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Dragoon Mountain Ranch – Days 4-6

March 6, 2019 – Tucson & Vail

2019 Southern Arizona Astronomy

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 touring the hangers and field until we are picked up at 4PM to return to the ranch.

RASC members at Argenzianos restaurant, Vail, AZ

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 happens to also be staying in the area, with the guest of honour being a fellow RASC member and famous comet hunter David Levy and his wife. 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

Sunset lighting the Dragoon Mountains with a rainbow in front of the storm clouds

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).

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Victoria to Phoenix to Dragoon

March 2, 2019 – flights from Victoria, BC, Canada to Phoenix, Arizona, USA, and onward to Dragoon Mountain Ranch

2019 Southern Arizona Astronomy

Bombardier Q400 aircraft

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.

Mount Baker & the San Juan Islands – enroute from Vancouver to Phoenix

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.

On final approach to Phoenix airport aboard a WestJet Boeing 737-800.

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 have a good sleep, since I’m so tired after the flying and driving, and starting the day at 4AM this morning.

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Pima Air & Space Museum

February 22, 2018 Thursday – Pima Air & Space Museum, Tucson

2018 Southern Arizona and Astronomy

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 is new from my previous visit. The new aircraft displayed in this hanger: 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. There is lots of time to delve a bit deeper into the aircraft that interest me, 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 last 13 photos in my online gallery were taken this year. The majority of the photos were taken last year.

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AMARG aircraft bone yard

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

2017 Southern Arizona & Astronomy

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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Pima Air & Space Museum

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

2017 Southern Arizona & Astronomy

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

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Flight: San Diego to Victoria

March 16, 2014 – Sunday – Disembark & flight from San Diego to Victoria

Venus rising in the east before sunrise with the pilot boat beside us, as we approach San Diego

Venus rising in the east before sunrise with the pilot boat beside us, as we approach San Diego

I wake up before my 6:00AM alarm when the Pilot boat shines his light on the side of the ship my cabin is on. The pilot is scheduled to come aboard at 5:15AM, but it is a bit later than that I think. As I peek out the windows, I see Venus shining through the clouds above the shoreline, which is visible since we are quite close to shore in the navigation lane to San Diego. I take a few photos in the pre-dawn with my dSLR.

The ship arrives about 15 minutes early and I am one of the first group to disembark the ship, since I enrolled for Expedited Disembarkation. I roll my big bag, with my briefcase on top and walk out of the ship and down the ramps with my camera bag over my shoulder. The U.S. Immigration agent doesn’t ask any questions, stamps my passport, and I’m free to go. I am one of the first to grab a taxi, and I’m at the airport about a half hour before I expected.

San Diego airport is great because it is located right on the harbour and in the city, so it is easy to get to. United Airlines check-in is now automated, so I’m forced to check myself in. Thank goodness there are people there to help with the process and to tag my bag. The TSA must have been listening to their clients, because the security check is all over in a couple of minutes, thanks to TSA Pre-check. I didn’t have to remove shoes, belts or watches, and I didn’t have to remove my notebook computer from my bag. I just had to take my cellphone out of my pocket and put it in my camera bag, put the two carry-on bags on the scanner belt and walk through the scanner archway. That was it…I just picked up my bags and continued on my way. The terminal where my flight leaves from is brand new, and really nicely done. The airport offers free Wi-Fi and there are power and USB outlets at every seat. I update the apps on my MacBook Air while I wait three hours for my flight to leave from San Diego airport.

The flight to San Francisco starts off with a bit of conflict in the cabin, since seat assignments seem to be a big issue with several people involved. Eventually everyone is seated and we roll away from the gate. Shortly after takeoff, the guy behind me and one seat over starts ranting very loudly about something. All three of us seated ahead of him ignore his outburst and he seems to calm down for the rest of the flight. When we arrive in San Francisco, we are a bit late, but as it turns out, I stay on the same aircraft as it continues to Vancouver. So I don’t have to go looking for a gate…it’s right here! Just as well, since the boarding for the onward flight starts about 20 minutes after our arrival. Our passports have to be checked before we can board, so that adds a bit of a complication, but everyone eventually is processed and seated on the aircraft.

We pull away on time, and the pilot reports at the start of the flight he expects our arrival to be 10 minutes early, so the flight takes two hours flat.

After landing in Vancouver Airport, here is possibly the most convoluted disembarking procedure I have ever encountered:

  1. Disembark aircraft.
  2. Walk along an overhead glassed-in walkway to Canada Customs, which is a very long distance away.
  3. Directed to self-reporting kiosks for customs and immigration, where my passport and declaration form is scanned.
  4. Wait for bag to arrive on the carousel.
  5. Walk to the far corner of the huge baggage claim floor, take an elevator up to the 4th floor, and walk half way across the terminal, schlepping my bag.
  6. Check in with an Air Canada clerk, and put my bag on a conveyor belt. There is an Air Canada agent at the belt, but he doesn’t offer to help.
  7. Walk out to the main entrance to the terminal.
  8. Clear security again.
  9. Walk the rest of the way to the domestic terminal to find my gate and board my final flight to Victoria.

The weather in Vancouver is cold and rainy – welcome home!