You can go from very small to very, very tall in one day in Tucson. Just 12 miles separate the Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures and the Pima Air & Space Museum. Who could resist such an Alice In Wonderland experience?
Tucked into a residential neighborhood, the Mini Time Machine Museum of Miniatures (4455 E. Camp Lowell Dr., Tucson, AZ, 520-881-0606; theminitimemachine.org) squeezes a whole lot of tiny treasures under one roof. Founders Patricia and Walter Arnell envisioned the space as a place not only to display their growing collection, but also to share their wonderment. Patricia started collecting in the 1930s, but it became a passion for her and her husband in the late ’70s. The museum, opened just nine years ago, offers printed and audio educational guides, as well as tools such as flashlights and stepstools so you won’t miss a detail.
Unless you are Lilliputian, you won’t fit through the miniature door, so it’s best to use the larger entrance. Once inside, you’re transported into a world in which you are a giant. You can self-explore or join a docent-led tour. We chose to wander on our own, and we were only shushed three or four times by the docent on duty that day. We started in the Enchanted Realm. An enormous tree sits over plexiglass inserts in the floor, allowing you to view a snowy village below—and play Godzilla. But before you pretend to destroy the sleepy little town, look for the home of the museum’s fairy friend, Caitlin. On a later visit with kids, we were offered the opportunity to engage in a scavenger hunt for the dark-eyed mascot.
Beyond the Enchanted Realm are rooms housing permanent and temporary exhibits. Among these installations, you’re bound to find something cool or, well, maybe a little creepy. Listen in to the conversations of tenants of an apartment building. View dogs in ballgowns. Look in on a Southern mansion on the daughter’s wedding day.
As you travel through time periods in the rooms of miniatures, be sure to pause under the dome. Sit on a bench and watch as the blue sky darkens to reveal twinkling stars. It’s a peaceful spot where you can absorb everything . . . before re-entering a world where you’re true to size.
At the Pima Air & Space Museum (6000 E. Valencia Rd., Tucson, 520-574-0462; www.pimaair.org), you’ll find you are very small, indeed. The 42-year-old treasury is one of the largest privately funded aerospace museums in the world. Located next to the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, the sprawling campus boasts four hangars filled with aircraft, most of them from World War II. There are full planes, cockpits (many of which you can sit in, though be careful what you touch, as some things may go clunk!), engines, weaponry, memorabilia and more—so much, in fact, that you’ll begin to feel breathless.
Among the hulking marvels are the B-24 Liberator; the B-29 Superfortress; the B-36 Peacemaker, the largest American warplane ever built; and the PBM-5A Mariner, this one likely the last left in the world. Other rare aircraft include the super-fast SR-71 Blackbird and the F-107 Ultra Sabre test plane. There are more modern machines, including a B-52 Stratofortress, nicknamed “The High and Mighty One” by NASA, and the Blue Angels Grumman F-11 Tiger.
Between the planes in the hangars and the ones lined up outside for you to explore, it can get overwhelming. If you thought ahead, you could take a trip off-campus to the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group facility on the base. Reservations for this guided tour of the 4,000 or so machines in the Boneyard must be 10 business days in advance in order for you to get security clearance (it is on military property!).
Sadly, we spent so much time getting as up close and personal as we could with these majestic flying machines, we had to speed through the Space Gallery (there’s a replica of an Apollo capsule, moon rocks and spacesuits!).
You’re not likely to find so much so tiny or so huge anywhere in Orange County.
Patrice Marsters started at OC Weekly as an intern, just before the first issue was published. She is now the associate editor of the paper, serves on the board of the Orange County Press Club, and mentors aspiring writers and editors at Newport Harbor High School. In her spare time, Ms. Marsters co-leads a multi-level Girl Scout troop, creates baked goods, and rants at inanimate objects (including her computer) about her grammatical and writing pet peeves.