Unlike yesterday, when we hit places which Diane’s Dad and SO didn’t want to see again, we planned to spend today with them, touring Tucson before having dinner with Diane’s aunt to celebrate her 91st birthday. We’d bought Tucson Attractions Passports for them and us (and, in fact, had already more than paid for ours yesterday), so we wanted to visit places in the passport, and after a little discussion, settled on the Flandrau Science Center at the University of Arizona.

I should have looked them up on the Web first, because they were closed. Apparently, they’re working on building a new Science Center as part of a planned renovation of downtown, and so they are only open for a fraction of the schedule listed in the passport.

So we went with Plan B — art. We saw the Richard Avedon exhibit In the American West at the Center for Creative Photography, which I found somewhat disturbing; it seemed ironic that the best-dressed people in the photos were all described as “drifters”. Then we continued with the University of Arizona Museum of Art; I was fascinated by the Faithful Samurai woodblocks prints.

Dining today was not terribly inspiring; we had lunch at the Cactus Cafe at the UA Student Center, and dinner at Peking Palace. Dinner was by far the better meal. We also had breakfast at The Good Egg again.

Relics of the past

On Monday, we visited Biosphere 2 and the Titan Missile Museum. Both were impressive in their own ways.

Biosphere 2 seemed (from the tour, at least) to be the idea of one man, Edward Bass, who poured an enormous amount of money into the project. There were obviously some political undercurrents (our guide told us about disputes with Columbia University, but the story was clearly only told from one side), and the future of the project is very much in doubt. At one point, it was to be sold, razed, and the land was to be used for a high-end housing development, but that seems to have fallen through. And so the complex is in maintenance mode for the forseeable future.

The Titan Missile Museum, on the other hand, expressed a national policy (Mutually Assured Destruction) whose time seems to have passed — at any rate, we no longer have an obvious opponent at which to point missiles. Every tour features a simulated missile launch — Jeff got to turn the key on our tour — and it was unsettling to see how short a time it took to launch the missile. It was also disturbing when our guide told us that the crew’s orders ended after launching the missile — after that, they would have been on their own.

In between our sightseeing, we hit some familiar Tucson restaurants — Magpie’s Pizza and El Charro Cafe. I didn’t think Magpie’s was as good as usual; El Charro, however, was in fine form. Breakfast, unsurprisingly, was at The Good Egg, which was as always.

Arizona (and other) Eats

We started the morning by sleeping late, following with the complementary breakfast at the Embassy Suites in Palm Desert, which was exactly what I expected it to be, and which was priced right, especially on an award stay.

Then it was time to hit the road for Tucson. We avoided stopping for lunch in Blythe, because it was far too early, but when we reached Quartzsite, Arizona, 20 body minutes but 80 clock minutes later, we decided it was time (especially given the lack of options farther up the road). We drove around a bit and ended up at Silly Al’s Pizza (the name was irresistable, though the building didn’t inspire confidence), where we enjoyed something unique in our experience: a cashew and mushroom pizza. It was pretty good, too, though the mushrooms were lost to the other flavors. My only complaint was that we were no longer in California, and so there were a lot of people smoking in the bar and other part of the restaurant — but I guess that’s what happens when you leave California. Recommended.

I would have liked to spend a little time looking around in Quartzsite — it looked like there was a permanent flea market in progress alongside the main road, with booths selling meteorites, books, and more, but we were on a mission. So we got back onto I-10, where we were delighted that the traffic was light, even through Phoenix, and we reached Tucson about 5:30 (Mountain Time), just 3-and-a-half hours after leaving Quartzsite. I suspect doing the math would result in a number that the Arizona Highway Patrol would officially disapprove, but we were being passed much more often than we were doing the passing. We drove to the Hilton, our home base for the next few days, and checked in. Diane helped Jeff with his lines for Tartuffe while I picked up dinner from New Delhi Palace. As soon as I arrived, one sniff told me that I’d made a mistake by ordering take-out — we should have eaten there, instead, to get the food at its freshest. But I was committed, so I brought it back to the hotel, where we all enjoyed a very pleasant meal (they were quite helpful and gave me dishes and utensils, since, of course, we didn’t have any!). Again, recommended.

And then we visited Diane’s dad and his SO, which was, of course, the main purpose of the trip.

Radio Hanukkah continued to be enjoyable, by the way; we especially liked the Debbie Friedman Hour…errr, Miriam’s Tent. The lighting of the National Menorah was, umm, interesting — I hadn’t expected it to be an all-Chabad operation. And, as we drove back to the hotel tonight, we enjoyed The 2000 Year-Old Man, which I don’t think Jeff had ever heard before in its pure form (though he’d seen the Simpsons version).

A much better Palm Desert dining experience

Last year, we stayed at the Palm Desert Embassy Suites on our way back home from Tucson. We’re here again, this time on our way to Tucson (let no one claim that we’re in a rut!), but fortunately, we did much better for dinner this time than last.

We dined at No-Da-Te, chosen by the scientific method of taking the first Asian restaurant we saw while walking down El Paseo. The salad, miso soup, and sashimi were excellent; the chicken teriyaki was only OK. I’d go back, but only for the fish.

Earlier today, we’d eaten at the Mountain Crossing Restaurant in Tehachapi; it was a fairly typical coffee shop — the people were very friendly, the food was OK (if a bit greasy). We were in Tehachapi because we decided to avoid the Grapevine — instead, we got off I-5 at SR 58 and took it all the way to SR 14, which brought us down to SR 138, which eventually met I-15, then I-215, and finally I-10. The way we went was 10 miles longer than the obvious route over the Grapevine, but most of it was also more relaxing. And, thanks to the miracle of XM, we had things to listen to the whole way, mostly Radio Hanukkah (I especially enjoyed the “Lights of Broadway” this morning), even though we were on the wrong side of the mountains for LA stations much of the time.

30 minutes

I spoke too soon in my last post. Radio Hanukkah played The Hanukkah Song 3 at 2:30pm Pacific, only 30 minutes into their schedule. And they played the original a few minutes ago, so I guess we’ll get to hear the whole set sooner rather than later.

But far better to hear Adam Sandler than “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer”!