Cowboys & Airplanes: Arizona

Southern ArizonaI start the day in the south of New Mexico, with one simple mission: Tucson or Bust. (Side mission: stop spelling “Tucson” Tuscon). It’s early morning, it’s still winter, it’s scorchingly hot. I end the day with surprisingly bad sunburn on my left arm and scattered patches on my face making me look like the most unconvincing trucker in recent memory. It’s a straight run, though, nothing should delay me. Unless of course, there’s tantalising treats every couple of miles:

Pecans, Walnuts & WineYou had me at “and wine”.

Didn’t know the area was so famous for those three things specifically, but every couple of miles there is another pecan walnut winery. I’m doing well, I’ve ignored every distraction apart from the first distraction I come across: signs for Tombstone, AZ. They could have used brand consultants back when they were naming these places.

Tombstone, AZIt is the home of the O.K. Corral, though, and that sounds pretty friendly. If you have a couple of weeks to spare, you can read the extensive Wikipedia article on the gunfight.

Star Trek OK CorralOr just watch this documentary.

Of course, such an infamous place struggles with outlaws to this day. Fortunately Bertie has found himself in the good graces of the town sheriff:

Tombstone SheriffWhat a mighty, mighty man.

This sheriff is a badass, there’s no doubt. He keeps order in this harsh town and keeps the bandits and trouble-makers in their place. Unfortunately he also hits the booze pretty hard:

Hitting the Booze Here he explains the origin of “shotgunning a beer”.

I take the opportunity to handle my first gun, albeit one that just fires paint ball rounds, an old six shooter. I confirm what I have always secretly known: if I had been stuck in the old west, facing some mean hombre in a duel, I would… die. Very quickly. I’m pretty accurate, but slow as molasses. And my attempts at a repeater rifle were even worse. Dreams crushed, I beat a path out of town.

I get a couple of miles north when I’m stopped at a border patrol checkpoint, which being about 25 miles north of the border took me a bit by surprise. Fortunately, although I sound foreign, I don’t look foreign enough to receive a random inspection, so I’m waved through and on my way to Tucson.

Moon FlightMy next distraction en route to Tucson is on the outskirts, the Pima Air & Space Museum. They had hangars full of air, not so much space though. They’ve pushed out a lot of the air to fit in aircraft of all shapes and sizes, from the tiny Bumble Bee:

Flight of the BumblebeeTo the whale plane:

Whale PlaneOriginally used by NASA to cart parts of spacecraft around, it now just looks like some forgotten fusion of blimp and plane. Further on is a collection of planes that served as Air Force One/Two:

Air Force OnesI pop into a bathroom and discover something… oddly sensible. This being Arizona, where it’s a few degrees below hellish in winter and the sun is constantly trying to kill you, beside the hand dryers is some complimentary sun screen:

Bathroom SunscreenBertie’s discovering something too in this aviation wonderland:

Bertie the PilotToday, Bertie’s learning how to fly a jet used in Vietnam.

Oh no! Bertie’s accidentally bombed Cambodia.

Naughty Bertie.

Bomb BayBest leave before they notice.

The Dutch couple I met back in New Orleans said if I had any interest in music, I should definitely check out the Phoenix Musical Instrument Museum, which is where I’m off to now. Walking through displays of silent instruments might seem somewhat dull, but having them all play would be cacophonous. The museum has come up with a novel solution: you walk around with earphones and a sensor on your belt. As you approach the displays, a selection of music will start playing, showcasing the instrument in isolation or its use in orchestras, dances, etc. (Including a demonstration of the use of saxophones from jazz to Reel Big Fish).

NyckelharpaThe Nyckelharpa

Every corner of the world has contributed some fantastic sounding instruments that I was beginning to feel a little self-conscious about those from my homeland. I didn’t need to worry though, look upon our works, ye mighty, and despair:

Spoons and BonesSpoons *and* bones? We have dared to dream.

The Germans offer us a trumpet by way of a Terry Gilliam drawing:

MartinstrompeteA Martinstrompete, called here a shawm for some reason.

A lot of these instruments work best in a band or orchestra, but there’s always room for some solo pleasure:

Wankara … Tee hee.

The instruments are separated by style and geography, as you move from one part of the world, they make an effort to display the instruments within a cultural context.

Soul CollectorOr to drag your souls down to the underworld. Whichever.

There’s also a collection of instruments from bands and singers, with carefully preserved instruments like Eric Clapton’s guitar, John Lennon’s piano and… the not so carefully preserved remains of Keith Moon’s drums:

The Who - Keith Moon's drum kitSkip to 4:30 for the explosive finale.

Downstairs is a relic of an era when smaller dance halls found bands too expensive, mp3 players hadn’t been invented yet, and DJs hadn’t achieved global acclaim for playing other people’s music.

ApolloniaClick to hear it in action.

Nearby there’s a room where you can try your hand at a collection of instruments, including a theremin (try your hand vaguely near it in that case), which actually has a lot of versatility outside of sci-fi B-movies. Of course, it could always be creepier. Elsewhere, Bertie has taken up a ukulele to pen some anti-war music, so traumatised was he by, er, his own actions.

Bertie the RockstarI leave the museum contemplating forming the best/worst orchestra ever, but I haven’t gone far when Phoenix offers me up another surprise:

Surprise, AZSurprise!

In New Mexico I came to the conclusion that I must be desperately annoying to be in a car with and the town of Surprise(!), Arizona hasn’t helped convince me otherwise. Such a perfectly named town means that whenever I passed anything, like the Surprise(!) McDonalds, or the Surprise(!) Salon & Spa, I found myself unable not to yell “Surprise! … City limits”. Over and over again.

Surprise Post OfficeYou know, I am surprised, I didn’t know there were any post offices left.

I grab dinner in Phoenix and discover that Arizona has one more surprise(!) for me, and for everyone else who was much more taken aback: rain. I had expected Arizona to be more, y’know, Arizona-y.

ArizonaYeah, like this.

After all, Phoenix is pretty dry, getting about 8 inches of rain a year. It’s dry enough to warrant building a 300-odd mile canal to it.A woman I passed was a bit more bewildered that I was and was trying to sweep up a puddle with a broom. Even stranger than the rain was the snow that followed. What I expected to be one of the hottest and driest places was now under a blanket of dark clouds, a temperature dropping rapidly, and freaking snow falling. (Okay, I’m told it was technically “graupel”). Whatever reservations I might have about American drivers in general, I would like to say specifically: Phoenicians have no idea what the hell to do when it starts sleeting and snowing. Seeing some truly terrifying activity, I decide to leave the city post-haste. I end up heading through valleys and over mountains towards a town called Holbrook. It starts off fairly pleasant, the storms die out after Phoenix and I pass through a snow-blanketed valley in twilight. Then, about an hour away, the storm catches up. I end up driving along a narrow stretch of road in sheer whiteout conditions, following the only thing I can see: the taillights of a truck ahead.

Snowy ArizonaEventually I make it to Holbrook, which has largely disappeared under a white blanket, and call it a night.

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