Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Arizona Sonora Desert Museum

From Tucson Lazydays KOA Campground      Tucson's #1 attraction and one of the top ten museums in America (so says TripAdvisor) is the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.  Not your usual museum though... this one is oh so different with 85% of the displays.... outside! Yay!

Pan, Ernie, Wayne and I took a 30 minute morning ride to the desert museum today. Included in the price of admission are two raptor shows daily. We arrived just in time for the morning one which was already underway when we reached the raptor free flight location. Several owls and hawks were released to fly over the desert and then return, on cue, to their trainer.

Our free flight raptor viewing location left something to be desired as we were looking directly into the morning sun but I was able to capture one fair picture of this red tailed hawk as it soared overhead.

Later in the day, we happened upon one of the bird trainers who had this guy riding on his arm.

The red tailed hawk a little closer... real close, actually. 
The ninety-eight acre Arizona Sonora Desert Museum serves as a zoo, botanical garden, art gallery, natural history museum and aquarium. There are two miles of walking paths through desert habitats, 230 animal species and 1,200 plant types.

Wayne trying to play the organ pipe. Ouch.

The Arizona Sonora Desert Museum first opened it's doors on Labor Day 1952. Visitors arrived via a dirt road which was intentionally unpaved to reinforce the belief of museum founders that guests would be more inclined to "become one" with the desert.

The road to the museum, along with the parking lots, are all asphalt today, thank goodness.

Pam and Ernie on their best behavior.
Following a below-freezing night, the morning was downright cold when we reached the museum but the sun was bright and the day warmed quickly. We layered clothes and by 11 o'clock, we were shedding the outer layers. By afternoon, I was down to my sweatshirt. and sweating.

I love the desert and native desert cactus is especially fascinating. These two are my favorite pictures from today's desert visit.


Prickly pear
When the raptor free flight program ended we finished the long desert loop trail, passing the javelina, a plant adaptation area and then the coyote ramada where we met these two characters.

I am not a fan of the zoo idea. In any form  -- not even this one. I can't find any justification in holding wild animals captive for the pleasure of people. Seeing these two captive coyotes today reinforced my opinion as one stood motionless for the longest time and the other paced incessantly.

The scenery at the desert museum was the star attraction, in my opinion, and there was plenty of scenery here. Up close and far away. And a sky so blue it didn't even seem real and the beautiful colors of the desert made every view appear postcard perfect.

The Wayner and me

Notice the moon in this one. 

Hours passed as the four of us wandered the desert museum pathways and explored the Arizona landscape. We came upon Cat Canyon and saw these two felines perched high in the artificial rocks enjoying the sun and keeping away from the maddening crowd.

More cactus, blue skies and mountain backdrops!

Saguaro cactus live 150 - 200 years and can weigh up to 10 tons.
Saguaro is the cactus with "arms"....   Birds make their homes inside. 
Mid-day, we had prickly pear infused margaritas, ate lunch and rested our "dog tired" feet at the Sonora Desert Museum's Ocotillo Cafe. The chicken tortilla bisque was delicious. As usual, we asked our waitress to photograph us sitting around the table. Naturally, she obliged.

Wayne, me, Ernie and Pam. 

Rejuvenated by lunch and prickly pear margaritas, Pam looked around to find a large gold colored stone on the counter behind her seat in the Ocotillo Cafe. Convinced she'd found "the Arizona mother lode" she tried to snatch the gold rock to take home. Ernie had to restrain her....

No, must leave the giant gold nugget.
Wayne's prickly pear margarita caused him to try sitting on the barrel cactus in the photo below. Can't take these two anywhere!

Came close to having barrel cactus thorns in his rump.

Not to be outdone, Pam refused to be held back by this tiny "staff only" sign. All the while I searched for more scenic photo locations.

Out of control. Get back over here! 

Notice Ernie had to hold Pam by the shoulders.

Me at the Joshua Tree
Desert Museum has a walk-in aviary, desert garden, underwater viewing, beaver, otter, coati, great blue heron, box turtle, spiders, scorpions, white-tailed deer, mountain lion, black bear, prairie dogs, bees, moths, hummingbirds, butterflies, reptiles, invertebrates, bats and more.

Bighorn sheep at the man made "take out" window
Exhausted, the four of us were ready to leave the desert museum around 3:30 but stopped one for one last photo at this cactus we nicknamed "the brain".....

Tomorrow is New Years Eve.

Happy New Year! 

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Restaurant Critic In Me...

From Tucson Lazydays KOA, Tucson, Arizona       In a recent post, I mentioned a restaurant in Tucson that I wanted to visit while we were there. The restaurant is El Charro Cafe. While there are several locations now, the original El Charro is on Court Avenue near downtown. Wayne and I came up on it quite by accident and I snapped this picture... complete with an unsuspecting and obviously surprised pedestrian sitting on the streetside bench.

El Charro Cafe is the oldest continuously operated (by the same family), Mexican food establishment in America.  The cafe began in 1922 by a woman named Tia Monica who came to Tucson in the 1800's. Her father was a stone-mason commissioned to do the stone work on St. Augustine Cathedral here in Tucson. Other of his work is seen throughout Tucson and the family home, which he built, is now this restaurant.

Heading out for Mexican at El Charro Cafe, Tucson
Pam, Ernie, Wayne and I drove into town for dinner at El Charro around 4:45 in the evening and did not make reservations. On arrival we found, even at this early hour, we could expect a wait of 20 minutes.

Our outside patio table.... at 50 degrees

We were directed down the sidewalk through a breezeway to an outdoor patio. A tiny indoor bar was crowded and had but a dozen bar stools -- all full. We ordered drinks and went back out to the patio where, to our surprise, the cold temperatures didn't call for any of the numerous outside heaters to be turned on. Overhead warmers were not on and portable propane heaters stood unused in a corner.  Hummm.

No table service, no heat and no apolgies.

Temperatures dropped as we waited for the longest time. For a few minutes two ladies were seated at another table, but they were called for a table and the four of us continued to wait in the cold outdoors. Chips and salsa were ordinarily available for munching during the wait, but tonight, the chips were all gone.

Beer, margaritas, salsa and a cup full of tortilla chips.
Too cool to remove our coats. 

After about 30 minutes waiting on the cold patio, we returned to the small bar area to find a few empty bar stools which we grabbed quickly. We were crowded but a bit warmer except when the door opened.

Last of the hold-outs, Ernie refused to say he was cold. 

After a few more minutes in the small bar, the hostess came for us. Alas! Our table is ready! To our dismay, we were taken to a table on the enclosed front porch beside the restaurant's front door. It was warmer than being outside, but not by much.

Just like home.... dinner on the front porch. 

The El Charro Cafe dinner menu was extensive and impressive but confusing to a southern belle. Finally, with the help of the waitress, we made selections.

My Carlotta’s Clásico Chicken Mole.
A classic mexican presentation of chicken mole recipe using 100% cage free grilled chicken breast. Featuring arroz blanco and frijoles charros $15.95. In layman's terms, chicken smothered in unsweetened chocolate sauce.

Wayne's Pescado Tropical
Pan seared sustainable cod filet on a bed of arroz blanco and topped with fresh Tomatillo sauce, roasted green chile, mango & avocado-corn salsa $16.95 
I don't remember what Pam or Ernie ordered for dinner at El Charro but I think their food was fried and one or both of them suffered a bit of indigestion later that night.

Terribly disappointed at our El Charro Cafe experience, having been seated on the porch, we all did manage to make our way through several of the interior dining rooms on our way to the restrooms for a few pictures. The rooms I saw were inviting and warm. It made me more angry to see everyone eating without their coats on.

So my El Charro Cafe experience was a disapointment. Not because of the food as it was good, but because I left with a feeling of being cheated out of the historical ambiance which was, to me, as important as the meal itself.  Too bad.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

A Warm Day For The Pima Air Museum

Standing among the saguaro outside the Pima Air Museum.
From Tucson Lazydays KOA Campground, Tucson, Arizona    

Thank goodness, the weather is better today than yesterday. It's a scorching 50+ and it feels even warmer. It's a "dry" cold, after all.

The third largest display of aircraft in the country is here in Tucson at the Pima Air Museum. The idea began in 1966 when a group of retired and active duty officers began talks about the dwindling numbers of aircraft from World War II being lost and the importance of saving them for future generations.  From those initial discussions a group of planes was placed where they could be seen by the public. A foundation was created and the idea took off.....

Wayne visited Pima Air Museum back in the mid-1990's; I had never been so we drove over today to take a look.

Fortunately for us, the Pima Air Museum invites guests to bring their pets onto the property, except in the restaurant. There are plenty of outside tables for pet owners so that was not a problem. The museum discourages leaving pets in automobiles as the heat can be so deadly here... even in winter.  Lexie and Ozzie were thrilled to ride in their stroller and we were thrilled to have them along with us.

A beautiful display of patches drew Wayne's attention right away. He found his two right away and pointed them out while I photographed.

A short history of the Pima Air Museum: 

In 1969, the last operational Consolidated B-24 Liberator in the world was donated to the air museum from the government of India. A volunteer U.S. Air Force crew made the final landing of the Liberator after a 31-day, 11,000 mile journey from India. General Jimmy Doolittle was on hand to meet the plane.

By 1975, 50 aircraft, helicopters and missiles were gathered here in the Arizona desert. To coincide with the 1976 Bicentennial Celebrations, the museum would open to the public on May 8th. Construction on Hangar 1 was begun in 1981. In 1982, a partnership with the 390th Bomb Group Memorial Museum Foundation was created and a museum dedicated to that group's history was opened in 1984. It is run as a separate museum by veterans of the 390th Bomb Group and displays a B-17G Flying Fortress among other fascinating artifacts of the group.

Hangar 3 was built in 1992 to display a prized B-24J Liberator and other World War II aircraft. Then in 1994, Hangar 4 would provide shelter for the B-29 Super Fortress. Hangar 2 contains mostly administrative offices, a library, archives and an exhibit for the Arizona Aviation Hall of Fame.

So off we go -- dogs in tow through the entry pavilion and into the Main Hangar.

Wayne looking into a Huey. Most common aircraft used in Vietnam.  
Outside, planes were everywhere. Most everyone was drawn to the Blue Angels one, but the pinkish one caught my eye.

The desert pink one is British. An IDS Tornado.
Maybe from the Israeli army.
Into Hangar 3 now where we come nose to nose with the Liberator...
B-24 Liberator.
It's the one obtained from India and flown back to the U.S. by volunteers as detailed in an earlier paragraph. 
And then to Hangar 4
B-29 Super Fortress

P-51 Mustang in Hangar 4, the WWII Pacific Theater displays.
Also in Hangar 4 from the war in the Pacific.
F-86 Sabre from the Korean Conflict 
C-46 Cargo plane 
B-17 from the 390th Bomb Group 

Outside the 390th Bomb Group Memorial Museum
Ozzie behind me. Lexie in front.  Can't get 'em to look at the camera. 
We had lunch on the patio of the Flight Grill and finished touring the outside displays. Here's a little more of what we saw...

Mi 24D Attack "Hind" Helicopter
A few more photographs of other desert growth.