A trip to the Biosphere II

Dear Students,

On the way home from Tucson, I took the long way and stopped by the Biosphere II in Oracle, Arizona. This is a photo heavy post today. I want to give you an idea of how much there was to see and do at the Biosphere.

The drive to Oracle from Tucson was very pretty. We loved the mountains, the cloudy summer sky. On Biosphere Road beyond the cattle guard were cattle grazing freely. Moooooo.

The Biosphere is a science campus nestled in the foothills of the Santa Catalina mountains. The countryside is gorgeous.

I took this picture with my phone, so multiply this picture by 10000 and you have how pretty it was. This is a shot from the campus to the mountains.

Biosphere II is a science wonderland. It is a place for researchers to study the water cycle, biomes, climate change and imagine colonizing outer space. It is hard to explain which is why you should visit and tell me what you think the Biosphere is.

We visited at noon on a Saturday so our tour was crowded. Next time I will go during off peak times because part of the fun was running around outside.

You start at the visitor’s center, walk through a tiny neighborhood of colorfully painted houses with pretty landscaping.

I pointed out to Brady how concrete the language they used here was “our tour would be 1 hour and 15 minutes long, cover one mile and 200 steps”. We talked about how simple and beautiful the design was.

Everything has clean lines and simple shapes. The grounds are dotted with petrified wood and boulders striped with blue green ores.

This is not turquoise, but I did not write the name down. What kind of ore do you think this is? We saw at least 10 boulders like this on the way to the Biosphere entrance.

Our tour guide was Mr. Claudio. Our tour was crowded because we came at mid day on a Saturday.

The size of the tour and the uncertain acoustics in the different rooms meant we couldn’t understand the guided tour. Some of the ideas were a over the head of the boys. We got by just fine by looking around at the plants, the different rooms and talking about savannah, rain forests, deserts. So even without understanding anything he said, we still had fun.

What makes the biosphere fun is the scale and the materials they use to build. These look like toys we have, but look how they use them.

We liked the giant plants.

What kind of plant is this? It has beautiful glossy leaves.

We liked the sound of water and wind inside the great space.

Conducting experiments on breaking down waste.

This was a very sensory place. In a good way.

This passage way descended 200 feet and culminated in a half size triangle portal, no problem for the boys. Very fun.

The passage opened into the South Lung a giant echo chamber. Picture a giant white barrel. Giant. that is what we were inside. No way to convey the scale with my camera phone so I just captured moment of Mr. Claudio using a mike in an echo chamber. (he had it turned down)

Oh my I thought this was funny. He kept up his tour but within an echo chamber it was so echoey. Awesome!!

Last bit, the wind machines in the basement. They had another name but I have no idea what that was. They were fun! And windy!

There was a bank of giant wind machines which I would love to understand what that was all about. It was enough to be at the tail end of the tour and enjoy the great gusts of air. Awesome.

After the tour we had a lunch in the cafeteria and then home via the Pinal Pioneer Highway.

Draped over the hillside are solar panels. It is easy to talk about carbon footprint and using the Earth’s resources gently in a place like this. It makes sense.

Under a glass dome,
Mrs. Kenney

P.S. We used a groupon to buy a one year family membership to Biosphere. (It is no longer available but I link to it so you can see what the deal was). It was offered near the beginning of summer as a way to pump up attendance. I hope they offer it again next year. I follow groupons for Phoenix and Tucson and I notice that the deals repeat. Do you have a favorite way to save on family outings?

Taking the Long Way Home: Pinal Pioneer Parkway

Dear Students,

We took the long way home from Tucson to Phoenix. The Pinal Pioneer Parkway, (the southern portion of SR 79 from Oracle Junction to just south of Florence) is a scenic road of the high desert plain with views of the Santa Catalina and Tortilla Mountains.

We drove past the Catalina State Park in the gorgeous Oro Valley.

Catalina Park_HDR

photo by Jay Davis Consulting on Flickr

When I go back, I want to hike the easy Romero Ruin Interpretive Trail with the boys. This trail leads to the Romero Ruin archeological site with the remains of a Hohokam village site dating back to 500 A.D.

We passed the Oracle Junction Inn.

I was on the lookout for the the Tom Mix Monument along the Pinal Highway. Tom Mix was the quintessential American cowboy of the silent films–the monument marks where his car wiped out and he met a grisly end. Just past the Tom Mix Wash, we saw it on the left.

Tom Mix and his 1937 Cord 812 Phaeton. The English major in me must point out that a Phaeton is another word for a rash or impetuous driver. Click Phaeton link for entomology of the word.

The Pinal Highway still bears the reputation as the fastest highway in a America (INRIX, a traffic-monitoring agency, as of 2011).

The Tom Mix story reminds me a little of the James Dean story. He has a monument as well in California. You can read about one person’s visit here.

The monument is a rest stop with two covered ramadas and grills for cooking out. Looks like a good place to pull over and tell a ghost story. The holes in the horse silhouette were made by bullets.

The original Mix memorial, built in 1947, was topped by an iron statue of his favorite steed, Tony the Wonder Horse. The statue was stolen in 1980, replaced, stolen again in 1989 and again replaced.

Two miles north of Florence on Highway 79 and then 1.5 miles East on Hunt Highway, we passed the Poston Butte on the right. The Poston Butte Monument is a triangular grave to the “Father of Arizona”, Charles Poston.

We missed Arlie Dutiel and I’m sorry we did. I found this interview when I was researching my post, please enjoy a step back into Arizona history.

Zorastranially yours,
Mrs. Kenney

Arlie Dutiel (died 1-12-2011) owner of the Oracle Junction Inn 
with some of the copper drinking cups
that came from the Copper Room,
where Tom Mix was a regular.

When Arlie Dutiel gets to talking, you just listen

Arlie Dutiel was the owner, manager and head cook of the Oracle Junction Inn — home of the “world famous steerburger” — for nearly 30 years.

He has seen and been a part of the tremendous changes that have taken place in the rising land where northern Pima County meets Pinal County. Dutiel can tell you stories that aren’t in any history book. Sometimes it’s best to just sit back, listen and let the man talk.

“My Uncle Frank was gased in World War I and his doctor said he had one more year to live. In 1938 Frank, like a lot of disabled veterans, drove out to Tucson with my brother Art. They came out in an old Ford and got to the top of A Mountain where the car broke down. They had 30 cents in their pockets between the both of them, so they ended up living in the broken-down car, on top of the mountain, for over three months.” said Dutiel.

“Uncle Frank lived here until 1995. My brother became good friends with the artist Ted DeGrazia. They worked side-by-side on B-25 bombers down at the airport during World War II. Art Dutiel just celebrated his 87th birthday.

“I came out here from the Midwest in the late 1960s. The old Oracle Junction Inn had burned down in 1969. I bought the land and rebuilt a new one in 1971 — it was brand new, like a baby’s behind.

“The Oracle Junction Inn is a steakhouse and bar. We were known for our “world famous steerburger” — ground round, chuck steak and sausage all combined and cooked on a special burner that fired the meat on the top and the bottom, sealing in the juices. Best sandwich in the world. I ate one every day.”

“In 1971, you could get a steerburger for $1.95. We sold gasoline out front for 29 cents a gallon.

“Before the interstate highway was completed, this was the main route from Tucson to Phoenix. We would get travelers passing through, cowboys from the surrounding ranches and miners heading to and coming home from working at San Manuel. A lot of the regulars would come in and tell me stories about what happened at the old Oracle Junction Inn before it burned down.

“They told me about the Copper Room, which was a room in the back, connected by a long hallway and open only to special customers. The room was filled with copper — copper tables, copper chairs and even copper drinking cups. In the Copper Room there were eating, heavy drinking, shady ladies and the main attraction — big-time gambling.

“One of the Copper Room’s regular visitors was Tom Mix, the silent movie cowboy star. He had relatives that lived in Florence and was a friend of Gene Autry’s who also had a ranch there. Mix often drove up from the Santa Rita Hotel in Tucson and stopped in the Copper Room on the way to Florence. In fact he had just left the Copper Room on (October 12, 1940) the day he died.”

The infamous Tom Mix metal suitcases on display at Tom Mix Museum in Dewey, OK complete with dent

(Tom Mix appeared in over 370 films. He was known as the “King of the Cowboys” with Tony the Wonder Horse. Married five times, Mix worked and played hard. He died when his yellow convertible Cord automobile plunged into a dry wash. A memorial on Route 89 on the way to Florence marks the spot. Mix died Oct. 12, 1940. Tony the Wonder Horse died two years later, on the same day).

“When I bought and rebuilt the place, there was a back storeroom that hadn’t burned down. Inside, I found some copper cups and two old slot machines. I pried one of the slots open and inside was over 500 of the old buffalo head nickels.

“One time while I was working, a familiar-looking fellow drove up with a beautiful blonde on the back of his motorcycle. They had breakfast and then he tipped the waitress 15 dollars. He also bought an antique typewriter I had for sale and gave me an address to ship it to. The address was in Hollywood. The man was Flip Wilson.

“I sold the place in the late 1990s, but I still go up there once in awhile. When I first came out here, where SaddleBrooke is now was nothing but open rangeland, part of the Falcon Valley Ranch, owned by the Wilson family.

Click here to watch a vimeo desert sunset…looks like the one I saw on my drive