ILX Drive: Biosphere 2 in Oracle, Arizona

Odometer (Legend):  528,752

528752

Odometer (ILX):  68,931

68931

Trip Distance:  242 Miles

biosphere_route

Would you get claustrophobic like me if you had to live inside an enclosed greenhouse for 2 years?

tyson_at_biosphere

Imagine a self-contained world: a giant bubble that’s capable of supporting life as we know it.  Welcome to Biosphere 2.  Surprisingly few people have heard of a place in southern Arizona that 20 years ago was home to such an experiment.  Now owned by the University of Arizona Science Department, Biosphere 2 is a research facility that was built as a closed ecological system – the largest of its kind.  Biosphere 1, for those who are probably wondering like I was, is our own earth.

bio_header

Yesterday’s outing may have been the largest I’ve organized to date.  It was attended by 15 of my friends in 8 separate (and very diverse!) vehicles.  After assembling at my place in Scottsdale, Arizona, we set out in the following caravan of vehicles.  It made for a nice parade.

  • 2013 Acura ILX
  • 1995 Acura Legend
  • 2013 Audi RS5
  • 2013 Audi S5
  • 1997 BMW 740 iL
  • 2013 Cadillac SRX
  • 2000 Honda Accord
  • 2013 Nissan 370Z

Kevin, Edward, and Cole rode along with me in the ILX.  I felt like the car actually handled better with the additional weight in there!  Despite the rain and wet roads, we made pretty good time in getting to Oracle, Arizona via historic Highway 79 which led us to the southeast from the Phoenix Valley.  After checking in, we were assigned to the 1:30 p.m. tour group and took a few minutes to visit the on-site cafe.

bio

Constructed from 1987 to 1991, Biosphere 2 covers 3.14 acres.  Two missions were conducted in Biosphere 2 in the 1990s.  The first, from 1991 to 1993, and the second from March 1994 through September 1994.  Biosphere contains 5 different indoor biomes:  Desert, Savanna, Rainforest, Ocean, and Marsh.  During our 90-minute tour, we were shown through each of these by our guide, Ren.

Ren told us there there was a division among the 8 “Biospherians” who participated in the first mission which lasted two years.  Four of them wanted to allow the import of outside food & materials so that they could focus more on conducting science experiments and less on just trying to survive.  The other four wanted to stay true to the design of the experiment and be entirely self-sufficient.  The rift escalated.  Along with that, heightened levels of CO2 were taking their toll on everyone’s critical thinking skills, and a change in climate in some of the biomes (increasing moisture in the desert, for example), caused an overrun of insects.  Finally, the caloric intake was low so the diet wasn’t very good.  Some of these challenges are what drove that mission to its end.

desert

Today, Biosphere 2 is a research facility used to study ecosystem processes under controlled conditions.  The University of Arizona operates it with the intent of better understanding how natural environments generate conditions that are suitable for life.  The overall goal is to improve the quality of life for us.  I found the tour educational and interesting.  After filling our brains with science, we hopped into our cars and traveled 9 miles to the Oracle Inn Steakhouse to fill our stomachs with some of the best grub in central Arizona.  Our last stretch of road took us up Highway 77 to Highway 177 to the old mining town of Superior.

ilx_leaving_biosphere

exiting_biosphere_car_lineup

Cole took DJ duties for most of our two-hour trip back to the Phoenix area, and we rocked out to slow jams like the classic 1997 K-Ci & JoJo hit, “All My Life.”  The ILX 7-speaker Premium Audio System was put to its limit while we sang along.  Many thanks to all my friends who joined on this adventure, in person or through the blog!

Below are all the pictures and a short video that I hope you’ll enjoy.

Pre-departure and my driveway/street started looking like a used car lot with more than a dozen cars parked all over the place.

pre_departure

Eastbound US 60, in hot pursuit of Aaron in the S5.

us60

My crew in the ILX:  Kevin, Cole, Edward

group_inside_ilx

Upon arrival in Oracle, the rains held up long enough for us to enjoy our tour without getting too wet.

view

Oddball fleet of cars.  Michael’s BMW, at over 280,000 miles, was the mileage king.  Also, apparently Joe didn’t get the memo about needing to back his Legend in for the photoshoot.

fronts2

Sexy hind ends.

car_backs

ILX, Z, and a couple of Audis that have way more horsepower than they know what to do with.

fronts

Checking into the Visitor Center.  Student tickets were $15 ea.

tour_admissions

I think we may have overwhelmed the staff with our large group.

checking_in

We were shown a 12-minute video before being introduced to our tour guide and heading into the facility.

seated

Ren, our guide, used a portable mic and told us all the details about the facility and its operations.

ren_talking

The ocean, pictured far in the distance below, is 26 feet deep and holds 670,000 gallons of water.

ocean

Adjacent to that, we walked through a plastic curtain and into the biome known as the rainforest.

tour_group

The rainforest has a waterfall and over 90 different plant species.  We could readily feel the difference in humidity as we entered this area.

rainforest

Next we went through a mangrove forest and down into the desert.  Ren told us about the large “air handlers” that regulate the flow of air into this part of the Biosphere.  They are disguised to look like caves.

biosphere_tour_group

Our next stop was the basement.

basement

My favorite part was when we walked through this tunnel that seemed to get smaller and smaller as we walked onward.  Someone commented that it felt like a scene from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”

tunnel

Soon, we had to duck and watch our heads as we went through a triangle shaped opening.

low_access

Here we are arriving inside one of two “lungs” in the facility.  These are air-volume control devices.  There is a 20+ ton metal saucer in the middle of the room, connected to the surrounding walls by a rubber curved ceiling.  The entire ceiling can move up and down to regulate the volume of air within Biosphere.

lung

It felt like a scene from outer space.

tyson_inside_lung

To get to the outside world from there, we had to pass through two “air lock” doors.  Each time, a huge gust of wind would hit us in the face as the pressure inside the Biosphere started regulating with the pressure from outside.

exiting_air_lock

A few more instructions and then we continued back inside.

outside

Here is the kitchen where the Biospherians prepared their meals.  Ren told us they would only eat meat once a week.

kitchen

This is a look inside one of the bedrooms.

living_quarters

Next up: Lunch in Oracle

oracle_entry

Michael’s 740 was looking great.

michael_bmw

Joe’s Cashmere Silver Metallic Legend Type II has over 160,000 miles on it.

joe_legend

Woody made a friend at the Oracle Inn.

woody_cowboy

Lunch is served.

chicken_dinner

Group photo-op at the Oracle Inn before heading out again.

  • Tyson, Paul, Michael, Woody
  • Joe, Cole, Aaron, Kevin
  • Jim, Edward, Kelvin, Chad, Kevin
  • Alan, Matt, Brad

group_at_oracle_inn

Let’s roll!

oracle_inn_departure

Everyone taking their seats in the ILX for the drive to Winkelman on Highway 77.

getting_in_ilx_2

This was my favorite stretch of the day’s drive by far.

drive_to_superior_from_oracle

Sunset made for some nice lighting as we headed up the two-laner.

hwy_177

Rest area in Superior, Arizona with the Z, the RS5, and the ILX

car_lineup_in_superior

In we went for the final stretch.

getting_in_ilx

3 Responses to “ILX Drive: Biosphere 2 in Oracle, Arizona”

  1. This reminded me of the movie “Bio-Dome” which came out the year I was born. I haven’t seen it in a while but I remember every scene in it. Pretty funny movie.

    This was really cool though. I love science so this blog got extra points today. 🙂

    • I figured you would appreciate some of the nerdiness in this post. I actually have never seen the movie Bio Dome but I guess I really need to! Hope you’ve had a good weekend, Dillon.

      • Give it a shot. You may or may not like it, it’s sorta quirky and very much the 90’s. I’ll watch anything, especially older movies so shoot me first!

        Hope you had a good weekend as well. 🙂

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