A weekend in Tucson, AZ

For far too many years I have been running in and out of airports during business trips without ever looking at the location. A while ago I decided that life is too short for that and now always take a weekend to explore wherever fate drops me off. This time around it happened to be Tucson, AZ for a training class on product design reliability. I am focusing this year on introducing more advanced statistical methods to improve product design and failure analysis. It was a great class, but I guess it would bore the hell out of anyone who does not share my passion for math and engineering.

That leaves me with 2.5 days in Tucson, AZ. Turns out there is a lot to do in this place. First day, I explored the Colossal Cave and the eastern Saguaro National Park. There are quite a few caves around, but what makes this cave especial is that is was eroded from below by acidic volcanic water being pushed upwards. That makes for different formations compared to what one might be accustomed to. Most caves are formed by water coming in from above. They do offer real caving tours where one has to crawl through some tight spots to see otherwise inaccessible parts. Unfortunately, I did not have the time to do that and did only the regular tour. Even that was very interesting. The day was then followed up by driving through the eastern Saguaro Nation Park. The park has far more diversity than the name might suggest. But, of course, the saguaros are amazing. It is even more amazing to see a dead one and see the internal wooded structure that allows the cactus to grow to such impressive heights.

Day two was a technology and space day. First off was the Titan Missile museum. The only one in existence. Again, I only had time for the regular tour. They take you through the control room and to see the actual missile (sans warhead). Some of the design features of the facility are very interesting. For example, the entire facility is designed to withstand a nuclear impact including the earthquake like shock wave. To that end everything vital, including the entire control room, is suspended on springs. I did a little bit of history that day as well. The Mission San Xavier del Bac is pretty close to the museum. It is worth a visit. The highlight of the day, however, was the nightly observation program at the Kitt Peak National Observatory. It is one of the active scientific stations and thus a lot of effort is taken to ensure no light pollution hinders the research. That also makes it for gorgeous skies. The tour starts with a light dinner and walk out to see the sunset. Then there is an hour of basic introduction to star gazing using a planisphere. I never knew how to use one properly. Of course, these days, a smartphone will do the same. Then the program concludes with an hour spend with an actual research grade telescope looking at various points in the sky. It is an awesome experience.


The last day was back to nature with the western Saguaro National Park and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum. The latter is an open air museum and zoo featuring all the local flora and fauna. Lots of docents all over to show individual animals and explain more about them. My favorite part was the walk-in hummingbird aviary. If you have time for nothing else in Tucson, go there. It is very well made and a great place to learn more about this region.

Overall, I am surprised about all that Tucson has to offer. I even lucked out out on the weather. A nice upper 70’s and sunny. Summer might be a bit more uncomfortable, but I would still recommend a couple days in Tucson.

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