Leaving Quartzsite was hard to do – four months of new friendships and experiences that will likely have me returning sometime in the future. Driving straight through Phoenix and on to Tucson, that was pretty much a no brainer. I was more interested in meeting up with an old friend that I have only visited once in the past 44 years.
Returning to Tucson has been a goal set some 20 years ago when I lived there for much of a year. It was then that I discovered my old friend from the past. I served in the U.S. Coast Guard during the Vietnam War. During that time I was stationed on the Island of Guam, in the South Pacific.
As an Aviation Electrician part of my duties also included that of Loadmaster on the C-123B aircraft, two of which were assigned to the air station and used to ferry food, supplies, and replacement personnel to Loran C stations on small islands throughout much of the South Pacific.
At least twice a week I flew as a crewmember to places like Saipan, Yap, Palau, and a few special trips to places like Ulithi and over Tinian Island, where the atom bomb was loaded onto a B-29 to be dropped on Japan to end World War II.
The old friend I was heading to visit? The actual airplane I flew in for 18 months, C-123B number 4505.
I flew in this exact airplane forty years ago. Now it’s a museum piece at Pima.
The plane finished out its service stationed in Miami, but is now on static display at the Pima Air and Space Museum, where it has been since the early 1980’s.
It was taken out of use shortly after I left the service in 1973, though she still looks pretty good for being exposed to the harsh Arizona sun for some 40 plus years.
Pima Air and Space Museum Thoughts
The museum is a very complete collection of aircraft, many of which are restored and looking like they could taxi out to the flight line with little trouble. They say it’s the third largest collection of military aircraft on display in the country. If you walk the 80 acres of outside displays you’ll believe them without question!
President Eisenhower’s Super Constellation.
You can start your tour from the display replica of the Wright Brothers early flying machine and go up to and beyond the SR-71 Black Bird, capable of Mach 3.5.
A number of the aircraft there have a greater wingspan than the complete first flight taken by the Wright Brothers, some 120 odd feet.
Touring the Aircraft Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base
I took the bus tour through the Bone Yard, the storage area within the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
You’ll see row upon row of aircraft carefully prepared for long term storage.
There are multiple levels of storage at this facility. Some are stored ready for use, just protected from the elements. Others are for parts supply, but can be restored to flight status. The next is parts status with no intentions of flying again, and the last are those destined for destruction and the scrap pile.
When an aircraft gets chewed into small pieces and scrapped depends on if any friendly country is still flying that type and model. This is a rare Government facility that actually makes money rather than costs money to operate. Not only do they store aircraft for foreign friendly countries, they sell parts to other militaries as well.
When you plan on visiting the Pima Air and Space Museum, budget an entire day for it. It’s a large facility and you’ll have to walk a lot. I made a point of arriving when they opened at 9AM to avoid the afternoon heat.
Where to Park Your RV Near the Pima Air and Space Museum
As for where to stay in Tucson, I go the economy route. There’s a BLM visitor area that allows 14 days of free camping about 10 miles west of town on Aho Way, called Snyder Hill.
My motorhome at Snyder Hill BLM.
It’s small, but quiet and can accommodate any size RV. I saw 20 to 30 rigs and there were plenty of spots for more.
I had planned on staying at the Casino Del Sol on W. Valencia the second night, but had to drive through long and slow road construction coming into town that morning. The casino allows RVs to spend the night at the rear of their parking lot. I opted to head east on Highway 10 and spent the night at the Flying J in Lordsburg, New Mexico instead.
That alone was an experience because there were a set of railroad tracks about 200’ in front of where I was parked. I don’t know how they manage the safety involved, but long freight trains passed by about every 20 minutes or so just like clockwork. And of course they insisted on using their loud warning horns all the way through town.
Pro tip: It was much nicer at the Snyder Hill BLM area. I should have spent a second night there!
Parking at the museum is plentiful, the largest of RVs will have plenty of room. You can’t stay the night there, but they are very dog friendly. You can bring Fido through the whole museum, but he won’t be allowed on the bus tour of the Boneyard.
A picture I took of the Aircraft Boneyard.
Tucson has changed a lot since my last time there in 1996. It used to be there was one 5 story building on Speedway Ave. and the rest of the city was at most 2 story buildings. Now there’s an actual skyline of towers rising at least 20 stories on the northwest end of the city. Traffic was horrendous, and being a stranger made the GPS navigator on my dash priceless.
With all the construction going on I just took my time, and had my course plotted ahead of time. When the total length of your RV is around 60 feet, finding a place to turn around could be a problem. Fortunately the Pima Air and Space Museum is located on the southeast end of town, and it’s very easy to get to.