Road Trip USA 2002: Tucson, March 1/2
These pages chronicle my epic overland journey of the United States from landing in New York on January 28th 2002, to my departure from Oahu on April 7th 2002 for New Zealand.
Arriving at Tucson Greyhound bus station after taking the overnight bus from San Antonio, it was my job to get the hire car from Tucson Airport while my travel partner looked after our bags. This meant getting on another bus, which wasn’t exactly high on my list of things to do following a 12hr+ bus journey across half of Texas, the whole of New Mexico and a good part of Arizona, with only two pit-stops: One at El Paso, where we found a sizeable minority of our fellow passengers were armed with knives of various kinds as they were forced to give them up at the metal detector; and one at a service area in New Mexico, so yes I can say my feet have touched New Mexico soil!
The journey to the Airport would have been non-descript enough, were it not for having to pass through Tucson’s southern suburbs where many Native Americans appeared to live in the worst poverty I had seen anywhere in the US up until that point (This would be surpassed during our trip through the Navajo Reservation a few days later on!).
Next was finding accommodation for a night using our trusty Motel Coupons booklet - the well placed Knights Inn off I-10, just outside of the Downtown area for just $25 for the night. After a quick freshen up, we were ready to hit the road out west making a bee-line for the excellent Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum and the western portion of the Saguaro National Park - if you want to capture the true essence of the Tucson area and its landscape then these two attractions do so in a fantastic manner!
After our trip out west it was time for a big meal and we ended up at the Kettle Restaurant at the foot of Sentinel Peak, which did gigantic steaks. Suitably refuelled, it was now time to turn in before starting on our action packed journey up towards the Grand Canyon the next day. Our main objective for the next day was visiting the unique Biosphere 2 complex at Oracle AZ, which attempted to recreate conditions on Earth for 8 people in a huge hermetically sealed series of greenhouses back in the early nineties, and somewhere that had always grabbed my imagination since I had found out about it.
To reach the Biosphere about 70kms away we travelled north along state highway 79, which for some reason was choked with traffic jams on that particular day, and then onto state highway 77. We were able to take the newly opened "Under the Glass" tour, which was a literally access all areas tour of the Biosphere, and for me a truly amazing experience!
By the time we finished the tour it was getting late and we had a whole state to cover by getting to Flagstaff to be in position for the next leg of our journey across America.
This meant reaching state highway 79 again and heading north towards Phoenix via Florence and route 60. Again we were slowed to a crawl as we contrived to enter Phoenix during the evening rush hour, turn north onto state highway 101 at Tempe we passed Scotsdale, casting despairing glances as afficionadoes of Frank Lloyd Wright at the signs for Taliesin West - but knowing full well that it would be closed and we had no time in our tight schedule.
Heading north on I-17 out of Phoenix the early spring light rapidly gave way to the darkness of the night and the spectacular scenery of the road was stolen from us in its velvety blackness. However this disappointment was not to last for long as in the night we were treated to the amazing spectacle of the night sky with the amazing clarity of the air creating a fantastic canvas of more stars than I think I have ever seen before!
With some disappointment we bypassed Sedona before reaching Flagstaff late in the night and finding from our coupon book an Econo Lodge for $40 on Lucky Lane, an area with many motels just off I-40.
We would definitely sleep well that night!