St Kieran’s Bones

by Kieran Healy on March 25, 2007

I took a quick trip around “Fantasy Island”: this morning, a series of fast, fun mountain-bike trails about twenty minutes from downtown Tucson. To get there, you drive past “Davis Monthan AFB”: and “AMARC”:, better known as the Boneyard. This is a huge complex of decommissioned, mothballed, cannibalized and just plain decaying U.S. military aircraft of all sorts. Here’s a Google Satellite Shot to give you a sense of the scale of the place.

As it happens, this is only one of three boneyards in the area. Up out past the northwest side of town past Marana is “Pinal Air Park”:, which is a boneyard, storage and re-branding site for civilian aircraft, including many 747s. (It also has a history as a CIA Airfield.) And it’s here that St Kieran, an Aer Lingus 747, met his end some years ago.

Here’s a larger shot. This photo was taken in 1997. I don’t think he’s there any more, having probably been scrapped in the meantime. Like I say, you see some strange things in the desert. (Me on a mountain bike, for example.) Maybe I should do a series. Next up could be the local Titan II ICBM silo (missile included), where we take job candidates when they ask us where the Dean’s office is.



Kelly 03.25.07 at 5:11 am

you see some strange things in the desert
Having lived in Nevada for two years… no shit. “some strange things” doesn’t even begin to cover it.


otto 03.25.07 at 12:11 pm

Would make a good cover shot for a book on Ryanair.


c.l. ball 03.25.07 at 3:24 pm

That is a great set of trails. You have to be careful if you’re not used to desert riding — you think you have mastered the terrain and then endo down a steeper chute (there’s a sign warning you of endo potential on the one chute; it’s not an exaggeration).

Riding by those plane parks is amazing.

I really wish Arizona would set up a donation site at the trailheads rather than requiring the mail-in permit.


dsquared 03.25.07 at 3:37 pm

does anyone know what Saint Kieran was (or is, I suppose) the patron saint of?


KCinDC 03.25.07 at 3:43 pm

Patrick Smith reported on the boneyard last year in his Salon “Ask the Pilot” column.


Gene O'Grady 03.25.07 at 3:48 pm

There’s a similar site in the California desert near Mojave which may be more accessible to more people. I was told the planes at Mojave were just surplus and might go back to flying, but wasn’t sure I’d want to be a passenger if they did.

But I don’t think anything matches the “mothball fleets” the navy maintains such as the one in Suisun Bay northeast of San Francisco, easily visible from Amtrak or Highway 80. Better see it fast since apparently all of them except the battleship Iowa will be scrapped as soon as they can find someone willing to run the environmental risk of licensing the breaking yard.


Kieran Healy 03.25.07 at 3:58 pm

You have to be careful if you’re not used to desert riding—you think you have mastered the terrain and then endo down a steeper chute

Yeah I know, and I know the hill you’re talking about. I’ve been biking out here for several years, and am lucky enough to own a bike that eats that sort of thing up. Though having kids means that all-day trips are kind of impossible these days — hence the rapid runs down to Fantasy.


radek 03.25.07 at 5:28 pm

Ummm, dsquared, type in “Saint Kieran” into Google and see what happens.


radek 03.25.07 at 5:29 pm

BTW, the part in 2000 Leagues Under the Sea where Captain Nemo’s going through the ship graveyard always made me feel sad. This post does too.


dsquared 03.25.07 at 6:21 pm

apparently according to google, he’s the patron saint of St Kieran’s Church in Clonmacnoise, Ireland. Talk about a lack of ambition.


radek 03.25.07 at 7:13 pm

There’s also Wikipedia, Chucky. Do I really have to do this for you? Apparantly there’s a couple different St. Kieran’s. The Clonmacnoise one in particular may or may not be the patron saint of … Cornwall.


dsquared 03.25.07 at 7:20 pm

I quite like my version. “Hi, I’m Saint Kieran, patron saint of all people and things called Kieran. If you’re Kieran, I’ve got your back; otherwise, frankly, you’re wasting your time praying to me. I agree that it’s not as impressive as being the patron saint of the sea or something, but hey, it’s a living”.


Cryptic Ned 03.25.07 at 7:43 pm

It’s better than being the “patron saint of lost causes”. “Hey, if there’s no possible hope that praying will do you any good, I’m just the guy you should pray to.”


Joel Turnipseed 03.25.07 at 7:50 pm

Side note (inspired by O’grady): shouldn’t all these planes be gone by now? When I removed my aluminum awnings last fall & put them out next to the garage, they were gone by the following morning.


radek 03.25.07 at 7:53 pm

Here’s the full break down:

Apparantly all 8 of the Saints ‘against sexual temptation’ are female. Looked for ones ‘against sexual frustration’ but couldn’t find any.

The patron saints of economists are Cyril and Methodius. Almost.


jacob 03.25.07 at 9:02 pm

Re Joel @ 14: I agree. Weren’t people stealing telephone poles in Baltimore for scrap? Why aren’t these planes all in China by now?


Gene O'Grady 03.25.07 at 9:15 pm

In answer to 14 and 16, my guess is that the reason they put them in the desert it’s so hot the thieves won’t have the energy to find them.

Also, I thought St. Anthony (also of the desert, but a different desert) was good against sexual temptation?

As for Cyril and Methodius, back in my day they were buried in the wonderful church of San Clemente in Rome, but I believe John Paul II sent their bones back to the Slaves as a good will gesture. Hope it turns out to be a rational choice.


Ian 03.25.07 at 10:20 pm

Weirdest desert place in America may be Slab City just east of the Salton Sea, immortalized in the closing chapters of William T Vollmann’s “The Royal Family.” Purgatory and then some.

I only mention this in order to boast that I finished “The Royal Family.” Not many people can say that.


jacob 03.25.07 at 10:39 pm

Actually, Gene, my question was not so much “why haven’t thieves gotten to them yet,” but “Why haven’t the ‘rightful’ owners of them sold them for scrap?” Where “rightful owners,” of course, means those who have appropriated them from the workers who made them through the system of wage slavery.


Ignacio Prado 03.26.07 at 3:19 am

I believe you will find what you are looking for the in the misty mornings of St. Jackson Browne’s song.


abb1 03.27.07 at 9:59 am


abb1 03.27.07 at 7:13 pm


fústar 03.29.07 at 7:57 pm

The ‘boneyard’ is also featured prominently in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. That’s actually how I first came to know of it.

You certainly should consider a series. “Mothballed Military Aircraft (seen from a Mountain Bike) Monday” perhaps?

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