Sonora Desert bound
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  Posted November 14th, 2010 by Zdenko  in Travel | 12 comments

Off the Beaten Path in Tucson, Arizona

By: Zdenko Kahlina

IBM Briefing on Storage in Tucson
I recently returned from sunny Tucson (AZ) and boy what a site it was… I was there from Nov 6 – 9, 2010 and every day was sunny and 75-80 with first day getting up to 89 degrees… I have not seen that kind of weather in Alberta since summer…

In November 2010, AniSoft (IBM business partner) has scheduled a storage briefing for their customers in Tucson, Arizona. They invited their customers from western Canada, and I gladly accepted their invitation. The briefing was relevant to WCB needs in the near future and was based on the recent announcements from IBM.

I was happy to be there not only for the technology updates, but also to visit Tucson city for the first time and experience life in the Sonora desert even though only for few days.

IBM Tucson is the home for all storage hardware and software development, as well as a world–class, state–of–the–art Executive Briefing Center. It is located on the University of Arizona Science & Technology Park on the south east side of Tucson. The 15,000 square foot center is the single largest such facility in the State of Arizona. This facility is the focal point for all storage briefing engagements in the Americas.

The Briefing Center enables customers, systems integrators, IT consultants, independent software vendors and business partners to explore IBM System Storage™ offerings and IBM solutions that meet the needs of an on demand world, through comprehensive technology briefings, product demonstrations and solution workshops. The Briefing Center helps customers understand how IBM is redefining the IT operating environment and provides advice on the delivery of innovative technology and solutions to meet today’s business requirements.

The IBM also organized a tour of their Disk/Tape Lab facilities. I was very impressed with the size of their Lab and all the hardware they have there. It was amazing to see so many disk subsystems, number of CPUs including the latest IBM z196 processor, many different tape libraries…

Briefing room at IBM

The setup: they thought of everything

A visit to the IBM System Storage Executive Briefing Center in Tucson was an informative and rewarding experience. But let’s go back and describe my first visit to Tucson and Sonora desert from the beginning.

Tucson: Off the Beaten Path

Things are different in the desert. The sky is bigger. The stars are brighter. The sunsets stop you in your tracks. It’s a feeling that can’t be conjured, landscaped or kindled with twinkling bulbs. If you come to Tucson you’ll understand.

Panoramic view of Tucson from the plane

Flying into Tucson was without problems, except that in Phoenix I only had 20 minutes for transfer on my Tucson bound plane. But I made it, together with my luggage. The Tucson International Airport is O.K. just a little regional airport that looks like it has been around a while. Thrifty’s shuttle bus picked me up and 10 minutes later I was sitting in my rented “Malibu”, driving on Victoria Trail, towards East Broadway, where Anisoft had booked room for me in the Hilton hotel.

Hilton hotel on East Broadway

Tucson is a difficult town to tour  on foot, at least in the terms of using walking as a means of getting from one place to the other. The city sprawls along wide, four-lane roads that have no sidewalks. Public transportation is so rare that they point and stare when they finally see “today’s bus”. That’s why I was happy to have my own car.

People in Tucson are very friendly and have some great things to say, so be prepared for some long chats in the heat of the Arizona sun. Tucson is a laid back friendly town, do not pass it by. You will not be disappointed.

Hotels in Tucson are widespread and offer a range of accommodation in many central locations. Popular Tucson hotels can be found throughout the city’s downtown district, close to the Tucson Convention Center, around the University of Arizona campus, in Tucson’s Catalina Foothills area, and on the city’s eastern and western sides, up to the Tucson Mountains. Airport accommodation for business travelers is also available around the nearby Tucson International Airport.

Downtown Tucson

The sky is always blue in Tucson

Recently renovated Fox theatre in downtown Tucson

Tucson tourism is promoted by the city and the main tourist information center is the Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau along South Church Ave, at Broadway. Here you will find the latest Tucson tourist information, including a brochure about a downtown walking tour taking in over 40 sites, and general tourism information about all aspects of Tucson life. The main tourist areas of the city include Tucson’s Armory Park, Barrio Historico, downtown Arts, El Presidio Historic, Fourth Avenue and Foothills districts.

Tucson Visitor Centre

Colorful building in the Indian Village

Tucson offers many tourist attractions, including Old Tucson – a combined film set and theme park, used as a setting for numerous Hollywood movies; Tucson’s Flandrau Science Center and Planetarium – the ideal tourist attraction for astronomers, with a public telescope, interactive exhibits and general science information; Reid Park Zoo – housing a diverse collection of animals and activities for children; and the Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block – a large complex encompassing five historic homes.

Saint Augustine Cathedral in Tucson

A visit to the Sonara Dessert museum should be considered for the early morning as opposed to lunchtime as it can get very hot when you are walking around in this wonderful dessert environment. A very good place to go, if you would like to see the amazing goings on in dessert terrain. All sorts of dessert animals and plants are incorporated on this visit.

A trip to the Catilina Foothills Mall is also an enlightening experience as things are not as expensive as you think. A very nice shopping mall with bargains galore! A good place to eat on a small budget is Soup & Salads. You pay $5 and eat as much as you want. Fresh pasta, Salads and of course ice-cream are all very tasty and very good value for money. Both were amazing experiences due to the beautiful landscape and the lovely people I meet everywhere.

One of the old buildings in Tucson

Some of Tucson’s main museums and art galleries include Pima Air and Space Museum (PASM) – western America’s biggest museum of its kind, with over 250 aircraft; Tucson’s Arizona Sonora Desert Museum – containing a zoo and botanical gardens; Arizona Historical Society’s Museum – with historic information about southwestern America and northern Mexico; the International Wildlife Museum – offering wildlife information and many animal exhibits; Tucson Children’s Museum – housing an array of hands-on displays and educational information; Arizona State Museum (ASM) – one of the largest anthropology museums in the USA; the Tucson Museum of Art – the city’s premier art gallery, with exhibitions by international and local Tucson artists; and the University of Arizona Museum of Art – housing a comprehensive collection of American and European works of art. More information on Tucson Museums and Tucson Art Galleries.

Map of Saguaro National Park East

Saguaro cactuses are amazing

Tourist attractions located near Tucson include Sabino Canyon – known for its superb hiking trails and picturesque scenery; Madera Canyon – close to Tucson, with over 200 miles / 320 km of hiking trails and many excellent bird watching opportunities; Saguaro National Park East – to the east of Tucson, encompassing a vast of terrain, including the Rincon Mountains; Colossal Cave Mountain Park – the world’s biggest limestone grotto, containing many fantastic rock formations; Tombstone – a former silver mining town, standing around 70 miles / 112 km southeast of Tucson; and Saguaro National Park West – a busy parkland with many large saguaro cactus specimens. The Living Desert was very interesting, featuring plants and animal life of the Sonora Desert.

Entrance to Pima Air & Space Museum

The Pima Air & Space Museum is the 3rd largest museum of aircraft. I stopped there just before catching the plane that will take me back to Edmonton. One hour wasn’t nearly enough to see everything they have there.

The Pima Air and Space Museum is very well done. It is the largest privately operated air museum in the country. It seems a bit pricey to get in ($15.50), but there’s so much to see there. I especially enjoyed touring Air Force One, seeing the reconnaissance planes, and checking out the space discovery hangar. They run on no tax money, so it’s quite amazing what they’ve accomplished.

The Museum has a few unique aircraft that I had not seen in other museums, and lots of smaller ones. The only downside is that the Arizona sun is taking its toll on the aircraft displayed outside, they are getting pretty faded and worn looking. The docents, mostly retired USAF types, are friendly, knowledgeable and helpful. Worth a day if you are in the Tucson area.

The Karchner Caverns! Rates in the 10 best caverns in the United States. Discovered in the early 1990′s and kept secret until the state of Arizona could muster the funds to make it comfortable for people to visit and maintain in pristine condition. Disappointed in that I was unable to take pictures inside because of the many rules imposed to keep the caverns in great condition. I hope this no-photo rule is changed sometime soon.

Cactuses of all sorts are visible by the road

Typical Tucson home surrounded by desert plants instead of green grass

In addition to Pima and Space Museum, you can sign up for a tour of the “Boneyard”, on the local Air Force Base AND in addition to your paid admission visit the Titan Museum (located 20 miles in Sahuarita, AZ – south of Tucson on I-19). Otherwise, your best bet to save time, i.e. 4-8 hours, you must stay near Tucson and visit the Arizona Sonora Desert Museum particularly on Saturday night when the attraction is the night and the animals, i.e. bears, mountain lions, cats, come out from their day’s slumber.

All in all can’t wait to get back to Tucson, AZ again.

Have a good and healthy season.

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12 comments to “Sonora Desert bound”

  1. Comment by Karl Schneider:

    Zdenko, I enjoyed your travelogue and agree totally. If you get a chance I would suggest cycling in the area. Either bring your own bike or you can rent. In particular I would recommend the ride, or part of it, up Mt. Lemmon. Karl

  2. Comment by Zdenko Kahlina:

    Karl thank you for your comment. Yes I know, I was driving up the hill and missing my bike a lot… and the weather… ah, it was a perfect bicycle riding day, with lots of local cyclists on the road. By the way, my next blog is about “Driving the Sky Island Byway”, up the Mount Lemmon. Stay tunned…

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