Tucson to Los Angeles by train

March 2, 2017 Thursday – Leave Tucson, AZ aboard Amtrak’s Sunset Limited train to Los Angeles, CA, USA

2017 Southern Arizona & Astronomy

I arrive at the Amtrak station in downtown Tucson a bit after 5PM and check in at the wicket. The man tells me the train is running a bit ahead of schedule, so I will be able to board early (whatever that means). I’m glad the waiting room is air conditioned, since the Sun is pretty intense this afternoon.

JoeTourist: Tucson &emdash; Old Centralized Traffic Control Board displayed in the waiting room

Maynard’s Market is next door to the Amtrak waiting room, and they also run a restaurant that is quite popular. I can smell the food, but I’m really not hungry after my late lunch. The other end of the terminal has a couple of shops and a railway museum, including a steam engine under cover and statues of Wyatt Earp and Doc Halliday. There is an old centralized control station, which was used to control the trains in the area.

People watching in the waiting room is entertaining: a guy is wearing a zipped-up parka and talking loudly to himself; a young, gay, black guy floats into the room hugging his pillow; an intense guy stares at everyone who enters but doesn’t say a word; and an obese young woman loudly talks non-stop to her skinny friend about her life trials for all to hear. One guy approaches me wanting to know where the Greyhound station is, since he wants to get to Roanoke, Virginia by bus. After I show him where the bus station is on Google maps, he mumbles about taking a taxi since it is too far to walk, but I later see him board my train. By 6PM some regular folks finally start to show up!

Looking into my Roomette aboard the Seattle to Sacramento Coast Starlight
My Roomette

The train arrives in the station at 7:45PM and after a few people get off, I board my sleeping car and find my Roomette. My car attendant made an 8PM dinner reservation for me before I even boarded the train, which is great service and very welcome, since I really didn’t expect to have dinner onboard.

The train leaves a bit early at 8:20PM and last call for dinner ends up happening while we are still in the station. After dinner, my car attendant makes my bed so I can settle in for the night. We stop in Maricopa just after 10PM to pick up passengers, and then it is quiet time aboard my sleeping car. Despite being on the north side of the train, I see the crescent Moon from my Roomette window. I’m relaxed and ready for bed.

We are scheduled to arrive at 5:35AM Pacific Time in Los Angeles, so I set my alarm on my iPhone for 4:00AM Mountain time to give me some time to prepare to detrain in LA.


Biosphere 2

March 2, 2107 Thursday –  Biosphere 2, Oracle, AZ, USA

2017 Southern Arizona & Astronomy

I pack my bags and check out from the hotel around 11:30AM, since I leave Tucson this evening aboard the Amtrak train Sunset Limited back to Los Angeles and onward to Seattle. Since I have the whole day, I head north on N Oracle Road to the Biosphere 2 located in Oracle, AZ – about a half hour drive. The admission is US$20, but I qualify for a senior discount, so it costs me $18. This includes a hour and a quarter walking tour of the Biosphere.

Biosphere 2 was built from private funding, although it is now owned and operated by the University of Arizona. The first experiment demonstrated the viability of a closed ecological system supporting and maintaining human life in outer space by shutting eight humans inside the Biosphere for two years. They have unique large-scale experimental apparatus housing seven model ecosystems with some active research by teams of multidisciplinary scientists. The tour showcases the tropical orchard, desert, ocean, and tropical rainforest. Our guide tells us the rainforest is pretty overgrown, and the desert still needs a project. The scientific focus appears to be Water and Climate. There are also lots of school kids taking special educational programs.

I have to say after listening to our tour guide and seeing the facility for myself, it strikes me as kind of an odd facility. It is a long way from being sustainable, since it uses huge amounts of energy from the electrical grid to maintain and alter the various internal climatic systems. Of course this can be enormously valuable to scientists who want to see effects of climate change, since the climate can be altered inside in a matter of hours, and can be maintained precisely for days or weeks at a time. Our guide candidly admitted that the University of Arizona is still in the process of moving the facility from the idealism it was built for to a more scientifically relevant footing.

Biosphere 2 is an engineering marvel. The ecosystems are precisely maintained inside a sealed environment – airtight doors are the only way in and out. The Lungs allow the atmosphere inside to expand and contract without caving in or exploding the enclosing glass and metal structures.  Of course, those airtight doors were closed for the first two years during the original experiment involving humans!

After the tour, I stop into the B2 Cafe for some lunch before returning to the parking lot and heading south to Tucson to take my train to Los Angeles, and (eventually) home.