Odometer (Legend): 549,077
Odometer (ILX): 187,814
Trip Distance: 232 Miles
The weird, the offbeat, and the random destinations of the world always pique my interest. How many people do you know who would drive out to the middle of the desert just to see a 60-foot-wide piece of concrete in the shape of an X that’s been there for 50 years? I guess I’m that person. And thus the reason why fellow blogger Joe of Bowtie 6 emailed me back in October about an article he’d seen on NPR on that topic.
The article talked about something called the “CORONA” Project. During the Cold war in the 1960s, the United States government needed a way to calibrate its satellite system. Someone came up with the brilliant idea that they could install X’s in the desert for the satellites to hone in and affix on, thereby increasing the accuracy of any images being returned.
Sounded like a road trip opportunity to me!
I headed out from the Phoenix area in the ILX on Saturday morning and it only took me about 45 minutes to get to the first X. You’d miss it if you weren’t looking for it: Tucked away southwest of the intersection of Jimmie Kerr Boulevard and Sunland Gin Road, I drove right to it thanks to a map I’d seen online. Each of the 272 X’s were 60 feed in diameter and consisted of 4 pieces angling outward. They are placed at 1 mile intervals in a satisfyingly perfect configuration for someone who has OCD like me. The center has a small, metal, round marker. This one said: “$250 fine or imprisonment for disturbing this mark.” I wonder if that’s still the case?
Some 50 years later, it’s no surprise that many of the markers have been destroyed or removed completely as development of the desert has moved forward and the markers are no longer in use. Only about 117 of the 272 are still left. Handily, Google gives us a map showing the location and status of each marker. Purple = gone. Yellow = damaged. Blue = present.
Let’s zoom in on that a little more. You can clearly see that urban development is coming from the northeast.
The next stop on my Saturday tour was a historic motorcycle dealership in Tucson. Helen Musselman and her husband started selling motorcycles in 1945 and became one of the first “official” Honda dealerships in 1959. She’s worked there since the beginning, and at 98, she still hasn’t retired. Back in August, Honda’s “Kokoro” Tumblr page written by Charles Schnieber featured a YouTube video of her. I fell in love with Helen from the get-go.
Musselman Honda is located in central Tucson just south of a busy road called Grant. The overall look of the building has not changed in the 70 years of its existence. What I found even cooler was that the showroom has an entire room dedicated to historic photos, shop manuals, and motorcycles themselves from Honda’s history there.
I spoke with a sales representative and asked if Helen was in. “She takes weekends off,” he said. “We need to get her signing autographs – we get people in here all the time asking for her!” It’s too bad I didn’t get to shake Helen’s hand, but I did peek inside her office.
I had a hankering for chips & salsa so I looked up reviews for local lunch spots and was sold on the above review. I ended up going to another historic Tucson destination: A family-run Mexican food spot called “Club 21” on the east side of Oracle Road.
I had the place to myself – which is either good or bad depending on your perspective. The food was tasty, though, so I enjoyed the peace and quiet. I always find it amusing when a server brings out a plate and says “Careful, the plate’s hot.” It seems to happen at every Mexican joint I’ve ever visited, just before my fingers get fried for trying to turn the plate around on the table. Just once in my life, I want to be told “Touch this plate – it’s fine.”
On my way back to Phoenix, I did stop for one more X. This one was off Battaglia Road near the teeny town of Eloy. It actually took me a couple of tries to find it because the surrounding area had overgrown with tumbleweeds, but I tracked it down and took a few photos. I’m sure the people driving past were wondering what kind of crazy nonsense I was up to taking pictures of a piece of concrete in the middle of a field.
The last thing I want to show you today is a special story about my friend Sideiq, better known as just “Sid.” After a recent Jalopnik website feature of my car collection & garage, Sid emailed me offering to do some digital artwork of my vehicles. Sid is more than just your everyday artist. He has cerebral palsy, and he was diagnosed at a year old. From Sid’s bio:
“I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when I was a year old. Cerebral palsy affects my muscle coordination, particularly with my arms, legs, and speech. Because of my disability I use my feet and toes to control the computer with an oversized keyboard and trackball. I get around in a motorized wheelchair that I also control with my foot. But these hindrances do not hold me back from translating my goals and dreams into reality.”
This week, Sid sent me two digital images: A G2 Legend coupe and a G1 NSX, beautifully framed. How cool is this?
And showing them off
And thanks to the rest of you for reading!
Abandoned gas station in Eloy, Arizona
One of my favorite stops on the Phoenix-Tucson drive.
This concrete pad used to be a Nickerson Farms restaurant that was demo’d.
Guard rail in the middle of nowhere!
Arrival at Musselman Honda in Tucson
Neat image of Honda’s original US distribution office on Pico Boulevard in LA that I visited last month.
Vintage pic of Musselman Honda