Texas Tech University

Howdy From Hub City – Lubbock, TX

Lubbock – a city that is known as the home of Texas Tech University, but also one of the main population centers in rural West Texas. After a great day spent exploring Amarillo, the family and I headed for “Hub City”, located two hours away. This nickname originated from the fact that Lubbock is the economic hub of the South Plains region. This wouldn’t be my first time in town- flying back home from Roswell, New Mexico last year, I stopped at the Lubbock airport for fuel and a quick lunch. Seeing that Texas Tech was one of the few well-known universities in the state that I hadn’t visited, it was an easy decision to swing by to see the school and city.

Leaving Amarillo, we took Interstate 27, which stretches from Amarillo to Lubbock. On the way there, we passed by towns like Canyon, Happy, and Plainview. Canyon is home to West Texas A&M, a small university that focuses pretty heavily on agricultural and equestrian studies.

West Texas A&M
Old Main at WTAMU.

West Texas A&M

West Texas A&M
The bell tower right in front of the “pedestrian mall” – the main walkway of the school with buildings on both sides.

Happy isn’t just some name you’ve heard in a movie – it’s an actual town! With a population of just 667, it is nothing more than a tiny community in the dusty Panhandle. Many of the roads weren’t well-paved, and the downtown area was little more than a few buildings.

Happy, Texas
Happy’s City Hall.

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With light traffic conditions, we entered Lubbock city limits ahead of schedule. After lunch, we began our tour of Hub City, starting with the most well-known place in town – Texas Tech University.

Texas Tech University
The school seal right by the main entrance to Texas Tech.

Established in 1925, the school was originally established as Texas Technological College. The state legislature formally changed the name to Texas Tech in ’69. Today, it is home to over 36,000 students and holds several distinctions including being the only campus in the state to have a university, law school, and medical school. Tech is also very well-known in the athletics department, with its football team competing in the Big 12 and holding status as a Division 1 school.

Doing a walking tour of campus, we explored the various buildings that comprise Red Raider Country. With covered arch walkways and different architectural features around several buildings, the campus looked pretty nice.

Texas Tech University

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Although there wasn’t as much green space as that of Iowa State University, the exterior layout still was well-designed and easy to navigate.

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Since it was Thanksgiving weekend, most of the buildings were closed. However, we did go inside the library, which was open.

Texas Tech University Library

Texas Tech University Library interior

Inside, it was pretty typical, with all the features one would expect for a university of this size. A coffee bar was located in the lobby area, along with computers and meeting areas on the first floor. Smart boards were installed by the little meeting pods, allowing students to collaborate using advanced technology.

Texas Tech Library Interior

The upstairs area was all books. Combined, the Texas Tech library has over 1.7 million volumes in its collection.

Texas Tech University Library Interior

Leaving the library, I came across this pretty neat statue of a walking “book man”.

Texas Tech University
The “Book Man” statue by the library.

The last place we visited here was the Rawls College of Business, located all the way on the other side of campus.

Texas Tech University
The Rawls College of Business.

The doors were locked, but peering inside the building looked pretty modern. This bear and bull piece of public art, representing the stock market with its lines indicative of the ups and downs was unique!

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All in all, I found this visit to Texas Tech to be pretty relaxing. It was neat seeing the campus of a school often discussed in collegiate football and talked about by friends who went here. Leaving Red Raider Country, it was off to our next stop, Prairie Dog Town – perhaps Lubbock’s most unique destination.

Prairie Dog Town

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A part of the city-owned Mackenzie Park, Prairie Dog Town is an enclosed area where prairie dogs live and get spoiled by visitors dropping food. It was started in 1935 by a guy name K.N. Clapp, after being concerned about the possible extinction of this species due to the government’s poisoning program. With two pairs of prairie dogs as its first inhabitants, this habitat flourished. Upon arriving, there were quite a few people, most with bags of carrots in hand.

Prairie Dog Town
It’s afternoon snack time!

Being that we didn’t prepare any food, we headed to the local supermarket and was back before long with several bags of baby carrots. Tossing them to these little creatures, they caught and ate the incoming supply of fresh food around half of the time. Other times, they seemed to be oblivious to the fact that a carrot had landed right next to them(or perhaps they just didn’t care).

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Signs here give the visitor some information about prairie dogs and their burrows. These creatures are pretty ingenious as I learned from this diagram- their underground habitat includes emergency exits, various rooms, and a food storage area!

Prairie Dog Town
Signs here educate visitors on the history and burrowing habits of the prairie dogs.

Birds were swooping in and walking around amongst the prairie dogs, but they didn’t seem to mind or have any sort of conflict at all.

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Between feeding and just observing these creatures in their natural habitat, we spent close to an hour here. Prairie Dog Town is a place I definitely recommend for a fun, family-friendly outdoor activity here in Lubbock. Time slipped on us, but we still headed for the American Wind Power Museum.

American Wind Power Museum
Some of the many windmills on display outside the American Wind Power Museum.

Due to the museum getting ready to close for the day, we opted not to see the exhibits inside, but we did walk around Lineberry Windmill Park, located outside. Many different windmills were represented here, including this Vestas V47 wind turbine. This thing is humongous!

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The huge Vestas V47 wind turbine.

Rising 164 feet into the West Texas sky, this wind turbine generates 660kW of power, enough to power the museum. Excess energy is sold to the local power grid. These modern-day windmills can be seen all over this region, however, it is here that you can get up close and personal with this masterpiece of technology.

American Wind Power Museum
These wind turbines are right at home in windy West Texas.

Leaving the Wind Power Museum, we did a driving tour of downtown. The whole area was deserted; with all the Texas Tech folks gone there just wasn’t any livelihood there. At the Lubbock Preston Smith International Airport though, our last stop, it was anything but deserted.  The terminal was pretty crowded, full of folks mostly coming back into town. While their terminal isn’t very modern, it was well-structured(at least from the non-secure side) with rental car counters located in the building; negating the need to hop on a shuttle.

In sum, it was a nice half-day spent seeing Hub City and what makes up the land of the Red Raiders! Being that this school revolves around the university so much, it might be worth stopping back in on game day, or at least when the semester is in session. I’d also like to see the exhibits that make up the American Wind Power Museum. But for now, it’s one more Texas city visited!

 

Amarillo – The Route 66 City of Texas

Historic Route 66 is one of this country’s most well-known highways, spanning from Santa Monica all the way to Chicago while stretching across portions of 8 states in the process. Texas wasn’t excluded from this 2,448-mile long roadway, with Amarillo as a stop along “The Main Street of America”. Over Thanksgiving weekend, my family and I headed up into the Panhandle region to see what this city of close to 200,000 had to offer. 

The drive up from North Texas took around 6 and a half hours. Taking Highways 380 and 287, we passed by towns like Wichita Falls, Vernon, and Memphis. Super flat plains dotted the landscape, with irrigation equipment stretching across fields like a giant grasshopper. A fair amount of traffic was present, although there weren’t many gas stations or rest stops. Upon arriving, we began our journey of exploring the largest city in the Texas Panhandle. 

Our first stop was Cadillac Ranch, located off Interstate 40 on the west side of town. While you won’t come across any horses or cows here, you will find 10 half-buried vintage Cadillacs, with thick layers of spray paint covering their bodies. 

Cadillac Ranch
The 10 half-buried Cadillacs making up this piece of public art.

This public art installation was the work of three men – Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez, and Doug Michels. They were part of the Ant Farm art group, in the practice of non-traditional architecture and art. And non-traditional this surely was! Here, you are encouraged to spray paint your own design on the cars, making your own little masterpiece.

Cadillac Ranch
Young or old, this is a perfect place to channel your inner graffiti artist.

Why Cadillacs? Ant Farm loved the styling of the Cadillacs from the mid 20th century, especially the tail fin design and envisioned a work of public art stemming from it. With the financial backing of millionaire Stanley Marsh 3,  the land was secured and the art installation opened in 1974. 

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Today, Cadillac Ranch is one of the top destinations to visit in Amarillo. There was a constant stream of people coming and going, Krylon can in hand. Everyone parks their car on the side of the Interstate 40 frontage road and enters via a small gate. A short walk takes you across the field and right in front of the cars. From there, you get to work making your own design. 

Cadillac Ranch entrance
The small gate you pass thru to enter.  It really gives the feeling that you are entering an actual West Texas ranch!
Cadillac Ranch
Dad beginning to spray paint his Chinese name.

It was a neat 45 minutes spent spray painting our names on different Caddys and just having a great time!

Cadillac Ranch

Leaving Cadillac Ranch, it was off to our next stop, the Jack Sisemore Traveland RV Museum. Located on the grounds of an RV dealer, this free museum offered a great glimpse into the world of motorhomes, from vintage Airstreams to camping trailers. 

Jack Sisemore RV Museum

Themed after Route 66 and the spirit of road-tripping across the country, the museum contains many different models of RVs, including the world’s oldest Airstream and the first Itasca, serial number #1. The different generations are well-represented, with models dating back to the 30s all the way up to the 70s. The best part is that the doors on the majority of these models were open, and you could walk in and see how the interior layout was structured.

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world's oldest airstream

Jack Sisemore RV Museum

Not only were there a lot of campers, but many vintage memorabilia from the Route 66 days were also seen here, such as this soda fountain mock-up. Seeing all these relics made it feel like I’d gone back in time!

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We spent around 45 minutes here, seeing all the different artifacts. It felt like going to an antique store, except the stuff on display here was much larger! An RV museum isn’t something you come across regularly, and it was cool being able to get a glimpse of life inside a motorhome. 

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After that, we went to go see Amarillo’s downtown, an area I usually visit on any excursion. A couple of mid-sized buildings dotted the landscape, with the Potter County Courthouse close to the center of it all.

image of the Potter County Courthouse
The Potter County Courthouse.
amarillo tx downtown and potter county courthouse lawn
Downtown Amarillo, as seen from the front lawn of the courthouse.

This courthouse, the 5th used by Potter County, was built in 1932 at a cost of $420,000. From the exterior, it didn’t look that old! There’s not that grand and gorgeous appeal as that of Hood County’s in Granbury, but it fit in well with the downtown landscape. 

potter county courthouse entrance
Those doors are pretty neat. Looks like something that can be seen at Dallas’ Fair Park.

From there, we headed to The Big Texan Steak Ranch, the last destination of the day.  Much more than just your typical restaurant, this place can arguably be the busiest place in town.

The Big Texan STeak Ranch
The Big Texan Steak Ranch.

What draws everyone here? Their world-famous 72oz steak challenge. Finish the whole meal(consisting of the actual steak, a bread roll, a baked potato, a shrimp cocktail, and a salad) within an hour and its free. The idea came after founder Bob Lee decided to hold a contest to see which of the cowboys in the area could consume the most steaks in an hour, with a small monetary prize. Opening in 1960, it was originally right off…you guessed it, Route 66. It eventually moved to its present location off Interstate 40 in 1970. 

Since we were vegetarian, we didn’t eat at The Big Texan, however, we went in to look around. In addition to the main dining room, there is also an ice cream stand, bar, and gift shop located in the “lobby” area. 

The Big Texan Steak Ranch
Various coin-operated games were placed around the “lobby”.

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The Big Texan Steak Ranch
The gift shop sold t-shirts, postcards, and various other Texas and Route 66 souvenirs.

In the dining room, the folks up for the challenge sit front and center, on a raised platform with timers right next to them. Other diners aka those that opt for smaller portions get to watch the gobbling happen, and there is even an online webcam stream available! 

The Big Texan Steak Ranch dining room
The dining room with the contestant’s table up front.
The Big Texan Steak Ranch
The table where the contestants sit.

Right next door, in a Wild West-looking Main Street setup, is a mini-motel run by the restaurant. It’s a convenient place to call it a night should that 72oz steak meal leave you unable to move. All-in-all, they seem to have done a great job with turning a restaurant into a destination and experience. 

Big Texan hotel
The exterior of the motel.
Big Texan Steak Ranch
This dinosaur “Big Tex Rex” is just one of many things that let you know that this isn’t a typical steakhouse, if you didn’t notice the bright yellow building, that is!

In conclusion, the cities touched by Route 66 are always fun to visit, and Amarillo was certainly no exception. When I was first planning this trip, I envisioned this city as a relatively boring and slow town with absolutely nothing to do, and it turned out to be a place with its own culture and some pretty unique destinations. Regardless if you happen to be passing by on Interstate 40, or just want to check out an area of Texas different from the usual Austin or San Antonio tourist scene, Amarillo is a great place to experience the Lone Star State and Route 66 at the same time!

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People coming and going at Cadillac Ranch. It was a nice first visit to the Panhandle region, where the landscape is extremely flat and the land seemingly never-ending.

 

 

Hole in the Rock

Two Days Spent in Phoenix

To wrap up October, I set off to explore another state – Arizona. This trip had been in the works since May, when I decided to throw in a mini mid-week fall vacation. Since Southwest had bargain fares for Phoenix, I decided to head for “The Grand Canyon State”. After arriving on my early morning flight, I was ready to start seeing everything that this desert city had to offer!

Arizona is known for its mountains, and so I decided that Dobbins Lookout, a scenic mountaintop observation point, would be my first stop. A part of South Mountain Park, one of the largest municipal parks in the country, Dobbins Lookout is the highest publicly-accessible point in South Mountain. The best part is that there is no hiking required – winding mountain roads take you all the way up to the summit, clocking in at an elevation of 2,330 feet. Look at those views!

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A stone ramada made for a great place to hang out, while also providing shelter from  the direct sun in those hot summer months.

dobbins lookout

Due to it being a weekday, there weren’t a lot of other people around. The lack of noise made it a pretty serene place to be, and although the temperatures were slowly starting to climb, the lack of humidity kept it relatively comfortable.

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Dobbins Lookout is one great spot to see Phoenix and the Valley of the Sun.

After enjoying the sights for about an hour or so, it was time to explore the city, starting with the Arizona State Capitol. Located close to downtown, the state capitol complex is unlike any other I’ve seen, with a design similar to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Unlike D.C. though, there was an abundance of free parking!

Arizona State Capitol
Making up Arizona’s capitol complex is the Bolin Memorial Plaza, with the capitol museum and executive tower in the background.

Starting off with the Wesley Bolin Memorial Plaza, different memorials paid tribute to military veterans, law enforcement, and firefighters, just to name a few. There was also a 9/11 memorial, and other various markers commemorating the different wars the U.S. has been involved in.

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A mast and anchor from the USS Arizona, which was one of the ships bombed during Pearl Harbor, was also on display here.

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Before heading into the capitol museum, I stopped by the House and Senate buildings flanking it. Both were open to the public, and it was pretty neat seeing the legislative chambers where the laws of Arizona are made.

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The House chamber.

Arizona State Capitol
The Senate chamber.

The capitol museum, formerly the working capitol building until 1974, was well laid out and allowed me to get a good understanding of Arizona’s history. Different exhibits on the four different floors talked about various events in the state’s history, ranging from statehood to a boxcar full of gifts received from France. On that day, it was pretty busy, with a few groups of schoolkids coming here for a field trip.

Arizona State Capitol
The Arizona State Capitol Museum.

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The majority of the rooms were open for visitors to explore, including the old legislative chambers, the governor’s office, and Supreme Court chambers once used to keep Arizona running.

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The old House chamber.

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The historic Arizona Supreme Court chambers.

The capitol museum had a rotunda design, like most state capitols. However, I found it to be pretty small. It wasn’t just me, as one of the main factors that caused the state to build the present day Executive Tower was overcrowding of the historic capitol.

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Arizona State Capitol

Before leaving, I briefly looked around the Executive Tower. It really is as plain on the inside as it is on the outside – nothing but state employees walking around a rather un-appealing lobby. Definitely not worth the hassle of having to go thru security.

Arizona State Capitol
The Executive Tower, where the Governor and other state officials office out of.

After lunch was a journey to the days of the Wild West, with a visit to the Wells Fargo History Museum, located in the heart of downtown.

Wells Fargo Phoenix Museum
The Wells Fargo Plaza, which houses the Wells Fargo History Museum.

As the name implies, the museum is owned and run by Wells Fargo. Admission is free, although they are closed on the weekends and bank holidays. Here, you can learn the story of the company’s history, and how they started from hauling gold and other precious metals to being one of the biggest banks in the nation.

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In addition to different artifacts and relics from their early days kept in glass displays, there were also several interactive exhibits, perfect for families with kids. Here, you get to ride on a stage wagon, get your picture taken at two photo booths, and try your hand at Morse code.

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After learning about Wells Fargo’s connection to the American Southwest, I set off to visit another museum, this one talking about the Native American population here in Arizona. At The Heard Museum, all sorts of artifacts related to American Indians are exhibited, from rows and rows of pottery to different pieces of art.

Heard Museum
Due to copyright issues, I barely took any photos. However, this is a museum that’s worth seeing, especially if you are into art or Native American culture!

With two stories and over 40,000 items, the Heard is the largest private museum dedicated to exhibiting all things Native American. All-in-all, it was an interesting hour-and-a-half experiencing the culture and story of the indigenous peoples.

Heard Museum

With the sun setting soon, it was time to head to my last stop of the day, the Hole-in-the-Rock at Papago Park. One true geological marvel, it literally is…a hole in the rock!

Hole in the Rock
The Hole-in-the-Rock at Papago Park.

One of the most popular places to watch the sunset here in Phoenix, this giant rock formation was created by the forces of erosion over millions of years. Early indigenous inhabitants used this hole to mark the different seasons and positions of the sun. To get up to the hole, a short hike is involved, with different rock formations and man-made stairs leading you all the way to the top.

Hole in the Rock

Hole in the Rock
The view while hiking up.

The hike up took around 7 minutes, although I’m sure more experienced folks can ascent much faster since it’s not a steep elevation by any means. From there, I joined others watching the Arizona sunset.

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After picking a comfortable spot, I spent around 30 minutes up here, taking in the beautiful scenery.

There was some rain that had begun to fall on the drive to Papago Park, which luckily had stopped by the time I began my ascent. Seeing some dark clouds in the distance, I decided it was time to get back down before the rain moved back in. It took me around five minutes for the descent, and I was ready for dinner and wrapping up the day after that.

Hole in the Rock
The beautiful sunset with downtown Phoenix in the background. It was a successful and fun first day here in Arizona!

After breakfast the next morning, I was ready to start another day’s worth of exploring. Yesterday I had gone to see the stuff within Phoenix, and today I wanted to hit some spots in the suburbs. Universities are someplace I usually visit in every city, and so I stopped by Arizona State University, located in Tempe.

Arizona State University Campus
The entrance to Arizona State University.

Parking my car in one of the pay-per-hour covered garages, I spent close to two hours here, checking out the various buildings that made up one of the largest public universities in the nation by enrollment.

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Most of the buildings were pretty modern, and reminded me of my school, UT Dallas. The exception to that would be Old Main, the first building constructed at ASU back in 1898.

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Arizona State University Campus
Old Main.

Old Main, used by the alumni association, is open to the public and welcomes visitors. The lady that greeted me gave me a brochure, which detailed a self-guided tour thru various rooms like the historic auditorium. Unfortunately, most of these rooms listed were closed off. However, the second-floor balcony was open, providing a great view of University Drive.

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Arizona State University Campus
Photos show different historical milestones here at ASU.

After this short tour was over, I continued exploring the campus. I happened to walk into a random building when I discovered a room with a glass observation window. It turned out that this was the operations center of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera, capturing the surface of the Moon in a partnership with NASA.

Arizona State University Campus

There were free posters, postcards, and other small souvenirs that were placed by the guest book for visitors to take. Definitely unique!

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Finishing up at ASU, I stopped by several other places on campus, like the Memorial Union and the W.P. Carey School of Business. Much like what I had seen before, they were new and modern.

Arizona State University Campus
The Memorial Union, ASU’s student union. On a weekday morning, it was pretty busy with students studying, visiting different offices, or grabbing some Starbucks.

Arizona State University Campus
The W.P. Carey School of Business.

Arizona State University Campus
A state-of-the-art video wall located inside the business school.

In the afternoon, it was time to get a real-world look into the lives of Native Americans, with a visit to the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, located in Scottsdale. Having watched various documentaries of the living conditions on many of the nation’s Indian reservations, I was curious to see firsthand how good or bad these communities were. After driving around for a few minutes and seeing mostly barren land, this ominous sign greeted me, a reminder of the substance abuse problems present.

Salt River Indian Community
The sign reads “Tradition not Addiction”.

Not all of the roads here were paved, and there were some crops being grown in fields within the reservation.

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Offices used by the tribal government were relatively modern. I didn’t go inside, but they reminded me of my visit to the Choctaw Nation in Durant, Oklahoma.

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On the other hand, a lot of the houses here were in less-than-ideal condition. Unfortunately, the landscape of the community appeared deserted and run-down in general.

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Seeing how the Native Americans live today was a real eye-opener. Problems like alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, and suicide are prevalent amongst this group of people, and real change is needed so that conditions improve.

Departing Salt River, I headed for my last destination of the trip, the Hall of Flame Fire Museum, located close to Papago Park. Originally founded in 1961, the Hall of Flame is the world’s largest firefighting museum, containing over 90 fire engines in five galleries. Add in over 10,000 various other artifacts, and you have quite the collection that displays everything in the world of firefighting.

Hall of Flame Museum

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After paying the admission fee, I got handed a binder full of information about each fire apparatus on display, which served as my virtual tour guide. From horse-drawn wagons all the way to modern-day engines, it was super cool seeing how the technology of firefighting has evolved over the years.

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Close to the back of the museum, one particular engine stood out. It was the New York Fire Department’s Rescue #4, which responded to the World Trade Center on 9/11. I learned that none of the 6 people that responded to the scene on this truck made it back.

Another exhibit I found neat at the Hall of Flame was the patch wall. Over 4000 arm patches from fire departments across the world were displayed. I was able to find the ones used by fire departments close to where I live!

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For families, this would be a great place to visit, as there is a small Fire Safety section specifically for kids, with different interactive objects to teach fire safety. On top of that, there is an antique fire engine that everyone can board for photos.

After spending over an hour here checking out all the different pieces of equipment, it was time to head to the airport, since my flight was leaving in a couple of hours. I enjoyed my time at the Hall of Flame, and Phoenix in general. This city wouldn’t have been much fun to visit had it been July, but the relatively temperate fall weather made it nice for all that exploring. Every state that I’ve visited had something unique to offer, and Arizona was certainly no exception. Although “The Grand Canyon State” is now officially off the list of states I have yet to see, I know that since I haven’t visited the Grand Canyon National Park, I will be back!