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27 Avril : Prescott et Jerome

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

Nous continuons à explorer les environs de Cottonwood (où nous avons trouvé un parc) aujourd’hui en prenant de la hauteur et en visitant Prescott et Jerome, deux villes historiques de la région.

Alors qu’hier, nous avions eu de bonnes surprises, aujourd’hui c’est un peu le contraire. Prescott, située à 60km et surtout dans une autre vallée nous obligeant à grimper à 2300m pour passer le col, est l’ancienne capitale de l’Arizona. Le centre ville est assez joli et surtout “Whiskey Lane” offre un assortiment de saloons typiques mais il est un peu trop tôt pour un whisky ou une bière. Nous faisons donc un petit tour rapide de la ville donc les bâtiments les plus anciens ont brûlé lors d’un incendie au début du siècle dernier, mais finalement repartons assez vite.

Nous souhaitons ensuite explorer la Forêt National de Prescott sur les sommets des montagnes. Nous allons à droite et à gauche mais toutes les routes menant aux endroits à visiter sont fermés. Bizarre… Peut être une restriction budgétaire.

De ce fait, nous descendons vers Jerome, une ancienne ville fantôme qui retrouve des couleurs avec le tourisme et apparemment le vin (il y a beaucoup de magasins de vin mais nous n’avons pas vu de vignes…). La ville créée au XIXème siècle à flan de montagne était une ville minière (cuivre) mais les mines ont fermé dans les années 50. Aujourd’hui, c’est une ville atypique aux USA avec des rues étroites, de petites maisons et quelques bâtiments historiques. Nous souhaitons visiter le principal musée / parc de la ville mais nous trouvons encore une fois porte close : fermé le mardi et mercredi. Pas de chance. Un peu fatigué, nous visitons le centre ville avec ces quelques magasins de souvenirs, artistes (on se demande vraiment comment tous ces galleries d’art et artistes peuvent survivre : il y en a tellement !) et restaurants puis regagnons le camping pour une après midi sans voiture : promenade le long de la rivière, blog et course à pied.

Demain, nous prenons la direction de Flagstaff sans oublier de nous arrêter auparavant à Sedona pour une petite marche dans ces paysages grandioses.

The Cold War and Desert Adventures (Tucson, Arizona)

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

April 21st-24th

Just south of Tucson, we stopped at the Titan 2 Missile Museum. I’m not a big fan of military history (Fabien is the one who’s very into space and airplanes) but I found the place fascinating and unsettling at the same time. The Titan 2 was the largest land-based missile ever used by the U.S. and was built in the 1960s in response to the former Soviet Union’s missile program. There were 54 Titan 2s in the US capable of being launched from underground with nuclear warheads. Thankfully none of them were ever used. All of the sites were destroyed except this one which was preserved as a museum and is now a national landmark.

Our guide, a retired Marine, was extremely knowledgeable about the program. After visiting the site above ground (which included the antennas for outside communication,) we went down into the control room and the silo where the missile was held. Our guide picked me to be the captain of the mission, and I got to press the controls that would launch a nuclear warhead. I didn’t get a rush of excitement from the experience. While the technology is fascinating, it’s still hard to comprehend that man has the knowledge to destroy the world. We took it all lightheartedly as and we were reminded of the frightening dangers during the Cold War.

From the museum, we crossed Tucson and headed towards Catalina State Park where we planned to camp. The park was about 15 miles northeast of Tucson, and we were expecting a small country road with few services. In fact, the road to get to the park was fully developed from the city until the entrance of the park with shopping centers, housing developments and traffic lights. Urban sprawl at its best! Once inside the park, however, we were isolated from the sights and sounds of the city. From the shady campground, we could admire the surrounding mountains.

We were still in a desert landscape- though we had left the Chihuahuan and entered the Sonoran Desert. The Sonoran Desert clearly has more precipitation, evidenced by the abundant vegetation. The Sonoran desert and Arizona are famous for the looming Saguaro Cactus. The cactus with its woody inner skeleton can grow to impressive heights. It buds “arms” at a certain age. Some of the cactuses have taken on human qualities…the Native Americans thought that they resembled human beings. In the Saguaro National Park (that has two parts on the east and west side of Tucson), we could see some of the cactuses in bloom. They make a small yellow flower, and then a fruit which natives use to make a syrup and wine for ceremonial purposes. There were also a lot of ocotillos in bloom, another type of cactus which produces a pretty purple/reddish flower. We saw the looming saguaros all over Tucson and later on the roads leading towards the north of the state.

Tucson’s historic center or “El Presidio” district was colorful, if not very lively. It has become a habit of ours to get a self-guided walking tour to explore the historic districts, so we went to the very colorful tourist office to pick up a guide. We started with the Spanish Colonial Style Pima County Courthouse before venturing into the Presidio, or the original Spanish fortifications which had a small exhibit on the history or Tucson’s inhabitants. Tucson was in Mexican territory until the 1880s when Arizona was annexed by the U.S. and today its Mexican influences live on. We wandered through some gorgeous galleries in the Telles Block (now called Old Town Artisans) where we sat in the shady courtyard and drank hibiscus lemonade. The heat was starting to take its toll on us. We also visited the newly restored railroad depot which has a historic steam locomotive on display. I gave Fab a good laugh when I told him that downtown Tucson was “neat”; apparently, I’ve run out of interesting ways to describe new places. That’s one of the unfortunate effects of traveling for a long period…things start to look the same.

Our third day in the Tucson area, the Saturday before Easter, we visited another unusual attraction, Biosphere 2. Biosphere 2, near Oracle, Arizona was originally as a hermetically sealed self-sustaining ecological system with the purpose of studying the possibilities of human habitation in space. It includes five biomes, a rainforest, an ocean with coral reef, mangrove wetlands, a savannah grassland and a fog desert. It also included an agricultural system, a human habitat and an underground “power” house. The first mission, with a crew of eight, ran from 1991 to 1993. The crew had to grow their own food and recycle their air, water and waste with no physical contact with the outside world. The project was eventually shut down and today Biosphere 2 is managed as a unique research laboratory by the University of Arizona. The research is heavily focused on environmental issues particular to the region, including water, soil erosion, and solar energy.

To continue with our “science geek” day, we went to a “Star Party” at the state park that evening. It was organized by the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Club. We were very impressed with their knowledge and passion for astronomy. Unfortunately, after what seems like weeks of cloudless days, the evening was relatively cloudy. One of the spectacular sightings from the evening though was Saturn. It was just at the right position that through a high-powered telescope, we could see its rings and two moons.

Easter Sunday, we woke up early like every other day to a cool, sunshiny morning. We had breakfast, packed up camp, and went for a last hike in the park to get our blood flowing before the drive to Phoenix.

26 Avril : petite boucle dans la vallée du Verde

Thursday, April 28th, 2011
Il est parfois difficile de savoir à quoi nous attendre. C'est le cas aujourd'hui : peu d'informations dans les guides ou difficile à interpréter. Nous commençons la journée par la visite d'un village préhistorique en ruine : Tuzigoot de la civilisation ... [Continue reading this entry]

25 Avril : poursuite vers le nord

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011
Nous démarrons la journée par la visite de Scottsdale : la ville hupée de Phoenix à priori célèbre dans le monde pour la qualité de ses golfs (en plein milieu du désert...). Le centre est joli, propre et rempli de ... [Continue reading this entry]

24 Avril : direction nord – Phoenix

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011
Avec le grand soleil habituel, nous démarrons par une petite randonnée dans le parc où nous nous trouvons juste à côté du mont qui domine Tucson : Mount Lemmo (2800 m sur lequel il y a même une piste de ... [Continue reading this entry]

23 Avril : overdose de désert

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011
Aujourd'hui, nous avons sans doute une petite overdose de désert et même s'il y a pas loin beaucoup de randonnées qui nous tendent les bras, nous optons pour un tout autre programme : visite de Biosphère 2, après midi relax ... [Continue reading this entry]

Chiricahua National Monument, Bisbee and Tombstone, Arizona

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011
April 20-21st We woke in Chiricahua refreshed after a cool and quiet (no wind) night of sleep. The Chiricahua Mountains are known to the native Chiricahua Apache as “Land of Standing Up Rocks.” The rock pinnacles that make these mountains famous ... [Continue reading this entry]

Arizona Bound

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011
April 19th Since we were awake so early in the morning after our night in White Sands, we had time to visit a few things in the area before driving to Bisbee, Arizona. Just up the road was the White Sands ... [Continue reading this entry]

22 Avril : encore un peu de désert

Sunday, April 24th, 2011
Après plusieurs semaines, nous sommes finalement sortis il y a quelques jours du désert de Chihuahua pour entrer dans le désert de Sonoran... Vous me direz : quelle est la différence? Eh bien, ce n'est pas tout à fait le ... [Continue reading this entry]

21 Avril : farwest et guerre froide

Sunday, April 24th, 2011
Depuis le début du voyage, nous alternons beaucoup les visites et les périodes historiques des Etats Unis. L'histoire américaine n'étant pas trop longue, je commence réellement à bien situé l'ensemble et notamment grâce aux musées qui sont toujours très bien ... [Continue reading this entry]