Believe it or not, I haven’t taken a single vacation day in 5 months of working. With Thanksgiving and the day after being company holidays, I was very excited to finally be able to take a real trip and explore. There’s only so much you can do in a weekend or long weekend. I picked Tucson because it is one of the warmest places in the US around November and was accessible by car, as I planned on road tripping there. When my dad heard about the trip, he said he wanted to go. I agreed with the condition that I get complete control over the planning of the trip. He agreed. So instead we flew to Tucson and rented a car, which saved a lot of time.
We left Los Angeles Wednesday night. It was an easy hour and a half flight into Tucson. The guy next to me on the plane told me Tucson is a dusty town. “Don’t wear black”. After landing and renting the car, we headed out to the hotel on the east side of town. We drove along wide streets past a very low density mixed use area. There were some houses and stores. Even though it was the night before Thanksgiving, I get the feeling that these streets never get busy.
We checked into our hotel, the Days Inn aka the cheapest hotel I could find on Kayak. Checking in, we discovered that the hotel was run by an Indian family from Gujarat in northwest India. His last name is Patel. I had noticed that a lot of the motels I have stayed in over the years have been run by Indian families, which seemed very strange given that Indians don’t make up a huge percentage of the population. It turns out that 40% of all motels are run by Indians and most have the last name Patel. They all come from Gujarat and were not in the hotel business back in India. Probably from word of mouth and the internet, the first Patels in the hotel business have recruited more and now it’s well known.
The rest of the night was unremarkable.
We woke up and ate the motel breakfast, which was not very good at all. We then got into the rental car and headed east to Saguaro National Park, just outside of the city. The park is actually split into two units- one on the east and one on the west. I picked the east unit because it was closer. We went on a six-mile hike through the cactus forest.
There we saw thousands of the namesake saguaro cactus, which can grow to 40 feet tall and can live up to 200 years! Saguaros were my favorite plant growing up. I actually had a book on them, so it was very exciting to walk amongst these amazing plants.
After the hike, we searched around for a restaurant that’s open to no avail. After 8 miles of searching we found an Applebees and it was packed.
We then continued on to Mission San Javier de Bac, located 8 miles south of the city. The mission is the oldest European structure in Arizona. The mission was founded in 1692, but the current structure was built in 1783 after the first church was razed by Apaches. It’s nickname is the White Dove of the Desert because its white color stands out from the rest of the desert and can be seen from miles away. When it was the only structure in the valley, it was definitely a place of refuge for travelers.
The church is probably the most ornate church I have ever seen in the US. The altars and side altars were covered in hand-painted wooden figurines of saints. After checking out the church, we walked onto the hill just to the east of the complex. Behind the hill, we awkwardly stumbled upon a “Grotto of the Lovers”, which follows a tradition of unexpectedly going to romantic places with my dad, most notably our trip to the Peruvian Amazon accidentally led us to an eco-friendly couple’s retreat.
After visiting the mission, we returned to the hotel to get ready for Thanksgiving dinner. I made a reservation at Maynard’s Market and Kitchen in downtown Tucson. The restaurant is part of the refurbished old train station. The current Amtrak station occupies a small part of the building. The food was standard Thanksgiving food but prepared wonderfully. After dinner we drove back to the motel and went to sleep.
We woke up around 6:45. Now that Thanksgiving is over, the trip can really begin. We drove to downtown Tucson and walked around. Despite having a forecasted high of 75, it was around 40 degrees at this time of day. We stumbled on the old courthouse and admired the awesome public art in the city. While there was a lot of art around, we didn’t find any art galleries. We eventually discovered a very long turquoise line painted on the ground and decided to follow it. It turned out to be a self-guided historic tour of Tucson. The city’s history is complicated, so bear with me. Originally it was land that belonged to the Hohokam people. Then it became part of Spain when Mission San Javier de Bac was built. Eventually a Spanish predisio (military fort) was built in what is now downtown Tucson. When Mexico gained independence from Spain, Tucson became part of Mexico. During the Mexican American War, a group called the Mormon Battalion captured Tucson, although it was returned to Mexico later on. The city became part of the United States as part of the Gadsen Purchase in 1853. During the Civil War, Tucson became part of the Confederacy before the California Column captured it for the Union. Tucson then became the first city in Arizona to incorporate.
Around 8:45, we left downtown and headed over to the Burlington Coat Factory on South 16th Street. I actually was involved in the unsuccessful sale of the building. The giant store was completely empty when we walked in- although to be fair, it was Black Friday and they didn’t have any deals. “We always give our lowest prices” the store manager told me. I ended up buying 2 really nice dress shirts for $40- a steal given the quality of the shirts. It was very fun seeing the real estate in person.
We then quickly drove over to the Pima Air and Space Museum to tour the famed Airplane Boneyard. The Boneyard is located on the nearby Davis Mothan Air Force Base, but tours are arranged through the museum. I always strive to do things as early as possible, so I got there right when the museum opened at 9. There was already a small crowd, so when the greeter started talking to my dad, I ditched them and ran over to get into the ticket line. When we got to the front, we ended up getting the last 2 seats on the tour we wanted. Otherwise we would have had to wait all day to get on the next tour. The tour is completely by bus with no opportunities to disembark, as it breaks base protocol.
After a short drive and after going through a few checkpoints, we finally arrived at the Boneyard, the world’s largest airplane graveyard. Here over 4,000 military planes from all branches of the government are sent for repair, to salvage parts, or for demolition. Many parts and old planes are sold to foreign governments. As the Boneyard is one of the few profitable operations for the government, it stayed open during the government shutdown in 2014. While the base is run by the Air Force, the planes themselves are owned by all 5 branches of the military and are maintained by those branches.The Boneyard is located in Tucson for two reasons. First, the dry weather helps to preserve the planes from corrosion. Second, the soil in Tucson is rock-hard. Therefore, the Boneyard doesn’t have to be paved, since all the planes can rest on the ground without risk of the ground collapsing beneath the massive weight of the planes.
We first went down “Celebrity Row”, which is the Boneyard’s de facto museum. In addition to every type of plane that has ever been serviced at the base, Celebrity Row contains planes deemed special to the military. One plane was buried for 19 years in Antarctica then was uncovered and flew for another 20 years. Another C-17 Globemaster plane won a Purple Heart award- it is currently the only non-living thing to have won a Purple Heart award because it flew 340 evacuation missions in Iraq. Just as incredible as the breadth of planes was the knowledge of our guide, who rattled off facts about each of the 50-odd types of planes on display. The bus then moved through a field of B-series bombers, then through a field of C-series transport planes, then through the F-series fighters. The display was dizzying. Finally, we drove over a bridge into the annex to see even more planes. After 90 minutes, we returned to the museum.
Finally back at the museum, we explored all the incredible exhibits and planes on display. There were hundreds of planes on display. Some of the special planes included a SR-71 Blackbird spy plane, a B-52 Stratofortress bomber, F-111Aardvark fighter jet, Boeing 787 Dreamliner, and a UH-1H Iriquois attack helicopter. The display was dizzying. My dad’s favorite part of the museum was the World War II section.
The museum had a hanger for each theater of the war. We visited the Pacific Theater, where we talked to the docent for about an hour. We discussed plane formations, operating ranges, mechanics, and the aircraft carrier fleet and how that played into the tactics of the war. At 1:30, I was getting really hungry, so I forced us away so we could get some food. We left the museum, stopped for some Sonoran hot dogs and headed east into Cochise County.