We leave Dragoon Mountain Ranch just after 7AM with three of my friends in the Tesla Model 3, heading to Phoenix airport. We make a couple of quick stops along the way, arriving right on time at 10:30AM. I find the Terminal 4 doors where I return the Tesla to its Turo owner. At this point, we split up to find our flights, and one friend going to Sedona for time with family takes a bus.
I’m incredibly early for my 5:30PM flight to Calgary, so end up waiting around in the ticketing area, since I can’t even check my bag until two hours before the flight. After finally checking my bag with WestJet, I have a late lunch downstairs and then go upstairs through security and into the gate area. My flight is delayed from 5:25PM to 5:40PM, but the boarding goes quickly. We takeoff at 5:47PM, and the flight duration aboard our Boeing 737-700 is 2:43 instead of 3:06, so WestJet is obviously trying to make up some time.
Time is tight to clear Canadian Customs & Immigration and find my next gate in Calgary, but full credit to the WestJet staff in the airport, since they have expedited the way for those of us with tight connections. Our Boeing 737-600 takes off at 11:15PM and the flight duration will be 1:14 to Victoria. Once we are airborne, the flight attendant dedicated to our dozen-seat Plus Economy section serves us drinks and snacks more-or-less continuously. I have a gin and tonic, and eat as many snacks as I can before we start our descent!
After arriving just after midnight, I take a taxi from Victoria airport to home – a very long and stressful day, but a wonderful trip overall!
Some of us visit the Pima Air & Space Museum today, and others go to downtown to see the Tucson Museum of Art. Since I’m a confirmed aircraft nut, I make my third visit to Pima with my buddies, finding some fascinating new aircraft and equipment to learn about. We meet back at the main building at 12:00 noon to take the tram tour around the grounds, and then it’s time for lunch in the cafeteria before carrying on with exploring the hangers and field until we are picked up at 4PM to return to the ranch.
We then meet the rest of our group (and others) at Argenzianos restaurant in Vail (Yelp review), which is between Tucson and Benson. This dinner meeting was arranged by one of our fellow amateur astronomers from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada who happen to all be staying in the area, with the guest of honour being a fellow RASC member and famous comet hunter David Levy and his wife Wendee. The food and service is great, and the conversation is fascinating. Who knew there were so many RASC members in southern Arizona!
March 7, 2019 – Dragoon Mountain Ranch
I’m up early to see another beautiful sunrise over the Dragoon Mountains. We stay home today, but some go into Benson to shop. I observe a Northern Mockingbird on the birdbath at lunchtime, and manage to get a pretty good photo through my telephoto lens. This evening we celebrate one of our group’s birthday with steak and a birthday cake.
March 8, 2019 – Dragoon Mountain Ranch
I fly my drone over the observatory this morning, but otherwise I just sit around inside the house. Everyone else is doing the same thing since there is a wicked wind outside – gusting to 60 mph by this afternoon. We have a spicy ground beef casserole with cheese on top for dinner – very tasty! I dash outside for the superb sunset lighting the Dragoon Mountains east of us, and a rainbow appears just to put a cap on it.
The cloud cover and wind dissipates as forecast by 8PM, so the group go out for observing and night sky photography. One of the beautiful celestial targets tonight is the very faint and wispy Witch Head Nebula (see banner image above).
I drive some of the group across Dragoon Mountain Ranch to St. David, and then to Bisbee and Tombstone in my rented Tesla Model 3. We drive to Bisbee first and have a very nice lunch at the High Desert Market before splitting up to see the historic mining town. (Bisbee photo gallery) Once we meet up again, I drive to Tombstone, where we only spend about a half hour walking the infamous main street, since it is raining.
It is a wonderfully clear night back at the ranch. Tonight, I take images of the beautiful NGC 2174 – Monkey Head Nebula through the superb 20” Newtonian astrograph telescope. This combination reflection and emission nebula is located in the constellation Orion. Since the image acquisition is automated and I’m not feeling too well, I sit inside the house while the imaging runs in the observatory. I go out once in awhile to check on things and join my fellow astronomers to observe visually under the beautiful dark skies.
I wake up shortly after 5AM and decide to get up, since the skies are clear and still dark, and the Milky Way looks spectacular curving over the Dragoon Mountains in the east to the south, with Venus, Saturn and Jupiter in a broad alignment in the same region. I use my new Sony a7 III camera and the Sony Tessar 24-70mm zoom operating at 24mm for the first few photos, and then switch to my Canon 8-15mm fisheye zoom and Sigma MC-11 converter to gain some wider perspective of the Milky Way all the way from the south to the north. Focusing manually using the Sony a7 III is dead easy, since when I touch the focus ring on the lens, the camera displays a magnified image of the star I’m using for focus.
My photos of the Milky Way turn out well, however I’m in for another treat an hour later after I spot the old but very thin Crescent Moon hanging over the Dragoon Mountains. I get my Sony 70-300mm zoom and take several photos with my Sony a7 III on Aperture priority and a -3 EV setting that seems to work very well. I have used my travel tripod up to now, but can handhold the lens for the final few shots as the Sun rises.
Garry takes us on a hike into Council Rocks, so I take my Mavic Pro drone along. I fly the drone at the two rest stops we make, and capture some wonderful video and photos, despite me losing sight of the drone several times in the bright sunshine.
There are clouds building in the sky this afternoon as I prepare dinner for the group. I make a double batch of ground turkey pasta, made with egg noodles and Classico pasta sauce, and served with vegetables. As expected, there is no observing or photographing the night sky tonight due to cloud cover. I show the video and photos from my Mavic Pro drone taken earlier today on our hike into Council Rocks. Everyone is blown away by the high quality and smooth motion.
I get up around 7AM and make some coffee, and others soon join me. This is a day with nothing planned, so we can recover from our travel. After everyone is up and have breakfast, some of us walk around the ranch fence line. It is quite pleasant since the weather is cool, clear, and sunny. I fly my DJI Mavic Pro drone this morning, capturing some nice still photos, panoramas and video of my friend’s property.
Some of the group have afternoon naps, but I stay up familiarizing myself with my new Sony a7 III mirrorless camera, in order to get ready for imaging in the dark this evening. I also get my list of targets for the big imaging telescope ready, since the skies are clearing this evening. When it starts to get dark, we go out to the observatory to start an imaging run using a 20″ Newtonian astrograph telescope, and the visual observers setup with their own equipment and also use a 25″ Newtonian telescope.
The procedure for imaging in the observatory uses a script to conduct the imaging runs automatically. After troubleshooting this system for the next hour or so, we successfully get our imaging runs working, which run all night automatically until dawn while we sleep. My target for this evening is the Jellyfish Nebula – a galactic supernova remnant in the constellation Gemini. My observing report
My friend and I take a taxi to Victoria airport several hours before our 6:30AM flight leaves – WestJet flight from Victoria to Vancouver on a Bombardier Q400 regional jet. The pre-dawn light on the scenery out the window is nothing short of spectacular over Georgia Strait, so I take lots of photos of the islands before landing. (see banner image above)
After we arrive at Vancouver airport, we have two hours between flights, and it takes most of that time to walk kilometres to the US-bound gates (E-series), and to pre-clear US Customs & Immigration. I have to remove my drone and my notebook computer when clearing airport security at both Victoria and Vancouver. I still haven’t had a coffee by the time we board our flight to Phoenix!
We are number five for takeoff at 9:38am from Vancouver. The WestJet captain announces that we will be flying at 33,000’ with a 2:39 flight time on the Boeing 737-800. The flight is not full, and the legroom where I’m sitting in Economy is amazing! I have my usual hummus and crackers when food service is offered aboard the flight, and have some Coca Cola as well.
It is a spectacular sunny day as we climb out of Vancouver bound for Phoenix, so I take photos with both my iPhone XS and my Sony a7 III. I don’t bother with the in-flight Internet at $10.99 for 90 minutes, since the duration of the flight is only 2.5 hours. I read some workshop material on my iPad since there are no views today as we fly over the Grand Canyon enroute to Phoenix..
After landing, we retrieve our bags and since we pre-cleared US Customs and Immigration, we are free to be on our way. I make contact with the Turo rental guy for the Tesla Model 3 I’ve rented, and he meets us curb-side in the airport arrivals area. My friends and I manage to squeeze all our bags, gear and ourselves in to the Model 3, which is a bit smaller than the Model S I rented last year. Getting out of the Phoenix airport proves to be a bit of a challenge, even with the in-vehicle navigation, however eventually we are on I-10 heading south to Tucson and onward to Dragoon Ranch.
I decide to stop at the Florence Tesla Supercharger midway between Phoenix and Tucson, not because the vehicle needs a charge, but because I want to have a few minutes to have a look at the Model 3’s controls and find out how it charges, since this is my first time driving this vehicle. Since I haven’t had a coffee all day, it would also be nice to have a cappuccino or even a regular coffee, but the food places near the Supercharger don’t serve coffee! I pull out of there once the car has 50 miles of extra charge and drive about a half hour further down I-10 until I see an interchange with a McDonald’s sign. We pull into the parking area and have a proper rest stop, where I finally have my first cappuccino of the day! My friends and I also have some lunch and take advantage of the restrooms before we continue down I-10 through Tucson.
My last stop for about a half hour is at the Tucson Tesla Supercharger at Rita Road east of the city, since I want a decent level of charge by the time I get to our friend’s place on Dragoon Mountain Ranch, so we don’t have to rely on slow charging when we drive out of the ranch to see the sights. We also stop at the Safeway in Benson to stock up on food and beverages before completing the drive, arriving after sunset. Two more in our group arrived earlier today, so they have dinner ready for us. I’m very tired after the flying and driving, and starting the day at 4AM this morning, but I have a good sleep tonight.
I take my time this morning in the hotel, going for breakfast around 8AM and then taking a walk around the neighbourhood, knowing that I’ll be sitting in airports and airline seats for most of the afternoon and evening. I check out of the hotel just before noon and drive over to the airport’s short term parking lot. I contact the Tesla’s owners to let them know I’m ready to return the car to them. They tell me to just leave the car where it is and they will remotely lock it and pick it up later. The trip display in the vehicle shows that I drove 666.5 miles, used 189 kWh of electricity, and averaged 284 Wh/mi energy consumption. So if I was paying for the electricity to power the car, it would have cost me about $20!
I check in with Delta airlines and see that my boarding pass shows the departure time for my flight from Tucson to Seattle is delayed to 6:25PM (was 3:55PM). Before going to the gate, and knowing how much of an actual delay I’m dealing with, I decide to have a meal at Noble Hops, a bar/restaurant by the Delta ticket area. They serve very nice craft beer on tap, and I have a delicious Shepard’s Pie with my Dragoon IPA – the bill comes to US$37 (CAD$50)! That said, I know the airline won’t be serving meals, so I will at least have one good meal under my belt to keep me going on what is looking to be an endurance contest.
I proceed through airport security and find my gate, and see that the estimated departure time has slipped yet again to 8:00PM. At this point, the gate staff rebook me to the last flight out of Seattle for Victoria at 11:17PM, arriving in Victoria at midnight. Our aircraft is still stuck in Seattle due to bad weather, and will have to be de-iced for a second time before they depart, which means it will be 9:10PM before it will depart Tucson back to Seattle. That means I’ll miss my connecting flight to Victoria and I will have to overnight in Seattle. I hate airlines!
The gate staff are doing their best by offering free snacks and beverages. They hand me three meal coupons worth $15 each for breakfast, lunch and dinner in either Tucson or Seattle airport. I go down a couple of gates and find a bar that serves food and order a grilled chicken sandwich, using one of the coupons. Several of the passengers on my flight are at the bar drinking. After all this, the aircraft finally pulls away from the gate at 9:15pm. It will be a 3 hour and 11 minute flight according to the onboard announcement. This is an Embaerer aircraft, which means it’s small: one isle with two seats on either side, small overhead compartments, and the seats are quite cramped.
Once we are clear of Tucson, we fly through some very rough air while the cabin crew try to serve beverages – it never fails! The captain takes the aircraft to a lower flight level, which smooths things out considerably. I watch a movie using my iPad and Wi-if through the Gogo inflight network for free: “Pirates of the Caribbean- Dead Men Don’t Tell” – the first movie I’ve watched all the way through for probably a decade!
Orion constellation and the Crescent Moon are visible off the wing to the west during the last hour of the flight. Once we land in Seatac, the fun begins. My big bag is checked through to Victoria, so it doesn’t appear on the carousel. I go to the nearby Delta Baggage office. Thank goodness a woman is still there despite it being after midnight. She advises me to go upstairs right away in order to arrange for an overnight hotel with the Delta agents before they go home. There are no agents to help me upstairs, so I return to the baggage office, and I try calling the Delta Customer Assistance number, but nobody answers – so much for customer service!
The baggage clerk indicates this is not something she normally does, but she makes a call and has someone walk her through issuing me a hotel coupon for the Red Lion Inn in nearby Renton. By that time, her co-worker in the back has located my bag and puts it on the nearby carousel for me to pick up as I go to the hotel shuttle area. I manage to squeeze into the last seat in the shuttle that is about to leave with my fellow wayward Delta passengers, taking us on a 20-minute drive from the airport. The night clerk at the hotel slowly checks all of us in. The hotel is no great shakes, but it is clean, and after turning the heat up and having a quick shower, the bed feels good!
Feb 24, 2018 Saturday – Seattle to Victoria
I’m booked on a 1:05PM flight to Victoria, so I can sleep in before going downstairs for breakfast. There is a buffet, but I prefer to have a vegetarian omelette along with the rather mediocre coffee. I check my Starbucks app, but there isn’t one close by and I don’t see any other coffee shops in the mall the hotel is located in, so no cappuccino for me this morning! I take the 9:30AM shuttle back to Seatac airport, since the hotel isn’t running any more shuttles after that until the afternoon.
I have to clear security without the TSA Pre-clearance I usually have on my boarding pass, however I have lots of time, and the procedure isn’t too stressful. The flight leaves on time and I’m back in Victoria airport an hour later. My bag appears on the carousel, I clear Canadian customs and immigration in under a minute and take a shuttle back to town. They drop me off a few blocks from home, so I walk home and I’m greeted at the door by the dogs. I make myself a cappuccino before unpacking. My daily routine resumes tomorrow!
I drive over to the Pima Air & Space Museum and spend several hours there on my last day in Tucson before I return home tomorrow. I took the tram tour last year when I visited Pima, and I take it again, since it is the most efficient way to see the huge number of aircraft on display outside. I check out Hanger 5, which has new aircraft displayed: a Spitfire, a PBY/Canso amphibian and a Mitchell bomber.
The other hangers have much the same displays, but I experience them again in a new way, since I take far fewer photos than I did last year. This gives me lots of time to delve a bit deeper into the more interesting aircraft and skip others without feeling I’m missing something. I have a nice lunch in the cafeteria before driving back to the hotel in the afternoon.
The reason I wanted to charge the Tesla last night at the hotel and not have to drive east for 15 minutes to the Tucson Supercharger is that I want to take the 11AM solar telescope tour at the Kitt Peak National Observatory. It takes an hour and 20 minutes to drive westward from the hotel, so driving east to the Supercharger would be inefficient and wasteful of precious time.
I have breakfast downstairs in the hotel, and I’m on the road by 9AM in my fully-charged Tesla. The Model S uses about triple the energy to climb the 1,200 metre (3,400′) elevation change up the mountain, but there is only about nine miles of actual steep climbing. The Model S still has 120 miles of range by the time I reach the summit.
Since I am so early, I am the only visitor for the telescope tour when I meet the Docent in the Visitor Center. She convinces me that the 2.1 meter observatory tour would be a better choice, since the solar observatory is closed, so all we can do is walk around it on the outside. A Docent-In-Training and a few more people show up before the tour leaves – we all agree to stick with the plan to visit the 2.1 meter telescope.
I take a few photos, but restrict myself to areas of Kitt Peak that I didn’t photograph last year. By 1PM I’m ready to return to Tucson, so I rig up my GoPro Hero 5 Black as a dash cam and drive down the mountain and along the highways back to the hotel. The Tesla gains about 25 miles of range due to the regeneration on the way down the mountain road, so I still have just over 100 miles of range after arriving at the hotel. Since the staff have left the Tesla Destination chargers powered up, I plug in for about four hours to top up the charge for tomorrow’s adventures.
I go downstairs for breakfast and then check out of the Red Lion Inn. I head down to the University of Arizona, since a friend suggested I see their Optics Museum at the College of Optical Sciences. the University is located downtown, which is on the way to my new hotel on the south side of Tucson. I manage to find pay street parking only a couple of blocks away, and use Google Maps to find the building on campus.
The Museum of Optics is self-guided, with displays on several floors of the building. After starting in the lobby with several beautiful glass sculptures and some telescopes, the tour starts at the top of the building on the 7th floor. I then work my way down floor-by-floor. They have an extensive collection of eyeglasses, binoculars, monoculars, opera glasses, historic cameras, stereographs, telescopes, and much more. It is all fascinating, and free-of-charge!
The architecture of the Meinel Optical Sciences Building is quite striking, since it has a segmented glass front, the sides and back are wrapped in dark copper, and there are internal light shafts that go top-to-bottom.
Since I have well over an hour left on the parking meter, I go to the Flandreau Science Center and Planetarium which is across the street from the Meinel Building. I pay the $6 Senior’s admission and spend time taking in what is perhaps the most impressive collection of minerals on public display in the Tucson area. Their amazing collection of meteorites includes some as large as a suitcase! It is a shame the displays aren’t better lit, since it’s hard to appreciate the colours and textures of the minerals when they are in glass cases lit from above with fluorescent lights.
After leaving the UofA, I check into the Baymont Hotel and Suites. I enquire about the Tesla Destination chargers outside, and am told they charge $2/hour and they will turn it on when I’m ready to charge. I’m pleased the rate is reasonable…this is going to be so much more convenient than staying at a hotel with no electric vehicle support. The Tesla Supercharger east of Tucson is only about a 15 minute drive each way plus charging time), so I have options. I decide to try out their Tesla Destination charger. The front desk clerk is thrilled, since this is new to her, and she has never seen a Tesla up close before. As it turns out, several of the charge points don’t work, but I find one that lights up green on my Tesla’s charge port. It is a 40 amp 209 volt supply, so the charge rate is about the same as I have at home (Level 2 charger). I end up paying for 3.5 hours’ worth of charging at $2/hr.