Week 14-  November 28 Week: Lemons and Lemonade

The Saturday after Thanksgiving, we decided to flee the approaching cold and snow to head to southern Arizona and lower altitude.  We have had some sporadic troubles with the hydraulic system that runs the leveling jacks and it now started affecting the operation of the slideout rooms.   

As we prepared to head out that Saturday morning, we couldn’t get all of the slides in for travel.  After hours of phone calls, manual reading, and experimenting with several things, we finally got everything stowed manually and we hit the road mid-afternoon to try to make it as far as we could south.  We ended up driving into the evening, something that we try to avoid at all costs, and made it to Tucson area. 

What a wonderful example of God’s provision.  We woke up Sunday morning to see that the Beaudry RV park into which we arrived after dark had great facilities including heated pools, library, and nice grounds.  At every site there were citrus trees, ripe with fruit- lemons, oranges, and grapefruit!  The park lets guests pick the fruit, so the kids were thrilled.   

Another treat was the discovery of a home schooling family with kids that ended up as pool playmates during recess for a couple of days.  The final surprise was that right across the street was the largest RV dealer in the country, a Winnebago service center with 17 bays!  We had planned to find the Tucson area dealer on Monday, and here it was in walking distance!  This proximity was a lifesaver for a week when we would need several days for bringing Harvey in and out of the place for some major work to be done on the hydraulic system. 

It was a blessing that the facilities of our RV park were so nice because we were stuck living in Harvey with all of the slideout rooms retracted for much of the week.  It was quite tight, but we were still able to sleep all five of us using the dinette-to-bed conversion option.  We also took advantage of the nice on-site library and pool areas as classrooms for times when Harvey was across the street during the day. 

Our tour of churches continued on Sunday as we visited a small EV Free church in an Indian reservation in the southern Tucson area.  The congregation was not quite as diverse as I would have thought, but once again very friendly.  It was hard to believe that it was the first Sunday of Advent surrounded as we were with palms and cacti! 

This week’s explorations were tempered somewhat by the schedule of maintenance work that Harvey was undergoing.  In some respects it was good as it slowed us down and kept us in one place, something the kids always appreciate. 

On Tuesday, we visited the Desert Museum in the hills outside of Tucson.  It was a mix of museum, zoo, and arboretum, with mostly all outdoor exhibits and nature trails.  One of the best “museums” we’ve been to, it was a perfect introduction to all aspects of Sonoran desert country.  Besides the plant and animal exhibits, there was a mineral area displaying hundreds of different colorful gem specimens all found in Arizona.  We found that while on first glance the desert can seem like a wasteland, there is at least as much colorful diversity as any of the ecosystems we have experienced. 

Another great educational opportunity came on Wednesday as we splurged on a special night class at the Kitt Peak National Observatory, on a 7000 ft peak about an hour away from Tucson.  The summit is studded the largest assortment of optical telescopes in the world! 

Our class of a dozen and a half started with a box lunch meal waiting for the sun to start setting.  We all then went outside as our instructor narrated the stunning sunset.  Brenda and I have always loved sunsets so it was especially interesting to learn the meaning of some of the colors and light bands that occur during this time.  The discussion of the location of the sun in the sky with respect to the seasons was good for the kids. 

We then learned about observing the night sky and were each armed with a set of good binoculars to head back out into the now blackened night sky.  The whole observatory complex keeps no bright lights on at night so you walk out into blackness under a crystal clear mountain sky where each star pierces gaping holes in the canopy.  Using a green laser pointer our instructor could point out features in the night sky surprising us with what you can see just with a pair of binoculars!  The night was so clear, we even got a fabulous view of the Andromeda galaxy after being taught how to locate it. 

The last couple of hours of the class was making observations with a 20-inch microscope housed in a domed observatory above our classroom.  To his delight, Nate was appointed the role of operator to rotate the domed roof to line up the shutter as the telescope was pointed in different directions to view different targets. 

By this time, the night air at 7000 feet was quite nippy.  Fortunately, Brenda over-packed for the occasion and we appreciated our long underwear, winter coats, and blankets as we huddled together in the observatory while waiting for our turns at the telescope.  By nine o’clock when the class ended, everyone was getting pretty cold and tired, but it was still a great educational experience for the whole family!   

Brenda was especially nervous when we were told that the class members would all drive together in a caravan down the first mile of mountain road without lights to minimize light affecting the research going on.  She has been white-knuckled along mountain roads during the daylight!  It turned out that using parking lights and following in a line was just fine and we headed back with a van load of sleepy kids. 

On Friday, we visited Saguaro National Park, also in the Tucson area.  I have always loved cacti and even had a cactus collection as a kid.  Our drive through the hills to the park led us through ranks of saguaro soldiers standing at attention in all directions.  Everyone loved the size and uniqueness of each one. 

The Junior Ranger program there was one of the best ever and helped to reinforce the desert science the kids learned earlier in the week.  Arizona sports the only poisonous lizard in the U.S.  The ranger talk on these Gila Monsters dispelled myths of terrible creatures spitting their venom and was quite informative. 

Upon returning from Saguaro Friday afternoon, we picked up Harvey, his hydraulic system now fully functional.  It was time to celebrate and make some fresh-picked, fresh-squeezed lemonade!