Arizona Day 3 – On The Road To Route 66

Finally I’d been able to get some sleep and was ready for another early start. My sister had been out early at the gym and we all met back up for breakfast. This wasn’t quite as good as yesterday’s, but was still okay.

Our first stop of the day was at the Mission San Xavier del Bac which was only a short drive away. This Spanish Catholic mission is open to the public and is free to enter. There is the main part of the building with the altar (which we couldn’t see due to scaffolding), a small chapel in a separate building with many lit candles inside (making it incredibly warm in there), and a gift shop. There are a couple of rooms considered to be a museum as well, but there’s not much there due to conservation work. You can however see into the courtyard from there, even though you’re not allowed to enter it.

It didn’t take us very long to look around the Mission however which meant that we got to the Titan Missile Museum almost 45 minutes before they were due to open. We sat in the car for a while to stay out of the sun, and the place opened exactly on time. The tour cost $9.50 per person and lasted a little over an hour. Each tour is run on the hour, every hour, and is guided tours only. This starts with a short orientation video telling you about the sight, and some of it’s history.

The Titan Missile Museum is one of many missile silos around the Tucson area that were built in the space of a few months during the cold war as a nuclear deterrent. This was the United States’ reaction to their belief the USSR wanted world domination, just as the USSR thought the same of the US. This of course meant that both sides were building arms they claim they didn’t want to use and caused the creation of a massive stockpile that were later mostly decommissioned. This museum was one of these places, but the missile was not the original – the one here had never been fuelled.

The tour then continued outside where you could see the large concrete structure which was the silo entrance, and also some stairs which would take you down into the silo complex. Once underground there are then four blast doors which were made from concrete and steel and would protect the people inside the base from a nuclear attack. Everything of importance was fixed on springs also so that they could survive the shock of an attack.

The first room inside the base was the important one – it was where two of the four man staff would wait for the launch order. If they received this the two officers would then verify the order and with the launch codes would prepare the missile for launch. They had a “rule of two” on the base so that nobody could ever be alone, unless they were in the “downtime” room. This was due to the paranoia of the time and making sure that everybody was always watched.

Each of these silos would house one missile that could respond to a call to arms within 58 seconds. The Titan II predecessor however would take around 40 minutes due to the need to fuel them before launch. In the case of these missiles, the Titan II, they were already fuelled with a butterfly valve separating the two parts. When the officers turned their keys this was the point of no return – the missiles would mix the fuel and once the concrete blocks at it’s base were blasted away the missile would launch.

We then got taken down a long corridor where we could see into the launch silo and the Titan II missile that was sitting in there. We were told a little more about it’s launch and the damage control following it’s launch (there’d be fires to put out in the silo).

Back on the surface we had a look down the silo opening to see the massive missile, and also walked over to a shed like structure where it’s rocket engines were located. We had to keep an eye out for rattlesnakes though as apparently they’re a problem here. There were also a number of peculiar looking devices surrounding the area which were used as radar, which when crossed would trigger an alarm on the base. If set off, the people on the base wouldn’t respond though, instead it would be a security team from offsite.

Once back on the road we started the long drive up to Flagstaff. After quite some time we stopped before we reached Phoenix and had lunch at the IHOP in Casa Grande. This wasn’t too bad I guess, but was a little too filling for a lunch. I had a sweet chicken sandwich that came with fries. We didn’t stop again after that until we stopped for the restroom and to top up the fuel at Cordes Junction. By this point we didn’t have long until our next stop – Red Rock State Park.

By the time we reached the entrance to the state park it was 16:30, and although they didn’t close until 17:00 it was already too late – they’d closed the gates. Instead we drove along a road until we found a place to park up and walked out across the landscape until we found a good spot for photographing the red rocks around us.

We stopped a few more times before leaving the area, and then continued our journey to Sedona and straight through to the Oak Creek scenic drive. By this time the sun was starting to set which meant some of the colours on the red rocks looked really good and so had to make a few more stops to make sure we got some photographs. One of these viewpoints was on the other side of a high bridge which reminded me of one along Big Sur in California.

From there the road ascends higher into the mountains as it winds around, and for every mile we did it got darker. Eventually it levelled off and around the same time it got completely dark – but we weren’t that far from Flagstaff now.

The Super 8 motel wasn’t too hard to find and was directly on Route 66 – the famous road that runs across America. Next door to this was a restaurant called the Village Inn; both me and my sister had the same there – the turkey meal that came with stuffing, gravy, mashed potato and a scone. My sister didn’t eat much of hers though as she didn’t like the potato being cold, but she wouldn’t complain about it either. As all three of us hadn’t had a great meal we also had a dessert, so I had a slice of apple pie.

Once again it’d been another long day, and by the time we were back in the hotel it was around 20:30.

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