Monday, February 22, 2016

Douglas Spring to Garwood Dam Hike (Saguaro National Park)

Our latest desert hike started at the Douglas Spring trailhead in the Saguaro National Forest with Garwood Dam our designated lunch stop and turnaround point. An easy 5-mile hike with minimal elevation gain, we saw much of the typical desert scenery along with spectacular views of the Rincon and Catalina Mountains. But we also noticed early signs of Spring along the trail. Finding bits of color in the Saguaro Desert is a real delight, and on this day most everywhere we looked new life was beginning to emerge; wildflowers were visible here and there, the ocotillo were beginning to leaf out with bright green foliage, and many of the cacti were on the verge of blooming. We were able to spot desert marigolds in full bloom, mariposa lily, aster, desert lavender, and the delicate Baja fairy duster. I was especially captivated with the deep purple Stagwood Cholla, and one very unusual Saguaro cactus that developed a fascinating mutation on its crown. We were hiking under an overcast sky (nice buffer for the heat), which cast a surreal glow over the desert floor. At times, winding our way through the  loomingSaguaro cacti, it felt like we had been transported to another world. The desert is such an enchanted and magical place!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Titan Missile Museum

Visits to places like the Titan Missile Museum don’t sit well with me. They represent war, death, destruction, chaos, and the darkest side of humanity. A nuclear warhead is the antithesis of all I hold dear – peace, harmony, and the end of all wars in the world. But, if nothing else, there is history to be learned in a place like this, and it doesn’t do to stick one’s head in the sand and pretend this never existed. Perhaps, at best, we can take the lessons of the past and move forward in a more positive direction. Imagine!

The Titan Missile Museum is a walk through the Cold War era between the United States and former Soviet Union. The facility prefers to label this period of time as “keeping the peace”. I know there are many things in the world that make no sense, and that I’ll never understand, but keeping the peace by theoretically delivering a 9-megaton nuclear warhead to targets more than 6300 miles away in about 30-minutes sounds like the beginning of annihilation to me – the beginning of the end. As the museum website states, “For more than two decades, 54 Titan II missile complexes across the United States stood "on alert" 24 hours a day, seven days a week, heightening the threat of nuclear war or preventing Armageddon, depending upon your point of view.”

This preserved Titan II missile site is all that remains of those 54 sites that were in operation from 1963 to 1987. During our tour we were walked through a typical day at the facility when it was in full operation, including a 35-foot descent into the underground missile complex and a visit to the launch control center where we experienced a simulated launch of the missile. The reality of what could of happened, the immensity of the possibilities, was a sobering experience. 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Tombstone, Arizona

Seventy miles southeast of Tucson is Tombstone, a historic western city founded in 1879, and one of the last wide-open frontier boomtowns in the American Old West. In it’s heyday, the town’s mines produced $40 - $85 million in silver bullion, the largest productive silver district in Arizona. Tombstone is best known as the site of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, a culmination of events that arose due to tensions between mining capitalists, ranchers, rustlers, and Confederate sympathizers. In various sites throughout the town, visitors can witness reenactments of the shootout between Wyatt, Virgil, and Morgan Earp and Doc Holiday (the good guys) and Ike and Billy Clanton, Billy Claiborne, and Frank and Tom McLaury (the bad guys). Various establishments throughout the town have been preserved (or recreated) to reflect the look and feel of the times, along with actors dressed in period costumes sharing historic tidbits to add to the overall atmosphere.

Just down the road from Historic Tombstone is Boothill Graveyard, used after 1883 only to bury outlaws and a few others. “Boot Hill” refers to the number of men who died with their boots on, and is the resting place of the McLaury brothers and Billy Clanton of The O.K. Coral shootout fame. Among a number of pioneer Boot Hill cemeteries in the Old West, Boothill in Tombstone is among the best-known, and it is one of the city's most popular tourist attractions. We took the time to walk through the graveyard (around 250 are interned here) and try to imagine the lives they led based on the sometimes cryptic, sometimes amusing, and sometimes quite sad inscriptions.