Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Missile and A Mission

Duck and Cover--for those of us growing up in the 50s and 60s practicing this drill was standard procedure in elementary school.  So when I was perusing the list of places we could visit in Tucson, Arizona it was natural for me to be intrigued by the idea of visiting a Titan Missile silo to see one of those awesome harbingers of doom.
Located just a few miles south of Tucson in Sahuarita, Arizona there's just a small sign by the turn off for the Titan Missile Museum.  After we parked by the Discone Antenna (ignoring the radioactivity sign at our own peril) we entered the small storefront/museum entrance to discover we had missed a tour by 15 minutes and had another 45 minutes to wait for the next tour.  The tour itself lasts one hour and there is an admission fee with multiple types of discounts for seniors/military/AAA, etc.  There are a few displays and plaques with the history of the Titan missile program but most of the area is given over to touristy souvenirs in the shop. 

Your tour starts with a brief video explaining what you'll be seeing inside the missile silo and then you are led to the open area on top of the silo complex where a tour guide explains the mechanics of the missile itself, including its size, its propulsion system and fuels, the outer security systems and spoke about working there, as many of the guides are former employees of the base.
 One set of four motion detector systems along the outer perimeter of the missile silo area.

Then we walked to a metal staircase the led to a glass topped area that looked down into the actual silo for the now-deactivated Titan II missile.  Unfortunately the glare of the sun on the glass meant I was unable to get a photo looking down into the silo.  Those beige panels are the huge sliding sections of roof that covered the silo and that rolled open for launching the rocket.

Next we traipsed down 55 steps to the inner sanctum of the missile silo, entering through three ton steel doors that had to be opened with special codes that were once burned after they were entered.  Our tour guide, Bob, explained the tasks and preparedness drills the staff went through on a daily basis and even showed a dry run of what a launching would have been like.  Of course, no missiles were ever actually launched from any of the bases.  Back in the 60s there were a total of 54 missile silos; 18 in Tucson, AZ, 18 in Little Rock, AR, and 18 in Wichita, Kansas.  The silo here in Tucson is the only one still in existence.

The long hallway leading from the command center to the missile launch silo.

The halls weren't built for tall guys.
Looking through a cut out in the wall at the deactivated Titan rocket and warhead.

Looking down towards the base of the silo.

Bob, our tour guide, was a font of information about the Titan Missile base, the program and the mechanics of the rocket itself. If you are interesting in learning more I found a great site here. What I should have done was bring my small digital recorder because the amount of information given is vast and it was all fascinating.  Unfortunately, I find that as I age I can look around and listen and process, but I can't always do all three at once.

After leaving the Titan Missile Museum we headed for the Mission San Xavier del Bac just a few miles north off Interstate 19.  I've seen photographs of this history church on other RV blogs and wanted to see this "white dove of the desert."
The Mission of San Xavier del Bac is still in use as a church and is available for weddings and funerals for the Native American Tohono O'oodham people who worship here.  There are no admission fees to visit the church and you are free to wander the grounds and the church itself as long as services are not in session. 
 Now a National Historic Landmark, construction of the current Mission San Xavier del Bac began in 1783 and finished in 1797.  The artwork and craftsmanship inside are amazing for the time and restoration has been ongoing for years due to lightning and storm damage as well as earthquake damage.  Built of brick, stone and lime mortar originally, over the years cement plaster was added and now the restorers are removing that cement plaster and working on returning the walls to their original lime plaster. If you look closely at the first picture (double click to enlarge) you can see the difference between the completed tower on the left versus the tower on the right side of the photo. 

There is a small museum and gift shop on the grounds, as well as a snack bar and a couple of shops operated by local Native Americans.  In the parking lot you'll find several stands with local folks cooking tacos and Indian fry bread for sale while the music of a wooden pipe wafts on the breeze.  It's only a recording coming from one of the nearby shops, but the sound is magical here in the desert standing in front of the white dove.


Linda in New Mexico said...

San Xavier is one of our favorite mission churches. When we were there last time they were doing a reconstruct on parts of the fascade and we couldn't go in. How beautiful the gardens are. Lucky Duckies once again you are.
vert word: halie....Halie had to do was just go over the border but Joe was to chicken and we stayed in the US. (also on our last trip down thataway)

Tracy said...

We were there several years ago and it was under renovation too. Nice to see photos of it in all its true glory.

Arkansas Patti said...

What enormous contrasts. Gleaming weapons of destruction and an ancient church.
I once heard that some of the launch sites were available to the public to be purchased.
That church is beautiful.

Anvilcloud said...

I'm sure the tour was interesting, but I'd love to take me and my camera to that church.

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