There are good reasons to visit Tucson but none more so for me than it being home to the Pima Air and Space Museum – the only airplane boneyard tourists (like us) can get anywhere near. That’s how our map pin ended up in Barrio Viejo as a two-night stopover.
We found a cool little motel called the Downtown Clifton. It had featured in the Guardian in one of those hipster guides about this desert city. I’m not a Guardian reader normally but thankfully I managed to reach enough to the left for this one. It has been given a trendy makeover in recent times, but retains lots of Americana charm. It’s spotless clean too.
There’s something very ‘road trip’ about being holed up in a motel room with your car parked right in front and walking down to the front office for a coffee… Bates Motel without the murdering weirdo.
Eating and drinking
Breakfast and coffees
Downtown Clifton gave us a couple of vouchers for breakfast at Five Points Market and Restaurant, so that’s where we went. I think we’d of ended up there anyway as it’s a good place. Part deli, part restaurant, part coffee shop
Penca. So good we ate here twice. Tacos, and stuff that goes well with tacos, excellent cocktails, and parking right outside (although I doubt this place is more than a 10-minute walk from our hotel). It was the furthest we ventured into the ‘city’ of Tucson. The staff here recommended a dead good bar too.
The Owls Club. An old funeral home, bought back from the dead to serve up hard liquor. All they seem to have done is flip the sign over and move in the booze.
I like dark bars with rooms and corners to hide in and this one is just that. It is a proper drinker’s bar, our bartender, an EMO leftover, served us cocktails stiffer than a corpse with riga mortis. Perfect.
Pima Air and Space Museum
Lots of old planes, old Airforce Ones, fighter jets, prototypes, Cessnas to supersonics.
Louise Timken of Ohio
Going around museums reading about exhibits there are always ones which stand out. Inside the main hall is a huge Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, which looks like a spaceship and still holds the record for being the fastest manned air breathing aircraft. This wasn’t the one that stood out. Walking over to a red and white Learjet built in 1964, there was a plinth explaining how it had been bought new by Henry and Louise Timken of Ohio and flown by them both taking turns as pilot and co-pilot. Louise was the first woman to qualify for a type rating in a Learjet. In 1992 Louise flew it one last time, donating to as a permanent display at Pima. She was 83. After landing it in Tucson she apparently said “It’s time we both had a rest”.
There is such a lot here and it covers a massive site. What captured my interest was the boneyard – row after row of redundant military kit, probably being saved ‘just in case’. In the United States this is the closest you’ll get to one of these airplane boneyards as it’s the only one allowing (limited) public access. I’m not even sure if any other country has anything like this, on this scale? The dry climate of the Arizona desert is the ideal storage location.
Russia must have a few with older technology and rust! Coming here would have been a tick on my bucket list if I had one.
Butting up against downtown Tucson is an area called Barrio Viejo. This is old Tucson. Adobe houses, bright colours, a wishing shrine, cantinas, art. It’s all here.
This is a neighbourhood on the up at some pace, it is a nice mix between those who have been here many years and the creative types who are moving in and flipping whatever they can get back to former glory. Some bringing with them retro whips.
Classic cars are a very personal thing, the 993 is a classic to me but to others far too modern. While out of the car photographing a fine VW Beetle with the Porsche parked behind it, one of the lucky residents of this place came over and shared some appreciation for the newer evolution, his opening line “Very cool car, man”. I should move here as I’ve finally found somewhere I fit in! Old Mercs, old Beemers. No doubt I will be on eBay when I return to London.
Saguaro National Park
We’ve seen a lot of national parks on this trip, so when we asked our new friend from Penca (who had turned up while we drank in the Owls Club) where we should go, I was disappointed when he shot back “Saguaro National Park”. Being a veteran of a few US national parks now, I’ve learnt to go late. When everyone else has done sightseeing and headed home for tea, that’s when to hit them.
They are quiet which is great for car drivers who enjoy twisty roads, and as the sun drops the light adds maximum drama. I’m glad we made the effort to come as it was out-of-this-world good. The cacti are huge, majestic specimens straight out of every cowboy movie ever made. I was ready for this park, for the first time I ventured from the path less trodden in something other than a pair of Havaianas. Less likely to be bitten by ants or scorpions. Rattlesnakes remain an issue.
The passes cutting through Saguaro are excellent when you get an unimpeded run, which we did. The size of the Porsche an advantage on these roads, as I suspect is being an Englishman given we’re used to narrow, twisting B-roads – sections here are reminiscent of them. Flicking up and down through the lower half of the gearbox, the engine and exhaust barked like an angry animal. Pushing a car I know so well, though this landscape is an immeasurable reward for bringing it all the way from home.
Getting out to take it all in, explore and take pictures, I looked back to see my own 993, with its British number plates parked among the cactuses symbolic of the American wild west, the moon on one side and sun setting the other – it was almost surreal. More please.