Friday morning I said my goodbye’s and got back on the road, this time toward Phoenix. Navigation was quite simple as the GPS directed me to I-10 and told me my next turn was in over 300 miles.
The countryside was New Mexico flat until about 9:20, when I reached the Arizona border and then it became Arizona lumpy. There wasn’t much in the way of traffic at that time of day, especially for an interstate highway.
Prior to Arizona there was a stop in New Mexico on the highway by the boarder patrol. It was a little disconcerting because, for a second, I wondered if the GPS had routed me into Mexico or something. The officer told me that it was an interior check point. Hmmm, okay.
All this driving gives me a chance to reflect on life as well as the countryside around me. I would find out later in the day that a favorite aunt expired while I was on the road. I am glad to say I was thinking about her a lot that day. Her death was not a surprise as she had been dealing with cancer for a couple of years. A month ago I had flown up to spend time with her when she was going through an especially tough time. I am glad that I did.
Every year, at the end of the summer, I would travel up to Cape Cod visit her and she and I would trade emails often. When I was a youngster she lived in the same village on the Cape that I was growing up in.
The relationship I had with my aunt was very special to me and also very helpful to me as I grew up into a future that is mysterious as any future is. She was a year or so older than my father, but she was always very young at heart. She was someone I could go to and talk to and never have to worry that those contents of my conversation would ever spill over to my parents. That was important.
Your parents do their best to provide you what they think you need in the way of values, shelter, education, discipline, etc., so that you will be prepared for being on your own. But the circumstances of their role as parents always force them to do so in the context of being a parent. Advice often came in the form of a requirement.
With my aunt, I could talk about subjects and never be concerned that she would adopt a parental role. This was important when I knew I needed advice, but not a lecture. I could share my dilemma and she would provide her frank opinion. She had plenty of life experience to know that there were plenty of things that were not just black and white in terms of answers. She also was realistic to understand that experimentation, and all the risks it carried, was part of learning.
She would listen and smile, roll her eyes and tell you that you were a dammed fool or she might burst out with a laugh as she recognized a moment of your life that was similar to her own explorations. I will miss her.
The morning had started out cool enough for me to drive for almost three hours with the windows open. The wind buffeting the interior of the car and bring with it the smells of the land that rolled by. It also allowed more sound to accompany the ride. The heat built up quickly and so the windows were rolled up and the air conditioning provided relief.
I have brought a bunch of CD’s that I had put together with a mix of artists that I enjoy. John Prine, Louis Prima, 10cc, Bonzo Dog Band, to name but a few. I haven’t listened to them much on this trip, but with the hundreds of miles of the interstate to face with the windows up it was time.
The road was almost empty at times and the posted speed limit was 75. With the windows up I almost doubled that a couple of times just to let the Evolution stretch its legs a bit. Most of the time, though, I kept to something much closer to the speed limit.
Driving on the interstate highway out here is such a contrast to driving on an interstate in the north east where the speed limits are ridiculously low and eighty percent of the drivers are exceeding it by twenty miles per hour.
You cannot drive all these miles without recognizing the road kill on the margins of the road and some times in the road itself.
In the northeast skunks and toads were common this time of year and deer in the fall as they tried to migrate. The smell of a skunk on the road could stay with your car for miles.
Somewhere below Virginia possum would replace the skunk. You knew you had really traveled south when armadillo became more common than the possum.
But north, south, east, or west there was always the dreaded black road ‘gators. These are the tread sections that unwrap themselves from the casings of truck tires that explode. If you are lucky they will be on the side of the road and off the travel lanes. If you are not you have seconds to decide if you can swerve or if you might have enough ground clearance to get over it with its strands of steel belting ready to slice into your bumper cover.
Pima Air Museum
Someone suggested that maybe I need to start calling this Jim’s Garage and Hangar. Maybe so.
One of the people I met in Las Cruses that has a car collection recommended that since I was passing Tucson on my way to Phoenix I should take some time and visit the Pima Air Museum. It has eighty four acres of aircraft outside with many classic planes under cover of hangars.
So who out there knows where the term “hangar” came from? I’ve been told that the early sheds that airplanes were stored in or worked on were called barns, but it was the zeppelins that used the term “hangar” for their buildings and it later was adopted to mean a building where any aircraft was stored or worked on.
I am glad that I spent some time at Pima as it has a huge collection and a great facility. Probably the star of the collection, for me at least, is the SR71 Blackbird spy plane. It has just been added to the display in a new section. There are other SR71’s on display around the country but this is the only one that you can walk up to and touch.
It is an amazing piece of technology that Lockheed’s Kelly Johnson was the driving force behind. Kelly started his career with Lockheed in the late 1930’s and the first plane he designed was the P38 Lightning. Later he created the Skunk Works that produced many amazing aircraft in secret.
One of the truly special parts about the Pima Air Museum is that there are knowledgeable guides in every hangar ready and willing to help you with questions and trivia about any aircraft on display.
One interesting fact on the SR71 was that it was built primarily from titanium. The trouble was that there was only one source for titanium in the US at the time and they didn’t have enough production capacity to meet the needs of the SR71 project. It was found that the largest supplier of titanium was the Soviet Union. So a dummy company was set up to obtain the titanium from the Soviet Union under the pretext that is was being used in the manufacture or pots and pans.
The SR71 was designed in the early sixties, but still holds records on altitude and speed. It true capabilities are still secret. It is an amazing plane. It could travel at at least three times the speed of sound and fly well over eighty thousand feet high. At those speeds the skin of the plane got very hot due to friction in the thin air. It used the fuel as a coolant of the skin prior to buring it and the heat would cause it to grow substancially in length and width.
I asked one of the guides how they kept the tires from being affected by the heat of flying as well as the abuse of landing at very high speeds. He told me that the tires could last about 10-15 landings and that they were filled with nitrogen gas.
Here are some photos from the museum, but please keep in mind that they are only a very small fraction of what is available to see there.