Monday, December 31, 2018

Another Visit to Biosphere2

Odometer  64383
Trip miles today  0

Joan and I visited the Biosphere2 in Oracle, AZ on a trip through Tucson in 2012 and it was impressive!  Our good friend Kermit had not seen it yet and I was more than happy to accompany him on a tour.  The ladies had there own agenda, so Kermit and I set out early one morning for  a tour.

Rainforest dome in Biosphere2
We both signed up for the "Under the Dome" tour which is a general overview of the whole structure.  There are specialty tours for the Ocean, and a History tour available also.  In case you are wondering why is is named Bioshpere2, the Earth itself is considered to be Biosphere1- the original.

Tropical Rainforest Biosphere2
I was interested in how the tours may have changed since my last visit.  The tour sequence is the same; Rainforest, Ocean, Fog Desert, Basement mechanical equipment, and Lung.  The thing that was different this time was we had a fantastic tour guide named Taylor, and the fact that we all had wireless hearing devices and could hear every word even though we were in a fairly large group, and sometimes strung out along walkways and corridors.

The Ocean

The Biosphere was originally devised to determine if a crew of humans could be sealed off from the rest of the world, and make everything they needed for survival, air, water and food.
The first inhabitants were sealed in for two years from 1991 to 1993.  While the experiment did not meet all its goals, it was not a failure at all.   Towards the end of the 2 years additional oxygen had to be introduced to the system.  It was discovered that the concrete used extensively in the construction, was absorbing much more oxygen that originally calculated.
Today Bioshpere2 is owned and operated by the University of Arizona and the system is still turning out useful research.

The ocean is being used to study the restoration of coral reefs in an era of ocean acidification.  Much of the excess CO2 in our atmosphere is absorbed by the ocean.  The carbon reacts with salt water to form an acid.  Acid is destroying our coral.  This small ocean ecosystem is home to coral types that show resistance to acidification, and a breeding program has been started.

Growing food with fish poo

One interesting bit of research involves a somewhat closed system that uses a fish tank with live fish, and circulating the water from the aquarium into neighboring plant beds.  The nutrients (poo) from the aquarium become plant food and the clear water is pumped back tot he aquarium.

Fog Desert
The desert biome under the glass never worked quite right, because the glass overhead dripped too much condensation.  The desert was re-designated a "fog desert" because of this.  I noticed all the familiar Sonoran cacti and shrubs seemed very happy here.

From the desert, the tour group descended into the basement below the vivarium where some of the magic happens.

Ventilation and water handling equipment

There is a basement under the ground floor of the dome that houses the air handling and water management systems that help the enclosed systems work.  Down here water is collected and redistributed, and air of different temperatures are mixed as needed and re-distributed.  Bioshpere2 always produced more clean water that was needed- much of the excess was stored here in large tanks.

Although the Biosphere was a completely sealed system, it was not energy neutral.  The original plan was for the Biosphere to have solar panels to cover all its energy needs, but cost over-runs rendered that idea unworkable.  Electricity from the grid runs all this equipment.

Olla watering system

One very neat idea that I will be taking with me from my visit here is the concept of Olla  watering for plants.  (pronounced oh-yah)
Our guides showed us these plants growing in plastic 55 gallon drums.  The plants get all their water from the olla that is partially submerged in the soil.  An olla is an unglazed terracotta pot with a small opening at the top.  Water added to the pot has almost no evaporation, but is readily available to the roots of your intended plants.  The plants get all the water they need an very little is wasted.
The olla shown here is simply two flower pots glued together and the hole in the bottom pot is sealed shut- the top hole has a temporary cover (a rock).

More than you ever wanted to know.  😏

Your Traveling Friends

Jeff and Joan

Saturday, December 29, 2018

More to see in Tucson

Making the most out of our stay in Tucson we have plans to see the “Dove of the Desert “ today

Mission San Xavier del Bac is an historic Catholic Church dating back to 1797, when southern Arizona was still part of New Spain. It is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona.

Amazingly, the church still has its original statuary, murals, and paintings!

From the mission it was only a short drive to the Tucson Mountain Park and it’s neighbor the Saguaro National Park.
Tucson Mountain Park and Saguaro National Park just west of Tucson
Unbelievably, this 20,000 acre park is just on the western edge of downtown Tucson.  It is one of the largest natural resource areas owned and managed by a municipal government. 

West Gates Pass Road
We had a beautiful day to explore the park.  We drove through the middle of the park on Gates Pass Road which takes you up and over the Tucson Mountains.  There a lots of turnouts and parking areas along the route, which allowed us to get out and explore our surroundings.  The broken cloud cover played shadows and light over the ridges and peaks.

Visitors Center, Saguaro National Park West
We chose to go to the visitors center in the neighboring Saguaro National Park knowing that it would most likely be closed due to the government shut down and it was.  The trails and viewing areas around the exterior of the visitors center were still accessible and it was well worth the trip.  The Sonoran Desert never fails to impress.  This has been a wet Fall, and the desert is unusually green and lush.   After our stop, we continued on the gravel roads north along the west side of the park, turning back east towards Tucson on Pictured Rocks Road, and back into the city.

Hotel Congress main entrance
For Christmas day we had plans to go to dinner with our friends Marla and Kermit.  We chose to go to the Hotel Congress  in downtown.

Telephone switchboard from the early 1900s
Phone booth, now a relic of years gone by

Through the years the old hotel survived fires and remodeling, and ownership changes, It is an eclectic mix of all the years.  Just some of the artifacts that I was delighted to see were the old hotel switchboards and of course, the phone booths in the lobby, now retrofit with modern day pay phones.

Joan and me at the Cup Cafe in the Hotel Congress
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The Hotel's Cup Cafe served up a wonderful Christmas dinner for the four of us, and we went home with a big piece of double chocolate cake!

After Christmas Kermit and I want to check out Biosphere 2 in the town of Oracle, just north of here.  This will be my second visit and Kermit's first.  Stay tuned!

Merry Christmas!

Your Traveling Friends

Jeff and Joan

Fixing our Splendide 2100xc

Today's blog is a technical one, so If you aren't interested in the inner workings of a Splendide 2100xc washer/ dryer combo, please fast forward to my next blog.

Splendide 2100XC in our motorhome
For quite some time we have been noticing a degradation in the performance of the dryer portion of our combination washer/dryer.  Joan found a website that had a possible solution for this.  The poster explained that in these combination units where the washer is also the dryer, there is no traditional lint trap that you can pull out and clean.  Instead what is supposed to happen is lint is washed away and goes down the drain with the wash water.
We have taken to washing our clothes and hanging them to dry either outside or inside, depending on the weather.  Some RV parks will not allow outside clothes drying, so that means on a good day, opening all the windows and hanging clothes inside.  The dryer used to work fairly well- it was never real efficient, but we'd like to have the option for machine drying again.  

The first fix we read about recommended that we clean out the pump housing and make sure it was not plugged by coins, gravel, or lint.
To do this you have to remove the bottom front panel which exposes a cap that unscrews, exposing the impeller area of the pump.

Once you unscrew the cap be ready with towels or a bowl to catch the moderate amount of water that will flow out.  The pump chamber can be easily cleaned with a finger or paper towel- ours had no foreign objects and only a small amount of lint.

The fix we read about was to:
1.  Start the unit without clothes and with the dry time set to off and cycle #11 selected on the multifunction knob.  When the water stops entering the drum, push and hold the Start button until all the lights on the panel come on, then release the button
2.  Move the cycle knob to cycle #2, push the extra rinse button once (do not hold down), allow the washer to complete that whole wash cycle. (About 90 minutes)
3.  Do this three times before trying the dryer.  If the dryer works, do this process once a month (one cycle only- not three as above)

We did this without any noticeable improvement.  Note:  I'm not saying it didn't work, only that it didn't solve the entire problem for us.  I held my hand in front of the dryer vent on the outside of the RV and there was almost no air flow.

Removing the hose coupling flange
Next step was to get pull the dryer out to where I could get to the exhaust hose and connections.
Wall cut-out with snap in cover plate


Lucky for me It wasn't too hard because I cut an inspection hole in the wall when we installed it.  All I had to do was remove the snap-in cover and uncouple the vent hose from the wall connection

Once out, I ran the dryer for a minute to see what kind of air flow I was getting- (none)

Using a stiff wire to dig out lint
The dryer air outlet is a tight S shape.  The duct exits the drum at one level and goes into an immediate 90 degree bend, then straight up, then another 90 degree bend and straight out.  I took off the outside coupling ring with two screws, but still could not get my hand into the S-bend duct.

I made a wire tool to dig out lint and was only moderately successful.  The lint near the top came out quickly, but the lint in the bottom bend was wet and clumped tightly together, and didn't want to move

Using a flexible grabber tool to grab lint out of elbow
A flexible grabber tool, the kind that has the retracting wire fingers was the right tool for getting the lint stuck in the bottom elbow.  Big clumps at first, then smaller clumps as I was able to break it up.  The lint was wet, picking up moisture from our last dryer run, and wanted to stick to the plastic S bend

Using a bottle brush to sweep out any remaining lint

I finished up with a cylindrical brush that I bent to match the bend in the ducting.  I would sweep the sides and bottom of the elbow and attempt to get the residual lint stuck in the bristles of the brush.

A sample of the lint removed from dryer S bend
All together I ended up with quite a handful of lint.  Lint had almost completely blocked the first elbow coming out of the drum.  Some lint stuck to other parts of the S bend and flex hose but the real problem was the very first bend.

Once I reassembled the dryer and slid it back into it's cabinet, we had a chance to run it in "dryer" mode and we had significant air flow to the outside!
Doing a load of laundry was further proof that the problem was solved for now.
Hope this helps someone else get their dryer back on line.

Your Traveling Friends

Jeff and Joan 

Tantalizing Tucson

Odometer 64383

Trip 13 miles

Main entrance to the DBG
Joan and I moved the bus further into Tucson, and checked into the South Forty RV Ranch.  Our stay at Catalina State Park was delightful, but due to the high demand for sites, we could only wrangle 4 nights at this incredible park.   The up-side of this move is that it puts us closer to the action of downtown Tucson, and we are planning on museum visits, and downtown excursions.

Ironically, our first exploration was to visit the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix!  I know, we just left there, but our friends Marla and Kermit were willing to do the drive and they have a very comfortable touring car.

Desert Botanical Gardens is for those who think the desert is nothing but dirt and tumbleweeds.  They have showcased thousands of species of cactus, trees, shrubs and flowers on a 55 acre site.

There are 5 main loop trails with several sub-trails all with a theme.   All in all, I would estimate about 2 miles, of really beautiful scenery!

A very necessary trail map comes with your admission.  It is keyed with signs and colors to the trail system

We checked out the Wild Flower Loop and then joined up at the main Discovery Loop and dropped off the trail at the Patio Cafe where we took time out for some hot coffee and brownies!
Desert Botanical Gardens
Wildflower Pavilion on the Desert Wildflower loop
There is nothing here that wouldn't grow just fine in the surrounding desert, but the placement and arrangement, make these gardens spectacular.

Boxed tree for transplant
Steel plant storage box used by developers

I took the photo shown on the right, because there is a cool story behind this set-up.  In 1980 there was a movement by several municipalities to ban the practice of dozing the plants off the desert before building.  Phil Hebets saw an opportunity and designed these steel skips for builders to use to excavate and store the native plants for re-planting when the landscaping is ready.  

Since desert plants grow so slowly, this is also a very intelligent way to save mature trees, cacti and shrubs for your new homesite.

Image result for transplanting saguaro cacti
Photo courtesy of NPS

While it is illegal to remove plants from public land in the desert, there are many plant nurseries in and around Tucson, and Phoenix that grow and sell just about any desert plant you may want.  Many ranchers supplement their income by selling plants- including very tall saguaros. 

Surprisingly very little of the root is necessary for a successful transplant, however, the plant must be stabilized until new roots have grown. 

Desert Botanical Gardens
Garden path with luminary ready for a night time show
There is a night show here called the Electric Desert, but we weren't going to stay til dark to see it.  Someone else will have to blog on the lights and music.  I liked this place because they had signs that let you know what genus and specie each plant was.  The genus name for prickly pear is "Opuntia" -(Oh-punch-ya) if that doesn't say keep away what does?

Now for something a little closer to home, we decided to visit the Arizona State Museum on the University of Arizona campus.

Joan enjoys the ancient pottery on display at the Arizona State Museum in Tucson

The room pictured above is filled with what I thought were some incredibly beautiful pots both contemporary and ancient, but as I worked my way to the back of the room, I saw the entrance to another room that was a climate controlled "vault" for the oldest and most valuable finds.  The vault was off limits to any but authorized researchers- and even though I showed them my Bi-Mart card I couldn't get them to let me in.

This pot caught my eye.  It is what archaeologists think is a seed jar dated to the years 50- 500 CE (around one thousand five hundred years old) and is from here in the Tucson Basin!

Another big surprise for me was the revelation that a wooly mammoth from the Pleistocene era was found near Naco, Arizona south of here.  A local rancher noticed the tips of the tusks sticking out of a wash, and called archaeologists from the University of Arizona

Another surprise awaited the team as they excavated the carcass, they found not one, but two spear points nestled in the ribs!  Our ancestors from 13,000 years ago, had hunted and killed this mammoth!

No blog post would be finished without a beautiful sunset.

Your Traveling Friends

Jeff and Joan

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Exploring Tucson

Odometer- resting

0 Miles

We met our friends Marla and Kermit, fellow Oregonians, who are vacationing here in southern Arizona for a late brunch before we all headed out to see the botanical park and cultural museum at Tohono Chul.

Shady walk ways at Tohono Chul  Botanical Gardens and Galleries in Tucson, AZ
Tohono Chul is the former estate of Dick and Jean Wilson, now deeded over to a non-profit foundation and open to the public for a small fee.  The name translates into "desert corner" from the Tohono O'odham language.  The park is 49 acres and includes buildings and gardens all intertwined with a network of walking paths.

One of the greenhouses supporting Tohono Chul- plants here can be purchased in the gift shop

Outdoor exhibit at the Tucson Museum of Art in downtown Tucson

Next we visited the Tucson Museum of Art (TMA) in the Presidio District of  old downtown Tucson.  The building completed in 1975, is constructed as a series of very wide ramps that wind down from  the top floor.  An elevator ride takes you to the top floor, and one only has to amble down these spiraling ramps to get back to the main floor.

A George Phippen Bronze
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        One artist represented, was George Phippen a close friend of Joan's father.  George and Chet met in the Army during WWII and were friends for life.  George loved western themes, and his talents were not limited to sculpture.  Many of the letters he sent to the Austin family included drawings and paintings on the envelopes and margins of the pages.  Those letters were donated to the Phippen Museum in Prescott, AZ after Chet's death.
Joan begins walking the Romero Ruins Trail in Catalina State Park

We are spending a lot of time sight seeing all over Tucson, but when we get back home, we find some time to hike the trails near our RV park- we are, after all, staying in a state park!

Late afternoon sun lights up this massive saguaro cactus
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          One short trail that starts across the wash from us is called the Romero Ruins Interpretive Trail.  This trail heads up a steep ridge to an area of historical and archaeological significance.  This is the site of Francisco Romero's ranch built in the 1850s.  It is also the site of an older village dating back to A.D. 500.  The natives of that time built "pit houses".  So called because they started by digging out a shallow pit, before erecting a pole and brush roof which was then covered with mud to make it water resistant.

The Romero Ruins is an archaeological site of some significance, but has been compromised by "pot hunters"

Nothing remains of a typical pit home today, however the ball courts and signature trash mounds are evidence that a village once existed here.   The construction we saw was that of later occupants that used the native rock and a mud/ clay mortar to build more permanent structures.

The reconstruction shown above, is what archaeologists believe later dwellings may have looked like, with the addition of wood for a roof.  
Further into the site signs pointed to a dished out area that is believed to have been an ancient ball court  (more than 2,000 yrs old) where teams played for sport and recreation.  The rubber balls used in these games may have been made from the guayule plant native to the Mexican desert south of here.  One such ball was found by a rancher excavating near the Gila River.  The ball was preserved in a olla, an early terracotta like pot.

Tomorrow we leave Catalina State Park, and head into the city to take our new residence at South Forty RV on Orange Grove Road.  

Your Travelling Friends,

Jeff and Joan

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Phoenix to Tucson

Odometer 64370
Trip 165 miles

New River, AZ to Catalina State Park (near Tucson)

This Saturday night turned out to be pretty special.  Friends were getting together for a Christmas event.  Six Model T driving couples were invited to take an after dark tour of several exclusive neighborhoods to view the Christmas lighting in each.  These normally gated communities had decided to open the gates to light peepers for one evening only.  

We conspired to tour these communities in our dressed for the occasion Model Ts.  All of us festooned our cars with strings of colored lights and under cover of darkness we took off in a caravan.

Joan and I had a blast.  The night was clear and cool, so we were dressed in puffy coats, wool caps and gloves.  After the tour we met at friends house for hot toddys and finger food- what a night.  Thank you Dick and Helen!

Sunday morning we carpooled over to Dick and Helen's house to retreive the Ts, and drove them back home in the daylight.  That set our departure of until about 11 AM but it was sure worth it !

 Our route for today is rather circuitous because we want to search out a station where we can refill our empty propane tank- and Sunday isn't the best day to do this.  We chewed through all of our 30 gallons on propane on the trip down and during our 3 week stay in New River at our friends house. The first station we stopped at in Anthem wanted $4 a gallon, three said they didn't have anyone that could pump it for us, and finally the Flying J Station in Eloy filled us up at $3.29 a gallon a savings of $21.30 on the tankful.  Frustrating at the very least.  
I wanted to take AZ 79 down from Florence - however we HAD to get propane and there were no prospects in that direction, so I-10 it was.

  Our destination for today is Catalina State Park, just north of Tucson, with Amazing views of the Santa Catalina Mountains.  The Google estimate of 3 hours, stretched into a 5 hour drive for us with our hunt for propane and a half hour lunch stop in a rest area on I-10.  Finally by 4PM we were in our space and looking at the view shown below...

Push Ridge,  a spectacular granite cliff rises high above the RV park. 

Armed with the new SkyCatcher app on my iPad, I felt very confident I could get sat TV hooked up quickly and efficiently.

Joan dutifully monitored the Dish pointing screen on the TV- but I could never get it aimed correctly, although we tried valiantly for a couple hours-  We need Mark and his satellite finder.  Not sure where I was going wrong.  I guess when we get to Ajo, we can get Mark to give us some instruction.  I ended up taking the dish and tripod down and stowing it so we could move tomorrow to our next RV park, the South Forty RV Ranch.  When we were reserving space, we could only get 4 nights here in Catalina, that's all that was available.

After doing our best to set up the Dish antenna, we took a long walk through this campground and one adjacent to us.  We hike a short distance up the ridge behind the park and were rewarded with this beautiful vista.

More on exploring Tucson- stay tuned!

Your Traveling Friends

Jeff and Joan