A bit about us...

We are a modern family of three, living on less than two acres with a 3,000 square foot garden that meets our produce needs and allows us to share with friends and neighbors. Our laying flock of chickens seems to expand each year as we raise chicks each Spring to replace older hens. This blog is more of a journal, if you will, for us to chronicle and share our experiences in the yard, garden and kitchen. It is our hope that along the way a few folks might learn something, be entertained, or simply enjoy sharing in our stories and the lessons we learn on a daily basis. I named the blog after the times when I am the happiest, when I am elbow deep in earth.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Arizona - Pleasure - A Trip to Biosphere 2

August 17, 2012

I let myself sleep in a bit, had a filling breakfast and decided to head to Biosphere 2 to do a little learning and exploration. It was monsoon season in Arizona, so the day was hazy and a little rainy, but it was still a great drive. I just never tire of the scenery there.

As I made my way to the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains to see the Biosphere, I stopped for a few shots of one of my favorite memories of Arizona, grazing open range cattle.

Right next to the road, were these large specimens grazing among the mesquite trees. I sat along the road for a long time just watching them make their way between the trees, happily munching as they went.

They were so beautiful. Beef is a major commodity in Arizona, so there are tons of areas where cattle graze in huge open ranges.  It's something that I really haven't seen in many other places.

I apparently sat there too long, since a gentleman stopped to see if I was okay. He had been coming up the road and saw my car stopped. He was concerned for me. I hadn't thought about how it might look, me sitting there by myself with my flashers on along side the road in the middle of the desert. :-)  I assured him that I was fine, just playing tourist a little.

When I arrived at Biosphere 2, I entered the visitor's center and paid my fee. They told me I should begin my walk, that it would take about ten minutes to walk to the Biosphere and my tour would start in about twenty. What a great walk it was! There was this sweet little village of buildings, great landscaping and educational markers to enjoy. It seemed like the walk could actually take a LOT longer than they estimate! There were locks on the doors of the little village buildings that looked a lot like a hotel, so I am guessing you can actually stay there, which I think would be pretty cool.

Once inside, I got a glimpse of what the lives of the scientists must have been like during their two years inside the dome. The information they provide during the tour helps connect what the contained life inside the dome was like with the current research that continues to go on today. For example, the rain forest biome is running daily tests that are being run concurrently in a rain forest in Brazil. They have identical devices running tests in both places, to compare results.

The ocean biome is mostly devoid of fish now, as it is unnecessary to maintain a stock of fish since no one is needing them for food anymore.... There are, however, a number of scientific experiments going on in the area.

For example, there is this thing, that looks like a raft floating in the salt water.  It doesn't look like much, but it is part of an important program to determine how different plastics breakdown with microbes over time to help develop more environmentally friendly plastic materials.

A little further learning taught me that this experimental program is actually being run by a University of Michigan professor! How cool is that? There I was, 2000 miles from home and the scientific excellence of our hometown university was at work before me!

The fog desert biome fascinated me. There were tons of super cool plantings here, but I included just a few of them here, for the sake of space.

Here is the papery bark of frankincense.

I sure wish I could remember the name of this cactus. Its shape is that of a saguaro, but it is a distant cousin.  Saguaros don't thrive like these in the more humid environment of a fog desert. Never heard of a fog desert? Neither had I. Here's what Wikipedia says.

I took gobs of pictures of the variety of cacti and their spines.  This is a close of up one of many types of cholla in the Biosphere.

Looking out at the rainy Santa Catalina Mountains from the walkway in the fog desert biome....

There were "caves" like this scattered throughout the whole complex. In this biome, our guide explained their presence, saying that this is the way they circulate air from the "technosphere" to regulate temperature and humidity. What is the technosphere?  We were going to see that soon.

There were platforms with barrels like these in every environment.  They are studying how different temperatures affect each type of plant. (So each set of barrels has the same selection of plants and lots of expensive sensors to test them).

Next, we headed underground to the technosphere. Our guide openly admitted that was a word that they made up so they didn't have to say we were touring the basement. Ha! These large hanging boxes were what was moving all the air out through those "caves" we saw.

The floors were all sloped so that condensing water can be captured and reused elsewhere.

We headed through this tunnel to see the "lung" that keeps the pressure inside the dome steady with changes in heat and the like.

Beneath the giant rubber lung and platform is a pool of water that must be kept at a minimum of 5 feet deep. In the event of some type of fire crisis, water is pumped from this reservoir into the sprinkler system to address the issue.

When we exited the lung building to the outside, the pressure difference was made clear. The air rushing into this door was amazing. It took genuine effort to fight the airflow to make our way outdoors.

These jelly-roll looking buildings are where the computer equipment that control the facility is housed. Our guide called it the "brains" of the Biosphere.

A look back at the outside of the fog desert biome.

A monsoon was headed our way, so we listened to the outdoor portion of the tour and moved along somewhat quickly to avoid getting caught in it. Well, most did. Myself and about 3 others lingered around to take pictures. (Shocking, right?)

Here's a look from the outside at what were originally the three agricultural areas of the dome. This is where the original crew grew the crops that sustained them.

This sweet little Prickly Pear caught my eye on the way back inside.

We were allowed to see the living quarters the crew utilized during their mission. This was the kitchen, as they used it. They grew herbs in a pot in the island and had modern conveniences such as a dishwasher and microwave as well.

Here is a glimpse of the new, developing LEO project that is now housed in the old agricultural zones. It is a 30+ year project to study the movement of water through soils and vegetation on hillsides. The guided tour concluded in this area, so I headed back outside between rain storms to head back to my car.

Looking back at the complex, it is quite impressive! It's hard for me to fathom the planning and funding it took to think of all the possible scenarios that occur in order to create a totally enclosed sustainable world.

On the way back to Tucson (I was just to the north), I took some more time to really enjoy the scenery and take some more pictures. The power of the water that flows through the desert during monsoon season is hard to imagine if you haven't witnessed it first hand. Here is a great example of how the rains cut into the landscape and the flora carries on. The prickly pear and grasses cling to the changing slope here despite the heavy flows of water they experience.

Just a neat shot I thought I would share:

Before I left the long winding road that led me to the Biosphere, I got a picture of the cattle guard near the entrance. I wish I had taken a picture with my shoe in it for scale. This grate is tough to walk on even with tennis shoes on (the slats are far apart), making it VERY difficult for cattle to cross, if not impossible.

These signs are everywhere in this part of Arizona, as there are huge expanses of open range for the cattle to graze.

Heading back into the city, I had to stop for a picture of this saguaro. If you look closely, you can see the holes a variety of birds make when they nest inside these majestic giants.

They don't get arms until they are 70-75 years old, so you can imagine how old this one is!
The low hanging clouds around the mountains really struck me.

Of course, I had to find a great local brewery to visit while I was in town, so I figured this would be a great evening for it. I put one into the GPS and headed that way. While sitting at a traffic light, I noticed this great door on a local building. I wish I had been able to find a place to park so I could get some better shots of it. It just struck me as photo worthy.

I pulled up outside the brewery and decided I was uncomfortable with the neighborhood it was in, and headed for a different one. The second, Nimbus, looked much safer for me to enter alone and so I parked and went inside.

There was a lot of neat artwork on the walls and even the ceiling. On the tables, they had their condiments in 6 packs that held their beers, like this one.

I ordered some appetizers and a flight of beers for sampling. A really nice local couple was sitting very near me, to my left, and we chatted during our meals. They seemed impressed that I ordered a sampler for myself and indicated that they had never thought of doing the same themselves. Nimbus had some great choices in brews and I would love to stop back sometime. Unfortunately, they did not have pints that I could buy and bring home for my souvenir, so maybe that is the excuse I need to get back sooner! :-)

After my meal, I headed over to Dad and Barbara's, where we had a lovely visit for a few hours. When I arrived, Barbara was napping, so my Dad and I spent some time catching up and reconnecting. We got some things aired that needed to be and really enjoyed our chance to chat. Barbara joined us after a while and it was a great evening of family time. I knew that I had a long day planned with a lot of driving the next day, so as we hugged goodbye for the night, I let them know that I would likely not see them the next evening, but that I really would like to take them to dinner on Sunday evening, if they were interested. Of course, they were delighted to accept the invitation, so we made the date!

I headed back to my hotel to clean up my room, relax a little and prepare for a day on the road on Saturday.

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