One Last Adventure in Arizona – Biosphere2


With our days here dwindling quickly, we went on one last adventure before starting the task of sorting and packing to get ready for our trip back to Ontario. Saturday morning we packed a lunch, and struck out in the car, top down, towards Oracle and Biosphere 2.

An hour later, we stopped for a stretch at a little park that displayed a memorial to Tom Mix, a famous movie cowboy who died in a car accident at the spot in 1940, too long ago for me to know anything about him, but his interesting story was posted.

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It was lunch time when we arrived at Biosphere 2, so we sat outside on one of the stone benches and enjoyed our lunch while soaking up the sunny atmosphere. Then we went inside to wait for the tour to begin.

Biosphere 2 contains 5 biomes, including a 900,000-gallon salt water ocean, a rain forest, a desert, agricultural areas and a human habitat, all within the 7,200,000-cubic-foot sealed glass and space-frame structure.

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A Little History

Biosphere 2 was a Space Biospheres Venture project that began in 1984 with the purchase of the property near Oracle Arizona that had previously been the site of a conference centre for Motorola, and then the University of Arizona. Two years later an iconic facility was constructed with $150 million in funding from Texas oil magnate Edward Bass. It was designed as an airtight replica of Earth’s environment (Biosphere 1).

Some of the early designers and managers were interested in space travel and the possibility of colonizing the Moon or Mars.  With the hope of learning what problems would arise from living in a closed system, in 1991 a colony of eight people were sealed inside Biosphere 2 for two years. Six months later another crew of seven entered Biosphere 2, but after a number of physical and social problems developed these experiments were suspended in 1994.

In the years following, the facility was managed by Decisions Investment Corporation and Columbia University until 2007 when CDO Ranching and Development bought it. The University of Arizona assumed management, and was then gifted the facility in 2011. It has been a state-of-the art research laboratory for students of science ever since, with tourism providing some extra funding.

After a five-minute video that highlighted some of the things we would see, our tour began. I can’t remember the tour guide’s name because he was not a memorable soul and brought no life to the tour. It seemed like he didn’t have enough to tell us and was always checking his watch and then saying, “So I’ll give you a minute or two to stand here and look around” as if he was killing time. That was disappointing.

We saw banana and eucalyptus trees in the rainforest, and a little experiment in progress that some school children had set up. It was a several-tiered vegetable garden that was being nourished with the run-off water from a Koi fish pond at the top level. We walked through the mangrove marsh and the desert.

There are two “lungs”, white domes that are variable air-volume control devices. Our guide took us through a tunnel, into the South Lung and explained a little bit about how it works.

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Inside the “lung”

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I think with a more enthusiastic guide, the hour and a half long tour would have been very interesting, but as it was, we were glad when it was over.

Then we were allowed to do self-guided tours of the Ocean from below, through a windowed tunnel, but some sections were under repair or construction, so there really wasn’t much to see. We decided to skip the self-guided tour of the Upper Habitat, where the crews had lived in 1991 to 1994, since we’d been given views of it in the video, and we were ready to continue on to Globe for dinner.

Although the history of the Biosphere 2 is interesting, I felt that today it would be far more enticing to spend some time there as a science student or researcher, living in one of the adobe apartments and making use of the facility for experiments and further knowledge. Summer programs are offered to young students as well.

To learn more about Biosphere2 check out these websites:

http://www.desertusa.com/desert-arizona/bios2.html#ixzz44HTcoxGj

http://biosphere2.org/

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A Cruise on the Dolly Steamboat and New Views of Superstition Mountain


As many times as we’ve driven up to and around Superstition Mountain, we’d not taken a trip on the Steamboat that we often saw when we skirted Canyon Lake so this year we decided this would be one of the highlights when Jim’s daughter Karen was here. Two old friends and two new friends joined us.

After lunch at Tortilla Flat, we drove back down the road to the Dolly Steamboat Boarding Area and waited in line to pick up our boarding passes. We’d reserved our spots online a week or more earlier, which was a good thing because tickets were sold out.

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The day was perfect. We were too far back in the line to get seats on the upper deck, but there were plenty of opportunities to duck outside to the open bow and stern decks to capture some of the natural wonders hiding in the 1300 foot cliffs around us. The captain, using a PA system, let us know where to look for things he knew would be of particular interest.

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Long-horn Sheep roaming the cliffs

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Bald Eagle Nest – some were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the eagle

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J. S. Bach gave us a performance (with the help of the captain and PA system)

Because spring has come early to the area this year, we saw a whole new version of Superstition Mountain. Instead of the various shades of browns, grays and reddish rocks that were in all our previous photos, this time there were the yellows and reds and greens of the flowering trees and cacti, and mosses and lichens. Everything was in bloom!

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We also managed to find views without hydro wires, after the cruise was done and we were on our way back down to Apache Junction.

Wishing Everyone a Happy Easter!

 

 

A Visit to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum


Our time in Arizona is quickly slipping away and we, like many others here, are trying to pack our last few weeks with as much as we can. On Monday some of our neighbours invited us to join them on a trip to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, near Superior, Arizona. We had never heard of it, but it was one item on their Bucket List, so we accepted.

Tuesday morning, we were up early and headed out Hwy 60 for the one hour drive. It was a perfect day for a hike through this intriguing botanical garden — sunny, but cool enough for a light jacket. We arrived perhaps a little earlier than necessary since the guided tour didn’t begin until 11:00, but we strolled along some of the smaller trails, and then bought some snacks in the gift shop while we waited.

The first stop on the tour was the Smith Interpretive Center, which was built in 1925 of locally quarried stone, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. The building served as the original visitor’s center until the present one was built, and has two greenhouses attached to either side, one housing cacti from around the world, and the other showcasing succulent plants from other plant families.

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Taking the tour was the way to go. Jim, our guide, was a wealth of knowledge concerning the history of the park and the plants that were there.

The hike lasted nearly two hours and took us through the Hummingbird & Butterfly Garden, and Heritage Rose Garden, home to a large selection of Heritage roses. Unfortunately we were just a few weeks too early to see these in full bloom.

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We saw many beds of native and southern European herb plantings divided into specific use areas: culinary, medicinals, cosmetics, insect repellents, etc. The Wing Memorial Herb Garden is said to contain any type of herb or spice that one could want. Jim also pointed out the trees from which myrrh and carob beans come.

At the Cactus & Succulents Garden, Jim told us some interesting facts about the Saguaro Cactus. It is a protected species that cannot be destroyed under any circumstances, even when roads are being built. That is why we have often seen rows of them, their roots wrapped, sitting alongside of highways that are being expanded.  They have been dug up and will be transplanted to a new location. The Saguaro also has very long roots, extending for five feet or more just eighteen inches below the ground. Jim had samples of honey made from Prickly Pear Cactus, and syrup made from Agave Cactus, which he passed around with plastic spoons for us to try. Yummy!

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Saguaro Cactus

We stopped at Ayer Lake, a man-made reservoir that supplies the arboretum with irrigation water, and is home to several different species of migratory waterfowl.

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Ayres Lake

From the high trail along Queen Creek Canyon we had magnificent views of Magma Ridge and the historic Picketpost Mansion, former home of Colonel William Boyce Thompson, which is perched on volcanic cliffs overlooking his namesake Arboretum.

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The Australian Desert Exhibit and Walkabout Trail transported us to a different type of desert life.

It would be great to be able to return later in the spring when more plants are in full bloom, but our welcome here would be overstayed.