. This fascinating structure contains 3.14 acres of indoor space and was originally built to simulate the planet in a self contained structure. This facility was built in the late 1980's and originally contained five biomes plus a farming and living area for the inhabitants. The cost was over $200 million. 

     The facility became famous when 8 scientists spent two years in this self contained environment. As you might imagine, some problems do arise when you attempt to replicate a complex natural environment in a self contained system. First, the soil that was brought was enhanced with extra fertilizer and the microbes that resulted raised the carbon dioxide levels to dangerous levels. Second, the human interactions became rather strained. In other words, the geniuses became annoyed with each other. Jane Poynter who was one of the inhabitants wrote a book called the Human Experience about her time in Biosphere. It is a fascinating read.

    The Biosphere looks like something like the structures you would see at EPCOT. The facility is impressive in its scale and the aspirations of the original experiment. 

The Ocean and Coral Reef Biome

The rainforest Biome

The "lungs" of the facility


     We also were able to enjoy some great food during our excursions. The Native American fry bread is sold outside the Mission San Xavier del Bac just north of the Titan Museum. No trip to Tucson is complete without sampling a Sonoran Dog at El Guero Canelo. Also, any city that has In'N'Out burger is all right in our book. 

Fry Bread.
The 300 year old Spanish Mission

The Sonoran Dog at El Guero Cannel
Gotta love the In'N'Out Burgers
     There are many other great museums in Tucson including the Pima Air and Space Museum and the Kitt Peak National Observatory. However, we spent a good deal of our time exploring the magnificent saguaro cactus and were reluctant to leave our desert paradise. After a few days it was time to head north toward Sedona and Cottonwood, Arizona.