As our time in Tucson came to an end, we still had two things to tackle. One was a mountain, and other was a missile. The mountain came first, and Saturday morning we set out to climb Wasson Peak, the highest point in the Tucson Mountains. Topping out at 4,687 feet, Wasson Peak offers up a moderate hike with some killer views at the top. We arrived at the trailhead around 10 am and found the parking lot already jammed with cars. Guess we’re not the only ones looking to conquer this mountain. The hike started off fairly tame as we followed the King Canyon trail up an old mining road. After about a mile the trail split off to the right and we could see the Mam-a-Gah picnic area off to the left. It looked like a nice spot for a picnic, but we still had a few miles to go, so no time to waste picnicking. We continued to climb steadily uphill for another mile and a half before coming to the intersection with the Sweetwater trail. From here we had a great view of the trail we had just hiked.
The next part of the trail was a steep, rocky, exposed nearly one mile trek that climbed up, up, up.
Finally we reached the last .3 mile section which brought us across the top of the ridge to the summit.
After taking in the views and having a little lunch, we headed back down. Instead of going down the same trail we came up, we decided to make a loop by returning via the Hugh Norris Trail to the Sendero Esperanza Trail to the Gould Mine Trail, which brought us back to the parking lot. The entire loop clocked in right around eight miles. Along the way we admired the amazing variety of foliage. There were great big spiky Yuccas, tall majestic Saguaros, amazing purple Buckthorn Cholla, and even some clumps of yellow flowers called Desert Marigolds. What a great hike for our last day in Tucson!
Sunday morning we packed it up, dumped tanks, filled with fresh water, and headed off for a week in the middle of nowhere. But wait, what about that missile? Well, it just so happens that the missile was kind of, sort of, on the way to where we were headed in the middle of nowhere. Makes sense right, cause shouldn’t all missiles be in the middle of nowhere? That’s what I always thought, but in actuality this missile is located only about 15 miles south of Tucson at the Titan Missile Museum. When Nina & Paul mentioned that they were going to visit the museum we jumped at the chance to join them, and decided to make it a stop over trip as we left town on Sunday.
We arrived just in time for the 10:00 tour which started with a short movie that crammed the entire history of the cold war along with the operation of this missile site into a mere 10 minutes. Well, not quite the entire history, but it did offer up a short overview. After the movie we headed outside where we met Jack, who was to be our tour guide. Jack is a retired Air Force guy who eagerly shared with us his wealth of knowledge about the site and the Titan Missile. He was so full of knowledge in fact, that I probably should have been taking notes. I am afraid my retention of details when it comes to anything even remotely “sciencey” is not so great. So while I’ll do my best to give you a quick summary of what we learned, I make no guarantees on the accuracy or thoroughness of what I am about to tell you. And with that disclaimer out of the way…here we go down into the launch control center.
Once we made it down the 55 stairs and through several 4-foot thick metal doors we were in the control center. This is where is all happened. Well, where is would have happened if this baby had ever been launched. For nearly twenty years this missile, along with 17 others at the Air Force base near Tucson, were on continuous alert, ready to be deployed should the order arrive. Which means that for almost twenty years there was a team of people stationed down here in the control center waiting, but most likely not hoping, for the orders to launch the missile at “Target Two” (a location unknown to the crew). As Jack explained to us, this constant state of readiness is called mutual assured destruction. Which in very simple terms means that if you blow us up, then we blow you up. Jack gave us the entire run down on how the launch would have gone, if there ever was a launch. I don’t remember all the steps, but basically the procedure was a complicated series of secret codes, special boxes and manuals, and keys that must be turned in a specific order for a specific amount of time. Kind of how you would imagine it would all go down in a B movie about the end of the world.
After we all learned how to launch the missile, it was time to see it in person.
This is a 103-foot tall Titan II Missile. It is the only remaining missile that did not either get decommissioned for use in space, or broken up for salvage. Even though this is the real deal, it was only ever used as a training missile and never contained fuel or a warhead. Today this missile is housed in the original missile silo, on display for visitors to view.
Back on the surface we perused the shed containing engine parts and marveled at the sheer engine-y-ness of them. Okay, I admit I didn’t pay much attention to this part. I am not a big engine fan. But they were big.
That was it for the tour. We chose the most basic one hour tour ($9.50/person), but they also offer a bunch of other tours including a 5-hour top to bottom tour, a special tour where you get to meet some former crew members, and even an overnight experience where you sleep down below with the missile. The Missile Museum ended up being both fascinating and informative and was a great way to round-out our time in Tucson.
From the museum we said our goodbyes to Nina & Paul, who will likely not see for some time, and headed off for a week in the boonies. Location to be revealed soon.