The first thing that hits you when you get to Tucson is the heat. Summer starts early. I visited the second week of May. The pilot announced as we landed that the temperature was 99 degrees. The car radio said it was 102. The next morning the forecast was for 104. It’s undeniably hot. But it doesn’t feel as hot as my hometown, Dallas, at the same temperature because it is extremely dry.
Don’t let the heat outside fool you, though. Many, if not most, public places in Tucson are heavily air conditioned, to the point that you will probably need a jacket or sweater. Going from the heat to frigid cool may be hard to get used to.
A couple of hundred miles outside Tucson, as the plane flight to Tucson began its descent, you could see miles and miles of brown, arid landscape. We’re in the high desert. Although it has a certain charm, it’s not appealing to everyone. It’s basically devoid of color, except for a tinge of pink or red when the clay soil reflects off the hovering clouds.
On the ground, the vegetation is mostly cactus and prickly shrubs. Public places have basically given up trying to maintain lawns. Instead, brown colored rocks the size of mulch cover spaces where grass would grow in milder climates.
This landscape is the perfect place for the Pima Air & Space Museum, the country’s largest private collection of airplanes and aerospace relics. Here you can find an example of almost every plane ever made. A popular part of the experience is seeing the 2,600 acre “Boneyard,” not open on Saturday, and available by reservation only online in advance. It’s where the local air force base sends its old planes for their final resting place. The museum runs tours for this government facility. As far as the eye can see, planes that have helped defend the U.S. in years past bake in the desert sun.
Never mind if you can’t see the Boneyard, there is so much more to see at this museum itself that it’s not possible to see it all in a day. You enter the museum at “Hanger 1” where a huge number of planes are on display under one large air-conditioned facility, many hanging from the roof. The museum is staffed by volunteer pilots who flew some of the planes on display, which helps bring the history to life. I particularly liked the tiny planes and helicopters on display.
The museum is likely to be of particular interest to World War II veterans. In four other hangers, planes from the war are on display along with great historical perspectives of the war, both written and in video interviews.
The 390th Memorial Museum, which takes up its own hanger, tells the story of the way the European war was won, through bombardment groups, specifically the 390th Bombardment Group. This hanger of the museum contains a post-combat B-17, the flagship fighting plane used throughout Europe, but it details the stories of the soldiers.
The focus of Hangar 3 is the planes used in the European front, with a B-24 as its main attraction. Hangers 4 and 5 are devoted to the planes used in the Pacific front, with the B-29 being the main attraction in Hanger 4 and the B-25 and Avenger in Hanger 5.
Another hanger is devoted to the space program. But I ran out of time to see it. I do recommend taking the 45-minute, additional fee required, guided tram tour of the planes not in hangers but scattered on the 82 acres of flat, cleared dirt-covered land around them. These tours are led by a pilot who flew some of the planes on tour.
You can tour the Pima Air & Space Museum on a long stopover in Tucson as it is located only about 10 minutes from the Tucson airport.
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