12 September, 2012

Dazed In Arizona

It was in May, of 1996, and we were in Tucson, of Arizona. I'm not much of a bird watcher, but it was only two days after I had added Geococcyx californianus to my Life List. That would be the Greater Roadrunner, and given what I was about to experience, it was just so appropriate that it belongs to one of the 30+ genera of the cuckoo family - the fastest, of course, reaching speeds of nearly 20 miles per houa when chasing prey.

My friend said it was surreal, and he was correct. It was, in fact, one of those kinds of moments you live for but can't imagine would ever actually happen. In fact, in this case no one would have ever imagined it. Period.

I was in town with my wife and two daughters because the elder daughter was competing in the International Science and Engineering Fair. With us was another couple from our area with whom we were friends and whose daughter was also competing. We were excited about the competition, but we were also determined to see all that we could in the area.

We drove up Kitt Peak to see the collection of telescopes at the National Observatory - especially the impressive McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope.

We visited Old Tucson Studios where many television episodes and over 70 movies have been filmed since 1939, including Rio Bravo with John Wayne.

We made a quick stop to see the University of Arizona.

We went horseback riding among the cacti in Saguaro National Park, and we even went underground into the dry caverns of Colossal Cave Mountain Park.

But nooooooo. None of those were surreal. My memory is getting dim, but I think it might have been the last evening of the competition. They threw a party for us at the Biosphere 2 complex.

Biosphere 2 is a 3.15-acre structure constructed between 1987 and 1991 as an artificial, materially-closed ecological system. It was used to explore the complex web of interactions within life systems in a structure that included areas based on five different natural biomes, an agricultural area, and a human living/working space. In September of 1991, four men and four women were sealed in for two years. A second team - and the last - entered a few years later.

And there we sat. We had completed our tour of the facility, and the party was in full swing. My friend - the other father - looked at me and said, "You know, if you had ever looked at me and said that one day we would be sitting on the lawn (see above) of the Biosphere, with over 1500 adolescents, eating hot dogs and hamburgers paid for by Intel and listening to a rock band belt out some golden oldies, I would have had to suggest we take a serious look at adjusting your medications."

He was right. Who would have thought it? And who would have thought things would someday get even crazier in Arizona.