In the early part of the 20th century many wealthy people from ‘back east’ made their way to Arizona to live in the dry desert for their health. A man from Chicago named Neil Kannally was one of those people, who came west to recover from TB.
Kannally originally bought a 180 acre homestead, but over the years increased his ownership to 50,000 acres. The homestead came with a small home that Kannally added onto, as well as adding other small cottages.
Eventually in the late 1920s he had a 2600 square foot home built in a Moorish/Mediterranean style.
In addition to the main building, there were a number of small cottages that served as bedrooms, in the same architectural look.
Not what you would expect out in the middle of the desert, it served the family until the 1970s, when the last of the family passed away. Today 4000 of those original acres serves as Oracle State Park, and the home is the centerpiece.
The courtyard and buildings serve as an oasis in the desert as well as the visitor center for the park.
Much of Oracle State Park serves as a nature preserve, providing a safe haven for local wildlife as well as transitory birds. It is a peaceful place to visit, although I would recommend waiting until the weather cools off a bit in October and through the winter.
In the early 1990s people needed to find a new adventure. In the foothills of the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson was one of those adventures.
Biosphere 2 was conceived, designed and built to provide a closed ecological system; in other words, a self contained biosphere where people would live for extended periods in a (mostly) self sustained world, mimicking what would be required to live in outer space.
In 1991 8 people moved into the massive complex with it’s 90,000 square feet of rainforest, ocean, wetlands, grasslands, desert and agricultural areas. The attempt had numerous issues with food and oxygen shortages, plants and animals dying and tension among the residents who lived there for the 2 years.
About a year later in 1994 a shorter residence span was started, completing in a few months.
During, and after the residence attempts there were numerous financial challenges, resulting in a number of owners until finally in 2011 the University of Arizona fully took the facility over.
Today it continues to serve as a research center as well as a tourist destination. On the day we were the number of visitors was so low we felt as though we had the place to ourselves, in some creepy 1970s sci-fi movie about being abandoned. This did however provide great photo opportunities.
The tower in the center was the library. It was rarely used because of the lengthy spiral staircase to reach the top.
It’s setting in a natural bowl was to enhance the recovery of rainwater.
The living quarters included 10 small apartments and a community kitchen.
Inside the atriums you really get a sense of the size.
Unlike the residents in the 1990s, we were able to wander in and out of the buildings.
The energy center. Despite the fact they are in nearly perpetually sunny Arizona, they used natural gas for fuel as the cost of solar panels in the 1990s was cost prohibitive and they ran out of money to install them.
With this massive structure sealed from the outside air, the fluctuations in temperatures also caused changes in air pressure. This was managed by 3 huge ‘lungs’, which would relieve the pressure for the facility. When doing research on the tours it was disappointing to learn that the tour no longer includes going into a lung.
Fortunately we ran into one of the docents, Claudio, who has been giving tours there for 30 years. He informed us that for an additional $10 we could get a behind the scenes tour, including the interior of the lung. Where do we pay!
Once that was taken care of Claudio took us off to the basement where we passed the massive chillers for the air conditioning, as well as other mechanicals underneath the facility.
And into the lung!
The large black ceiling is a rubber membrane that will go up and down to regulate the air pressure. If the pressure was too great the entire lung would collapse, saving the rest of the facility. This fortunately has never happened, but Claudio did demonstrate how the pressure would make the ceiling go up and down.
After our behind the scenes tour completed, we continued on our own through the desert, rain forest, and ocean sections.
When in Tucson go to Biosphere 2 – and ask for Claudio!