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Tucson, Arizona

February 25 – March 2, 2017 – Tucson, AZ, USA

After spending a week with my astronomy buddies in the high desert of the Dragoon Mountain Ranch area east of Tucson, I take five more days to explore the Tucson area before returning home. I have some time to drive around Tucson to experience the city and the sights by taking day trips from where I’m staying in the Oro Valley (20 minutes drive north of the city). I go to see the Desert Museum, Sabino Canyon Park and Catalina State Park, Biosphere 2, as well as the aircraft bone yard. As I drive around Tucson, I can appreciate why this city is so popular with Snowbirds, since at this time of year the sky is clear and sunny, and yet the temperatures are moderate. It would be a wonderful place to spend some time to escape the winter for those of us who live in more northerly climates.

February 25, 2017 – Carrabba’s Italian Grill

I walk up the street from my hotel to  to have dinner at Carrabba’s Italian Grill. Since I am there early it is Happy Hour, so I order a $3 martini and have an Italian salad and Cioppino main course later. The Cioppino is a bit watery, but very tasty, so I use the bread to soak up the juice. Cost is only US$24 include tax and tip! I return on my last night in Tucson to enjoy another Happy Hour Martini and have their Proscuitto-wrapped shrimp with broccoli. JoeTourist recommended!

February 26, 2017 – Saffron Indian Bistro

I walk up the street from my hotel to the Saffron Indian Bistro for dinner, which is located in the same mall as the Italian restaurant I went to last night. I have vegetable Pakoras with Tamarind sauce to start, and Chicken Biryani for my main course. The rice with the chicken is very fragrant, and of course, I can always make a meal of Pakoras when there is Tamarind sauce to dip them into! I bring half of the Chicken Biryani back to my hotel, since it is too much for me. JoeTourist recommended!

The above two restaurants are located in the Oracle Crossing Shopping Center in the Oro Valley, a half hour drive north of Tucson. Urban art sculptures by David Voisard are featured in the mall’s outside spaces, which I find to be quite creative and fun!

JoeTourist: Tucson &emdash; Street art: 'Sharing A Meal' a man and his dog, by David Voisard

February 26, 2017 – Houses in the desert hills

When I drive out to the Arizona-Sedona Desert Museum southwest of the city, the route takes me through some areas where houses are on larger lots than in the city, and their property has beautiful cactus and other desert foliage surrounding their houses. Since this is my first time in southern Arizona, these areas seem to fulfill my preconceived notions of what living in the desert should look like!

JoeTourist: Tucson &emdash; Houses and cactus in Sundance Estates

March 2, 2017 – Tucson Train Station & Old Tucson

The Tucson train station is located in the older part of the city (as most train stations are), however this area is well worth a visit in any case. Many of the classic hotels in the area are upgraded, there are brew pubs, fine restaurants, entertainment venues, and the Presidio showcasing old Tucson’s culture and history. The train station also is the location for the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum, Maynard’s Market restaurant, and other interesting shops. The station itself is classic architecture – worth a look even if you aren’t taking the Amtrak train.

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Catalina State Park

March 1, 2017 Wednesday – Catalina State Park, Tucson, AZ, USA

After breakfast at the hotel, I decide to explore the Catalina State Park, which is on North Oracle Road, just a few miles north of where I’m staying. The entrance fee is $7 for a day pass. I park the car in the lot at the trail head and then start walking. There is a small stream flowing through a wash which has to be crossed, but I manage to step and balance on rocks, not getting wet in the process. The first trail I try is the Canyon Loop Trail, but it proves to be too much for me given that the sun is shining and I have no sunscreen on.

So after 20 minutes, I turn back and choose the Birding Trail. It is flat, has some shade, and is a whole lot more interesting. There are indeed lots of birds on this trail, including a nesting pair of Great Horned Owls. I also come across a huge number of bees swarming on a blooming tree. They are all up at the top of the tree, but I can hear them buzzing. Even this trail is a mile loop, which is too much for me on such a warm day, so I return to the car, leaving the park by 10AM. There are lots of local people at this park, and there is a campground.

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Sabino Canyon

February 28, 2017 Tuesday – Sabino Canyon Recreational Area, Tucson, AZ, USA

Once I’ve had my breakfast at the hotel, I decide to go to a local park, the Sabino Canyon Recreational Area since it is so close to where I’m staying in the Oro Valley. It is only $5 to enter the park, and another $10 to take the tram up the canyon. There are some people walking, but it is a long uphill trek, and it is threatening to rain. The tram is narrated on the way up. There are nine stops along the way, so people are picked up or dropped off at many of the stops.

It gives me an interesting peek into the Catalina Mountains that are north of Tucson, and the Riparian areas in the canyon. The Bajada Loop is a very short trail right next to the Visitor Center, and it has a wonderful variety of cactus and bushes of the desert. The half hour drive there and back allows me to see how people live in the suburbs of Tucson. I’m back at the hotel at noon.

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AMARG aircraft bone yard

Feb 27, 2017 Monday – 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG), Tucson, Arizona, USA

I drive to the Pima Air & Space Museum and buy a ticket for their AMARG “Bone yard” tour for US$7.00. Most of the people showing up for the 9AM opening are also after tickets to the Bone Yard tour, and although there are several tours running today, they fill up quickly. A full-sized tour bus pulls up to the front entrance and takes my 10AM group on a one hour tour along with a Docent describing all the aircraft, the history of the place, and the reason it exists. We drive through the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base base gates twice in the process, so we have to be careful to not take photos inside the base. There is no opportunity to get off the bus, so my photos are mediocre. That said, the tour is very interesting, and it’s the only way to see this facility from the ground.

AMARG is massive – 2,600 acres or 11 square kilometres. Some 4,400 aircraft are stored here, making it the largest aircraft storage facility in the world. The ground in this area is so hard, it can support any aircraft without pavement. Since the air is so dry in this area, the aircraft don’t deteriorate rapidly once their windshields and sensitive parts are covered in a white plastic film. I hadn’t realized that some previously-piloted aircraft are converted to drones to save money.

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Desert Museum

February 26, 2017 Sunday – Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson, AZ, USA

After having breakfast at the hotel this morning, I drive to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. The museum is in the western part of Suguero National Park. The desert landscape in this area is spectacular, and the museum presents very interesting displays of the various ecosystems found in the desert. The two captive Coyotes are quite active, and bark like dogs for awhile, getting everyone’s attention. Several docents are displaying birds of prey on their arms and describing their respective features and behaviour, so I take some wonderful closeups of the Peregrine FalconSpotted Owl and Barn Owl.

I have a sandwich for lunch at the little cafe off the gift shop, although there are two other restaurants on the site. Some of the Docents have owls and falcons to show people, which makes for some great closeups of these normally elusive birds. The museum has a surprising number of other birds and animals on display, including Javalinas (wild pigs), snakes, prairie dogs and squirrels, lots of birds, and some cats. So it isn’t just cactus on display, although there are endless varieties of those as well.

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Kartchner Caverns & the night sky

February 24, 2017 Friday – Kartchner Caverns & the night sky at Dragoon Mountain Ranch, Arizona, USA

Garry reserved (a few days ago) the Big Room Tour for the Kartchner Caverns for this afternoon. We depart around 1PM so we have time to look around the visitor centre before the tour starts. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed, and they even insist that we leave our cellphones behind in a locker. The tour starts by everyone being taken up the hill in a tram, and then we enter the caverns through a series of doors and air locks. The Big Room is indeed very big, and the history of the caves is interesting, with lots of stalagmites, stalactites, and other cave objects to see. We also learn about the bats who inhabit the cave and use it as a nursery.

On the way back, we go to the Benson Golf Course for dinner. It is a modest place, but the food is good and inexpensive. This is our last meal together, since John, Wendy and I leave the group tomorrow.

We head back home to do some observing – my last night at Garry’s observatory. Garry and Matt struggle to get focusing working while using the Ha filter, but eventually have to admit defeat. Garry restores the system back to normal so I can image an object of interest – NGC 2174, an emission & reflection nebula. I stay inside the house to stay warm while the system takes the images until the series finishes at 2AM. Garry and Diane get up at that time to observe Omega Centauri (photo), so I join them to have a look before heading off to bed. My observing report

RASC Victoria Centre: Joe Carr &emdash; NGC 2174 emission & reflection nebula

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Mirror Lab

February 23, 2017 Wednesday – Steward Observatory Mirror Lab, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA

Both Reg and I drive the group into Tucson to visit the University of Arizona’s Mirror Lab. John and Garry have visited the lab before, but come along again since it is fascinating. For Reg, Diane, Matt and I, this is our first visit. This lab produces many of the world’s largest astronomical mirrors.

The Mirror Lab’s current multi-year project is to make the seven 8.4 metre mirrors for the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), which will be located at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. Combined together, the seven mirrors will form a single parabolic surface some 24.5 metres (80’) across! GMT is scheduled to be operational in 2022 with four mirrors, and will be fully operational in 2024 with all seven mirrors. The first mirror is completed, and the second through fourth mirrors are currently in the process of being made.

The weather is wonderfully clear this evening, so Diane, Reg and I use the 25” telescope for visual observing from Garry’s observatory. My observing report

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Kitt Peak

Feb 22, 2017 Tuesday – Kitt Peak National Observatory, Arizona, USA

We leave this morning around 10AM for the Kitt Peak National Observatory. Reg is driving us from Garry Sedun’s place to the observatories, with Matt, Diane and myself as passengers. We take the 4 metre Mayall optical telescope tour at 1:30PM, which takes a couple of hours, and involves climbing the hill to the high point-of-land. It is exciting to hear from our guide that this venerable optical telescope has found new life and a new funding source, which will allow it to contribute to finding answers about dark energy in the Universe. The facility closes at 4PM, so we don’t have time to explore further, so we head back down the mountain road.

It takes about 30-45 minutes to drive SW to Kitt Peak from Tucson on the West Tucson Ajo Highway, and then up the access road. It takes us over two hours each way from where we are staying east of Benson. We passed the Border Patrol security check point on the way to Kitt Peak, and on the way back everyone is stopped for a dog inspection of the vehicle, and a personal ID check. When traveling in this region so close to the Mexican border, be prepared for security check points by carrying your ID with you. Non-US citizens should carry their passports.


We stop in Benson on the way back to stock up on a few food and drink items. John and Garry did not join us today, so they are ready with dinner upon our arrival. Everyone enjoys our meal and we are eager to get outside to do more observing. Unfortunately, the weather isn’t ideal this evening with cloud cover dampening our enthusiasm, so we have to entertain ourselves playing a new board game for many of us: Mexican Trains (a domino game).

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A ‘down day’ and imaging at night at Sedun observatory

Feb 21, 2017 Monday – Dragoon Mountain Ranch, St. David, Arizona

Today is a “down day”, meaning we have no daytime activities planned, so the group can relax and do what they want. I catch up with my social media and email, and work on my journal entries. My blog is still behind – the last entry was for Victoria-Seattle – the first days of my travels, but at least I now have the material to write those blog posts.

It is my turn on the imaging telescope this evening, but when John and Garry try to take some flat frames before sunset, the sensor ices up. This means the desiccant inside the CCD camera is saturated with moisture, and needs to be baked so it dries out to make it effective again. This delays my imaging session of M1 the Crab Nebula by an hour and a half, however I am imaging on the 20” Newtonian Astrograph by 9:20PM and wind up my run just after midnight. Without a doubt, this is my best image of the Crab Nebula. The detail within the object is fantastic, and this is the first time I’ve imaged the green fringe around the nebula! My observing report

RASC Victoria Centre: Joe Carr &emdash; M1 Crab Nebula

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Pima Air & Space Museum

Feb 20, 2017 Monday – Pima Air & Space Museum, Tucson, Arizona

After having breakfast, I drive over to Garry’s place to take Reg, Matt and Diane to the Pima Air and Space Museum in Tucson. We spend most of the day there exploring the huge number of aircraft on display inside, have some lunch onsite, and then take a tram tour of the many aircraft displayed outside. We have some time to wander around outside, so Diane and I check out the TWA Constellation and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. I also check out the Boeing B-17 bomber, which has a building all to itself. Before returning home I buy a nice lightweight jacket from the gift shop as a keepsake for this wonderful aviation museum.

JoeTourist recommended!

Since the skies are nice and clear, we make good use of Garry’s observatory. I have a wonderful time with visual observing tonight, using the 25″ Newtonian operating at f3.3 – what a treat! I also shoot a two hour time lapse of the night sky. My observing log