Friday, January 29, 2016

RonnieAdventure #0189 - Arizona, 2016 Part 1

Chandler (Arizona) has long been known for its "Tumbleweed Christmas Tree" that is constructed each year in the town plaza. Since it was not too long after Christmas, I decided to drive over to Chandler to see if by chance the tree was still on display. Unfortunately, when I arrived, City workers were just in the process of disassembling the tree. And even worst, when I parked to take a picture, I managed to park right in front of "Cutting Edge Quilts."

In 1913 the Hotel San Marcos was constructed adjacent to the town Plaza and it was the first golf resort in Arizona. The hotel is now named the Crowne Plaza San Marcos Hotel.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument is located just south of Candler and is the largest known structure ever built by the Ancestral People of the Sonoran Desert.

The four-story structure was built around 1350 using about 3,000 tons of Caliche, a local concrete-like mixture of clay, sand, and calcium carbonate (limestone). The walls face the four cardinal points of the compass and are four feet thick at the base, narrowing toward the top. It is unclear what the structure was used for, but there is a circular hole in the upper west wall that aligns with the setting sun at the summer solstice and there are other openings that align with the sun and moon at specific times.

When Father Kino arrived in 1694, the building had been abandoned. He referred to the structure as "The Great House" in his recordings, which is a term still used to describe the structure today. When he inquired about the building, he was told that it had been constructed by the Huhugham, which was translated incorrectly as Hohokam.

In 1892, "The Big House" became the nation's first archaeological reserve. Over the years, various covers have been constructed over the ruins to protect the structure from the elements and some reinforcing and new Caliche has been added to stabilize the walls.

There is a museum onsite that displays artifacts from the Ancestral People of the Sonoran Desert and people from the local reservations still use the site to demonstrate many of the ancient crafts.

Photographer Unknown

Florence is located just east of Casa Grande Ruins and has its own "Big House" - the Arizona State Prison.

Florence is one of the oldest towns in Pinal County and has over 25 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The first adobe Pinal County Courthouse was constructed in 1882 and also served as the sheriff's office and county jail. 

In 1888 a local "vigilance committee" stormed the Sheriff's Office and hanged two men in the jail corridor. A short time later, the "committee" once again tried to storm the Sheriff's office, but this time the jailer armed the prisoners and faced down the mob. 

In 1891 a new courthouse was constructed and the original courthouse was converted into a hospital for about 50 years, then served in various other capacities until it was purchased by Ernest W. McFarland in 1974 and donated to the Arizona State Parks Board. The building is now known as McFarland State Park and serves as a museum and visitor center. A portion of the museum is dedicated to the WW II Prisoner of War (POW) Camp that was located just north of town. All of the WW II improvements have been demolished and the site in now a residential subdivision.

Ernest McFarland is the only known American to serve his state in all three branches of government - Governor, U.S. Senator, and Arizona Chief Justice. While serving in the Senate, McFarland drafted bills giving benefits to veterans and he became known as the "Father of the GI Bill."  

WW II POW Camp North of Florence - Photographer Unknown
The second Pinal County Courthouse was constructed in 1891 and used until 2005. The building's most unique feature is the clock tower, which actually has no clocks because they ran out of construction funds before the building was finished. To save money, the metal clock faces were installed it the clock spaces and the clock hands were permanently set at 11:44. (I can't remember why 11:44 was picked for the permanent time!)

Three famous women were tried for crimes in this courthouse - Pearl Hart (Arizona's only  woman stagecoach robber), Eva Dugan (only woman hanged in Arizona), and Winnie Ruth Judd (convicted trunk murderess). 

The Silver King Hotel was constructed in 1895 and had the "finest dining and ballrooms and saloon in central Arizona and was one of the social focal points and gathering places in the territory. The saloon featured fine whiskies from the East and brandies and wines from Europe. The dining room, along with the usual fare, specialized in fresh lobster brought in by wagon from the Gulf of California in huge oak salt water barrels. Another gourmet delicacy was fresh glazed and stuffed local quail." The building is now used by small businesses. 

In 1985 an old-fashioned Coco-Cola sign was painted on the side of the Keating Building for the movie Murphy's Romance, which was filmed in Florence.

La Capilla del Gila is believed to be the last remaining mission church of Arizona's Territorial period and possibly the first church of any kind built in Central Arizona.

Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church is considered to be the best example of a Mission Revival style building in Central Arizona. 

The Pinal Pioneer Parkway runs from Florence to Tucson and is a beautiful drive any time of the year. There is a monument a few miles south of Florence marking the site where Tom Mix (hero of more than 300 Western films) was killed in a car accident on October 12, 1940.

Just east of Oracle Junction is Biosphere 2, called "one of the 50 must-see wonders of the world" by Time Life Books. 

It was late in the afternoon when we arrived at Biosphere 2 and the facility was closed for the day. Therefore, I have included pictures taken on a previous trip when we toured the facility. 

Biosphere 2 is an Earth systems science research facility that is currently owned by the University of Arizona. Its mission is to "serve as a center for research, outreach, teaching, and lifelong learning about Earth, its living systems, and its place in the Universe."  The facility was originally built to be an artificial, materially closed ecological system, or vivarium, and it remains the largest closed system ever created. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

RonnieAdventure #0188 - Picacho Peak, Pinal County, Arizona

Bucket List Item #00003 - Climb Picacho Peak (Completed - January 13, 2016)

Picacho Peak is a unique geological formation in Southern Arizona that has been used as a navigational landmark throughout history. Some of the first written records that describe the formation were made in the late 1600s by the Father Kino and in the 1700s by Juan Bautista de Anza.

As Southern Arizona developed, two main routes passed Picacho Peak - an east-west route from St. Louis to California and a north-south route from Tucson to Phoenix to the Pacific Coast. The north-south route later became part of the Butterfield Overland Stagecoach Route.

During the Civil War, the South proclaimed Tucson the Capital of the Western District of the Confederate Arizona Territory and the Confederate Army wanted to control the trails around Picacho Peak to keep the Union from moving supplies through the area.

On the other hand, the Union wanted to capture Tucson and drive the Confederates back eastward. 

While an army of Union soldiers was being assembled in California, an advanced cavalry troop was sent to scout the area around Picacho Peak to determine if there were any Confederate Outpost in the area. The Union troop was given specific instructions not to engage any Confederate soldiers that they may encounter.

On April 15, 1862, Lieutenant James Barrett and twelve men of the Union 1st California Cavalry were conducting a sweep of the Picacho Peak area when they discovered a small Confederate outpost. Disobeying orders, Lt. Barrett charged the outpost without dismounting, only to ride into an ambush. Lt. Barrett and two other were killed and three others were wounded before the survivors could withdraw and eventually make their way back to California. This blunder cost the Union any chance for a surprise attack on Tucson.

One month later, a 2300-man column of Union soldiers advanced on Tucson and the Confederate soldiers surrendered without firing a shot. The Union soldiers then continued on eastward, only to be attacked at Apache Pass by Cochise and 500 Chiricahua Apache Warriors. This battle was one of the first times that the Army used heavy artillery (cannons) against Native Americans, causing Cochise and his warriors to flee into the hills. Cochise and his warriors had never witnessed cannon fire before and Cochise later told an Army Officer that "we were winning the fight until you fired your wagons at us." 

Various monuments and markers have been installed at the base of Picacho Peak to commemorate the westernmost battle of the Civil War and to recognizes the men that died in the fight.

Today, most people visit Picacho Peak to see the proliferation of wild flowers in the spring, or to watch a reenactment of the westernmost Civil War Battle between the Union and Confederate Armies.

However, I came to finish a climb that I started about 40 years ago.

I first had the idea to climb Picacho Peak when I read a vague article about a trail to the peak. The article mentioned that the trail was not well marked or maintained, but if you were not afraid of heights there were some cables installed in the steepest sections of the trail toward the top of the mountain.  

So, early on a Saturday morning I started the climb and reached the saddle without any problems, but then I lost the trail and after several attempts I could not figure out how to reach the described cables or the trail to the top. Reluctantly, I gave up and went down the mountain vowing to return someday and finish the climb. (At that time, little did I realize that it would be about 40 years before I returned!)

This time as I hiked up the mountain I was amazed at how well the trail was marked and I noted that cables had been installed in several locations before I reached the saddle. Along the way the views were spectacular and the flowers were just starting to bloom along the trail.

After reaching the saddle, I found that the trial went down the other side of the mountain, not up as I had previously assumed. After descending a steep incline several hundred feet with the aid of cables, the trail turned eastward along the side of the mountain that contained a number of large Saguaro Cacti. 

Then, the fun began! The trail to the top was very steep and fortunately there were cables installed in the really difficult sections of the climb. (The pictures are not an accurate representation of the trail steepness.) I met some hikers at the first really steep section of the trail and they told me that they had decided not to attempt the climb and they planned to follow an alternate trail back to the parking lot.   

Arriving at the top, I was surprised that I was the only one there, along with a Rock Wren that kept following me around hoping that I would share some of my lunch. From the top I had a good view of the campground where I left the trailer and I could also see the suburbs of Tucson to the south. 

Going back down was much easier and it was a great feeling to finally complete Bucket List Item #00003!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

RonnieAdventure #0187 - Florida, 2015 Part V

Photographer Unknown
The Kennedy Space Center is located about 60 miles south of Daytona Beach; and a lot has changed since our last visit, including security, which is noticeably at a much higher level. We have learned from past experiences that to beat the crowds, arrive early; so we were at the gates when the Park opened. 

The New Heroes And Legends featuring the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame is projected to open in 2016 and a number of other exhibits are currently being remodeled.

Rocket Garden has not changed over the years, but the Park has expanded some of the capsule and engine exhibits. They now have the actual launch pad bridge that Neil Armstrong walked across on his trip to the moon, which is connected to an Apollo capsule so that you can view the capsule's interior. In addition to the Mercury and Gemini capsules, there is also a mock-up of  the Orion capsule that will take astronauts to Mars. 

Mercury Capsule
Gemini Capsule
Apollo Capsule

Mock-up of Orion Capsule
The Nature and Technology Center is just east of the Rocket Garden is new since our last visit. The Center explains how humans and nature can coexist on Earth. 

The new Astronaut Memorial is located by one of the T-38 Talon Jets that the Astronauts used to commute from Florida to Texas.

The 3D IMAX Theater is a great place to rest after you have been on your feet all day. Currently, two different movies are showing -  one on the Hubble telescope and one on space travel. Both are both great! "Science on a Sphere" is located on the east side of the IMAX building and the "Astronaut Encounter" has temporarily been moved to the west side of the building while their encounter area is being remodeled. At the "Astronaut Encounter," after his presentation we were able to meet Astronaut Jim Reilly (he was on three different shuttle missions). And, "The World's Largest Space [Gift] Shop," where you can stop and make a donation, is located across from the IMAX building.

The price of your admission ticket also includes a bus tour to Cape Canaveral, which includes a drive-by of the Vehicle Assembly Building, Launch Control Center, a Crawler Transporter, the gravel road used to transport rockets from the Vehicle Assembly Building to the Launch Pad), and the new SpaceX facility. 

The only time you are allowed off of the bus at Cape Canaveral is at the Apollo/Saturn V Center. Once off the bus you sit in a room with the original control center equipment that was used to land a man on the moon and then listen to a presentation with original recordings of the first moon-landing flight and Neil Armstrong's first words from the moon. I don't remember the exact words, but the presentation made reference to the old equipment used for the moon landing and that your modern cell phone has more computing capability than all of the equipment and technology they had at the time.  

Photographer Unknown

However, the highlight of the stop is the Saturn V Rocket that is partially disassembled so that you can see each of the three rocket stages, plus the Service and Command Modules. Also on display is a LEM, an Apollo Capsule that returned from space, a Lunar Rover, and actual moon rocks (one that you can touch), 

The largest crowds in the Park are found at the new Atlantis space shuttle exhibit, so you need to go early in the morning when the Park first opens, or late in the afternoon just before the Park closes. It is recommended that you allow two hours to view the Atlantis exhibits, but it is possible to spend a lot longer if you want to see everything. In addition to the Atlantis, there is a full size mock-up of the Hubble Telescope, Astronauts working in space, simulators that you can use to test your astronaut skills, and many other space related items. At the end of the day, as you leave the Park, you leave with a great feeling of pride in what NASA and the United States have accomplished in space over the years. 

Bottom of Atlantis
Hubble Telescope Mock-up
Hubble Telescope Mock-up