What do Singaporeans do when they have free time in the city of Phoenix, Arizona, that takes them away from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF)' largest and most complex war games involving precision strikes?
A number raid factory outlets to pick up cheap designer brands or launch shopping expeditions of some sort. *yawn* Sorry but am just not the shopping type.
Some go to the Grand Canyon to see the eight wonder of the world.
Or you could drive two hours south to watch A-10 Thunderbolts fly and, while in the vicinity, visit Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.[The suggestion came from a Republic of Singapore Air Force officer who saw my eyes glaze over when the others were planning shopping trips.]
And so, I drove myself two hours south of Phoenix to watch A-10s fly (above) and got a bonus with an unplanned visit to a hardened missile silo.
With no travel partner, it was a solo self-drive that started before sunrise with the GPS lady's voice as company throughout the journey. Engine start was at 0500hrs as I wanted to avoid the traffic jams on Interstate 10 in Phoenix. Most of the run to the south took place in darkness. If as the old saying goes "it is darkest before dawn", this was the setting for the 120+ mile one way trip south to the city of Tuscon where Davis-Monthan AFB is located. This
I leave the radio off throughout and savour the silence. It gives me ample time to run through the many things seen and experienced during XFS'13 and with the PCII team. It has been a memorable week.
Am thankful the car rental guy's advice to go one up and not rent the cheapest wheels was accepted as the tiny low CC Fiat would've had a tough time winding in and out of lanes populated by huge American semis (i.e. prime movers and trailers).
Had no clue about the landscape either side of the interstate. Saw signs for Marana. Flirted with the thought of making a side trip to stalk the RSAF's Peace Vanguard Apache detachment but decided to stick to the plan as Davis-Monthan has been on my to-see list for some time.
Arrive at the Pima Air & Space Museum just before 7am after a non-stop journey. Gates to the museum are wide open so I pop in for a look. Not a soul in sight. High tide. Gift shop toilets are locked. Found a discrete spot out of line-of-sight and security cameras where I water the cacti :-)
Spent time before museum's 9am opening driving round the fenceline of the sprawling air base. Breakfast at a gas station. Ate more than usual as unsure when next meal would be. Had a quarter pounder with cheese and milk and am basically fully fuelled.
The two hours is well spent as there are no dogs here.
A-10 drivers have an early start to the day. Same goes for the C-130s. Breathtaking watching them perform circuits against the backdrop of brilliant blue skies. Yes, cheap thrill but that's me.
Pima is all that it was made out to be. Toured the AMARG boneyard. So this is where our A-4 Skyhawk journey began.
Someone mentions an ICBM museum. How far? 40 minutes. Consult map with gift shop lady and decide to skip lunch to make it there before last entry for the day. The museum is off the map but gift shop lady assures it isn't too far off. Her finger points to a spot on the table top reassuringly close to the edge of the map. The journey resumes.
Ventured further south than planned on Interstate 19. Lovely Red Indian country. It is a desert plain home to cacti and dry scrub with mountains looming in the background under a cloudless, electric blue sky. If you need a setting for a cowboys and Indians movie, this would be it.
The Titan Missile Museum sits on elevated ground overlooking the plains. Most of the fixtures from the 1960s are still there. Enjoyed a tour of the missile facility and hardened areas underground. Volunteer guide was a former missileer. Enthusiasm and subject matter knowledge shows through in his narrative, which he probably has to repeat several times a day to visitors. But he did so with panache.
Run to the north back to Phoenix shows what kind of landscape lies on either side of Interstate 10. In some areas, the car windows frame scenes from tourist postcards: ancient mountains and low hills, dramatic in their outline and form, with assorted cacti striking their classic pose to motorists as we zoom past. I find out why the signs warning motorists of Blowing Dust Areas are there. Cotton fields and dry desert plains can pose a hazard when visibility is affected when dust is blown across the freeway.
An enormously long train rumbles past the interstate, containers double stacked on flat cars. Realise later this is the famous Union Pacific railway line.
RTB after sundown. Clocked just under 300 miles during the solo drive.
Yes, I'm weird. Get used to it. :-)