Father Kino: A Legendary Figure who Founded 8 Missions in Southern Arizona

Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, a 17th-century Jesuit priest founded 21 missions in what is now Northern Sonora and Southern Arizona

Born Eusebio Chini (the Spanish version of his last name is Kino) to a noble family in Italy, Father Kino became a legendary figure during his era in the New World.

After surviving a serious illness young in life, he thanked God by adopting Francisco as a second name in honor and devotion to St. Francis Xavier. He vowed to become a priest and dreamed of missionary work in China. He became a well-educated mathematician and cartographer, often teaching math and science during his training to receive Holy Orders and be ordained as a priest.

However, his first mission was to lead an expedition to Baja, California, controlled by New Spain, to create maps. Kino is attributed with proving that the area was a peninsula, not an island. Later, he was commissioned to convert the natives living along the Rio Grande to Catholicism.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Soon Padre Kino had a strong following among the tribes, but he didn’t just focus on conversion. Nicknamed the Padre on Horseback, he traversed the unfriendly territory to help the lives of the American Indians. Father Kino worked hard to oppose forced labor on the native people by the Spanish in the silver mines.

Contrary to his fellow priests who followed Spanish law, Father Kino was considered a rebel whom the indigenous people trusted. He gained fame as a peacekeeper among the people, homesteaders, and governments.

Father Kino possessed many other interests as well such as astronomy and became a prolific writer, authoring books on many subjects—including religion. As he traversed the territory, he drew numerous maps including the sky. Father Kino was instrumental in the Vatican establishing one of the largest telescopes in North America near Tucson, the Vatican Advanced Technology Telescope (VATT) at Mount Graham International Observatory.

Father Kino spent the last 24 years of his life in the Pimeria Alta—modern-day Sonora, Mexico, and southern Arizona. He established 21 missions and country chapels, many at the request of the local tribes as they slowly felt safe enough to build villages and farms close to the missions. With a stable food source, the tribes began to recover from the brutality and discrimination they endured from the influx of foreigners to their land. Thus, Father Kino is still honored and loved today.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dying of a fever at the age of 65, Kino was buried in a shrine designated a National Monument of Mexico, located in the present-day town of Magdalena de Kino in Sonora. His funeral was attended by dignitaries from Mexico City and the local area.

The unveiling of a Padre Kino postage stamp and presentation of his original travel diary was held in March of 2011. The United States Capitol displays a life-size statue from every state of a person who was chosen to portray the state’s heritage and beliefs. Arizona chose Father Kino.

Last year Pope Francis approved that Father Kino be declared a venerable person which is two steps away from sainthood. The pope’s formal approval recognized Kino’s life of “heroic virtue,” said Bishop Edward J. Weisenburger of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson.

“Padre Kino is especially recognized as an extraordinary example of evangelization, science, and respect for the dignity of the poor,” wrote Weisenburger in an email to parishioners.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The bishop said since Kino was a member of the Jesuit order with provincial headquarters in Trent, Italy, the joyous announcement affects the people of Trent and also the “faithful of the Archdiocese of Hermosillo, Mexico, the Catholic peoples of Arizona, and all who recognize the holy life of Venerable Padre Kino.”

“For Kino to be advanced to the next stage of the canonization process a miracle attributed to him is necessary. The faithful are encouraged to seek his intervention in time of need,” Weisenburger said.

In March 2011, descendants of Kino from Italy gathered outdoors in front of Mission San José de Tumacácori south of Tucson to celebrate a tricentennial commemorative Mass of Kino’s death. His visible skeletal remains are in a crypt at La Plaza Monumental, about 50 yards from María Magdalena Church.

The Tumacácori mission was established by Kino in 1691 but later built under Franciscan missionaries. In 1700, Kino laid the foundation for a mission at the village of Bac on the Santa Cruz River near Tucson. Mission San Xavier del Bac—also known as the White Dove of the Desert—was completed in 1797 also by Franciscan missionaries.

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“I am happy to hear the news about Padre Kino being declared venerable because we have been waiting for this announcement since 2016,” said Rosie Garcia, president and founding board member of the Kino Heritage Society.

“Padre Kino was a missionary who brought Christianity to Northern Sonora and Southern Arizona. He was an advocate for social justice and he certainly deserves this honor,” she said of the sainthood process.

“His legacy lives on,” said Garcia. “We see it today in the Kino Border Initiative in Nogales, Sonora, a Jesuit-run shelter and an advocacy center for migrants. Truly, Padre Kino was meant to be a man for all seasons and for all ages.” She said the process to canonize Kino began in the 1960s and it started in Hermosillo, Sonora.

Manny Martinez, a Tohono O’odham Nation member who works closely with O’odham at Mission San Xavier del Bac, said Kino was “an ally to tribal peoples of this area. According to his writings and what we know about him, he worked to be a bridge between Native Americans’ spirituality and the Catholic faith.”

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“He went beyond the European’s perceptions of native people at that time and he really saw us as people of the creator. He validated the first people of this land,” said Martinez. “His journey to sainthood would put him in a league of other Catholic saints who spoke up for those who did not have a voice,” he said.

Big Jim Griffith, a well-known local folklorist and a founder of Tucson Meet Yourself, reminds us that we honor Padre Kino’s legacy every time we enjoy carne asada since the padre introduced wheat and beef in the late 17th century into the area.

Worth Pondering…

A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.

—Basil of Caesarea, Ancient Greek theologian (330-379)

15 Bucket List National Historic Landmarks in America (Must-See + Photos)

From sea to shining sea, these are America’s best historic landmarks

What are some bucket list national historic landmarks that you want to see during your lifetime?

I will give you my list of the 15 National Historic Landmarks you’ll want to see in your lifetime. Maybe you’ve already been to a few of these incredible sites. There’s no reason why you can’t go back, however. Or you might want to see some of the ones you haven’t been to yet.

This list includes American landmarks which are managed by the National Park Service as well as others which are not.

Without further ado, let’s dive in.

El Tovar © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. El Tovar

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: May 28, 1987

Location: South Rim, Grand Canyon National Park, Coconino County, Arizona

Description: This celebrated historic hotel located directly on the rim of the Grand Canyon first opened its doors in 1905. El Tovar was one of a chain of hotels and restaurants owned and operated by the Fred Harvey Company in conjunction with the Santa Fe Railway. The hotel was built from local limestone and Oregon pine. It cost $250,000 to build and many considered it the most elegant hotel west of the Mississippi River.

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Grand Canyon National Park

USS Drum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. USS Drum 

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: January 14, 1986

Location: Mobile, Mobile County, Alabama

Description: The submarine USS Drum (SS-228), a World War II veteran with 12 Battle Stars is credited with sinking 15 ships, a total of 80,580 tons of enemy shipping, the eighth highest of all U.S. submarines in total Japanese tonnage sunk. USS Drum is the oldest American submarine on display in the world.

Read more: Lucky A: USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park

Woodford Reserve Distillery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Labrot & Graham’s Old Oscar Pepper Distillery

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: May 16, 2000

Location: Versailles, Woodford County, Kentucky

Description: Woodford Reserve Distillery is an award-winning distillery that produces a range of whiskeys including limited-edition releases like the Kentucky-only Distillery Series. Established by Elijah Pepper in 1812 the distillery is one of the oldest distilleries in Kentucky and is listed as a National Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places. Formerly known as the Old Oscar Pepper Distillery and later the Labrot & Graham Distillery, the distillery produces several whiskeys including Woodford Reserve Bourbon.

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Massachusetts State House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Massachusetts Statehouse

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: December 19, 1960

Location: Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts

Description: Designed by Charles Bulfinch, the new and current State House has served as the seat of the Massachusetts government since its opening in 1798. Holding the legislative and executive branches, it sits adjacent to the former site of the historic Hancock mansion. 

Read more: Walk the Freedom Trail and Experience over 250 years of History

Santa Fe Plaza © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Santa Fe Plaza

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: December 19, 1960

Location: Santa Fe, Santa Fe County, New Mexico

Description: The Santa Fe Plaza, part of the Santa Fe Historic District is the heart of Santa Fe. It has been the social, political, commercial, and public center of Santa Fe since it was established in 1610 by Don Pedro de Peralta.

Today the Santa Fe Plaza is popular for tourists who are interested in Spanish, Native American, and Mexican cultures. Throughout the Plaza, one can find native jewelry, art, designs, music, and dances. Many annual events are held at the Santa Fe Plaza including Fiestas de Santa Fe, the Spanish Market, the Santa Fe Bandstand, and the Santa Fe Indian Market.

Read more: Santa Fe Never Goes Out of Style

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. The Breakers

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: October 12, 1994

Location: Newport, Newport County, Rhode Island

Description: The Breakers is a Vanderbilt mansion located on Ochre Point Avenue along the Atlantic Ocean. The Breakers is the grandest of Newport’s summer cottages and a symbol of the Vanderbilt family’s social and financial preeminence in the turn of the century America. Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) established the family fortune in steamships and later in the New York Central Railroad which was a pivotal development in the industrial growth of the nation during the late 19th century.

Read more: Newport Cliff Walk: Ocean Views, Mansions and more

Middleton Place © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Middleton Place

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: November 11, 1971

Location: Dorchester County, South Carolina

Description: Middleton Place is a 65-acre, 18th-centuryth -century rice plantation. The plantation is the birthplace of Arthur Middleton, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. The plantation is now a National Historic Landmark and home to America’s oldest landscaped gardens. The Middleton Place House Museum was built in 1755 as the gentlemen’s guest quarters and is the only structure still standing of the original three-building residential complex.

Fort Davis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Fort Davis

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: December 19, 1960

Location: Jeff Davis County, Texas

Description: Set in the rugged beauty of the Davis Mountains of West Texas, Fort Davis is the best surviving example of an Indian Wars frontier military post and one of the best preserved Buffalo Soldier forts in the Southwest. Fort Davis was strategically located to protect emigrants, mail coaches, and freight wagons on the Trans-Pecos portion of the San Antonio-El Paso Road and the Chihuahua Trail, and to control activities on the southern stem of the Great Comanche and Mescalero Apache war trails.

Fort Davis is important in understanding the presence of African Americans in the West and the frontier military; the 24th and 25th U.S. Infantry and the 9th and 10th U.S. Cavalry, all-black regiments established after the Civil War, were stationed at the post. When not chasing renegade bands of Apache or bandits, the soldiers helped build roads and telegraph lines.

Read more: Fort Davis National Historic Site: Frontier Military Post

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Skyline Drive

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: October 6, 2008

Location: Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Description: The historic 105-mile Skyline Drive, a National Scenic Byway, traverses Shenandoah National Park, a beautiful, historic national treasure. The mountain-top highway winds its way north-south through Shenandoah’s nearly 200,000 acres along the spine of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. 75 scenic overlooks offer stunning views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west or the rolling Piedmont to the east. While you are gazing out at the views, keep a close eye on the road too, as deer, black bear, wild turkey, and a host of other woodland animals call Shenandoah home and regularly cross Skyline Drive in their daily travels.

Read more: Ride the Sky along Skyline Drive

Painted Desert Inn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Painted Desert Inn

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: May 28, 1987

Location: Navajo County, Arizona

Description: In its almost 100 years overlooking the Painted Desert, the inn has undergone many changes. The original building from the early 1920s was made of petrified wood. Today’s adobe facade dates to the 1930s renovation of the Painted Desert Inn.

The national historic landmark functions only as a museum now, with no overnight accommodation and food service. Interior displays highlight the building’s history, Route 66, and Civilian Conservation Corps. There are also restored murals by Hopi artist Fred Kabotie.

Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Petrified Forest National Park

Union Oyster House © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Union Oyster House

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: May 5, 2003

Location: Boston, Suffolk County, Massachusetts

Description: The Union Oyster House located on the Freedom Trail enjoys the unique distinction of being America’s oldest restaurant. This Boston fixture, housed in a building dating back to Pre-Revolutionary days started serving food in 1826 and has continued ever since with the stalls and oyster bar, where Daniel Webster was a constant customer, in their original positions.

Read more: Walk the Freedom Trail and Experience over 250 years of History

Roma Bluffs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Roma Historic District

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: November 4, 1993

Location: Roma, Starr County, Texas

Description: Over two centuries of Texas borderland heritage surrounds the plaza in the historic river town of Roma. The plaza’s surviving structures as well as surrounding buildings trace Roma’s heritage back to its Spanish Colonial roots, providing a visual reminder of the beautiful border architecture once thriving throughout the region. 

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. San Xavier del Bac Mission

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: October 9, 1960

Location: Pima County, Arizona

Description: Mission San Xavier del Bac is a place both historical and sacred that no visitor to Southern Arizona should miss. San Xavier is one of the finest examples of Spanish colonial architecture in the U.S. The oldest intact European structure in Arizona, the church interior is filled with marvelous original statuary and mural paintings.

The mission’s white walls and soaring bell tower can be seen for miles around and the site attracts tens of thousands of visitors a year. Plan to spend an hour or two walking the grounds of the mission and exploring the interior. I was awed by the glowing white walls against the deep blue sky—all set off by rugged desert terrain.

Read more: Mission San Xavier del Bac: White Dove of the Desert

Fort Ticonderoga © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Fort Ticonderoga

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: October 9, 1960

Location: Essex County, New York

Description: Fort Ticonderoga, formerly Fort Carillon is a large 18th-century star fort built by the French at a narrows near the south end of Lake Champlain in northern New York. It was constructed between October 1755 and 1757 during the action in the North American theater of the Seven Years’ War often referred to in the US as the French and Indian War.

The fort was of strategic importance during the 18th-century colonial conflicts between Great Britain and France and again played an important role during the Revolutionary War. The name Ticonderoga comes from the Iroquois word tekontaró:ken meaning “it is at the junction of two waterways”.

Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Mesilla Plaza

Date recognized as a National Historic Landmark: July 4, 1961

Location: La Mesilla, Dona Ana County, New Mexico

Description: Mesilla did not become part of the United States until the mid-1850s but its history begins with the end of the Mexican-American War and the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe. Soon after, the sleepy border town would become one of the most important towns in the West, playing a key role in Western expansion. By the mid-1800s, Mesilla’s population had reached 3,000 making it the largest town and trade center between San Antonio and San Diego and an important stop for both the Butterfield Stage Line and the San Antonio-San Diego Mail Lines.

Read more: La Mesilla: Where History and Culture Become an Experience

Worth Pondering…

The past itself as historical change continues to accelerate has become the most surreal of subjects—making it possible to see a new beauty in what is vanishing.

—Susan Sontag

An Unforgettable 3-Day Road Trip through Southern Arizona

See historic Spanish missions, sky islands, Arizona’s first wine region, and more on this journey from Tucson

The Southwest shines on this route through the saguaro-studded desert up into high mountains where rare birds flit and spectacular sunsets give way to dark skies spangled by stars. Tucson anchors this tour, rich in history, and resonates with the scents of great food and local wines. Consider adding a couple of days to the beginning or end of the trip to explore Saguaro National Park whose two districts are each about 20 minutes from downtown Tucson. ​​​

San Xavier de Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 1: San Xavier del Bac, Tumacácori, and Tubac Presidio (57 miles)

Explore Southwestern history on visits to three Spanish colonial missions and enjoy the opportunity to stock up on spices. En route, you’ll encounter dramatic mountain vistas.

From Tucson, drive south on Interstate 19 for 8 miles and take exit 92 for San Xavier del Bac Mission. Fondly known as the White Dove of the Desert, San Xavier is one of the finest examples of Spanish colonial architecture in the United States. 

San Xavier de Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mission San Xavier is on the Tohono O’odham Reservation. Tohono O’odham means Desert People. The Tohono O’odham were farming along the Santa Cruz River when Spanish Jesuit priest Eusebio Francisco Kino established the original mission here in 1692.

San Xavier de Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This dramatic, sugar-white church with a masonry vault roof was completed 105 years later. A National Historic Landmark, San Xavier Mission is a mixture of Moorish, Spanish, and American Indian art and architecture. Its brick walls are six feet thick in some places and are coated with a limestone-based plaster with a formula that includes the juice from prickly pear cactus pads.

San Xavier del Bac is a magnet to those that appreciate art, statues, sculptures, and paintings of its original times. The interior is filled with brightly painted carvings of apostles and saints and ornate décor statues that are draped in real clothing.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive south on I-19 another 39 miles to the serene Tumacácori National Historical Park. Indigenous peoples including the Nde, O’odham, and Yoeme frequented this lush area along the Santa Cruz River for generations.

The San Cayetano del Tumacácori Mission was established in 1691 by Spanish Jesuit priest Eusebio Francisco Kino, 29 miles north of Nogales beside the Santa Cruz River. Jesuit and later Franciscan priests ministered to the O’odham Indians and Spanish settlers until 1848.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mission life became impossible because of the Mexican-American War cutting off supply routes, an increase in Apache raids, and a severe winter. The community made the difficult decision to leave Tumacácori taking their valuables with them to Mission San Xavier del Bac.

Explore the evocative grounds where many adobe structures have melted back into the earth. Enter the striking ruins. The main chamber has a nave, altar, and remains of a choir loft with links to smaller rooms including a baptistery, sacristy, and sanctuary. Behind the church are a granary, mortuary, and a cemetery with original graves marked by simple wooden crosses.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continue on I-19, but pause just one-third of a mile down the road at the Santa Cruz Chili & Spice Company. The wonderfully fragrant store sells everything from adobo to whole sage leaves. Don’t miss the house-made hot sauces which add jalapeños, green chiles, and spices to a tomato base.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Backtrack north 4 miles on I-19 to the artsy town of Tubac for dinner at Elvira’s which serves contemporary Mexican dishes in a chic dining room. Be adventurous and try the hazelnut mole.

This small community has an impressive collection of galleries, studios, one-of-a-kind shops, and dining options.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The area around Tubac is believed to have been inhabited for over 11,000 years. The Spanish Colonial Era began when Jesuit missionary Father Kino came to the Santa Cruz Valley in 1691. By 1731, Tubac was a mission farm and ranch. The Spanish established a fort in 1752. Tubac Presidio State Historic Park is located on the site of the former fort. This is Arizona’s first state park hosting a world-class museum and bridging Tubac’s past life to its destiny as an artist colony.

Where to camp: De Anza RV Resort, Amado (8 miles north of Tubac)

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 2: Madera Canyon, Tombstone, and Bisbee (124 miles)

Start on a sky island, an isolated mountain that steeply rises above the desert daytime heat and overall harsh and dry conditions. Fifty-five of these peaks form the Madrean Archipelago stretching from Mexico into the Southwest and featuring some of the planet’s richest biodiversity.

Driving upward can mimic a trip north to the Canadian border as you pass through dry scrub, grasslands, and oak and pine forests while ascending to where alpine species flourish. These ecosystems provide a refuge for humans and animals alike and offer world-class birding such as Madera Canyon, 12 miles southeast from Green Valley on I-19. This area perched high on the northwestern face of the Santa Rita Mountains attracts 15 hummingbird species including the rare Calliope, North America’s tiniest feathered friend.

Proctor parking area, Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a good stroll, try the Proctor loop: a paved, accessible, three-quarters-of-a-mile route that departs from the first Madera Canyon Recreation Area parking lot. You may see deer and songbirds along the trail and look for the Whipple Observatory shining off to the west on Mount Hopkins.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amp things up in Tombstone, 65 miles to the east mainly via state routes 83 and 82. During its 1880s heyday, Tombstone, the Town Too Tough to Die, boasted 10,000 gunslingers, gamblers, prospectors, and prostitutes. Sparked by Edward Schieffelin’s silver strike (skeptics warned he’d only find his own tombstone), the raucous town boasted more than 60 saloons.

This town leans into its Western heritage especially the 30-second shootout at the O.K. Corral which pitted corrupt, power-hungry lawmen against cowboys who moonlighted as thieves and murderers.

OK Corral © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The fierce gunfight was quick and when the bullets stopped flying, Billy Clanton, Tom McLaury, and Frank McLaury lay dead. Billy’s brother, Ike Clanton kept his life that day but was eventually murdered near Springerville, Arizona. Virgil and Morgan Earp needed weeks to recover from serious wounds but Doc Holliday was barely grazed by a bullet. Surprisingly, Wyatt Earp was unscathed.

Actors re-create the gunfight three times daily (at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 3 p.m.) and many locals and visitors wear period dress throughout the compact historic center where stagecoaches still kick up dust.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Experience a different slice of Gilded Age history in Bisbee, 23 miles southeast on SR 80. Mining started here in 1887, thanks to one of the world’s richest mineral deposits. The “Queen of the Copper Camps” grew into the biggest city between St. Louis and San Francisco for a spell. It faltered when the mine closed in 1975 though it found new life as a refuge for artists, bohemians, and retirees. Check out its galleries and unique shops such as downtown’s Óptimo Custom Hatworks which sells stylish toppers made from toquilla straw and beaver- and rabbit-fur felt.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walking the steep streets can be quite a workout. Refuel at Table on Main Street with drunken mushrooms sautéed in a garlic cream sauce made from Old Bisbee Brewery’s European-style pilsner.

Where to stay: Tombstone RV Park, Tombstone. In Bisbee, book one of 12 vintage trailers or even a 1947 Chris-Craft yacht at the Shady Dell, 4 miles southwest of town, primarily reached via SR 80.

On the road to Patagonia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Day 3: Wine country and Tucson (158 miles)

Wineries don’t readily come to mind when I think of Arizona but the state has a thriving and growing wine industry. Wine making in Arizona dates back to the 16th century during the Spanish occupation of this area. The modern wine era began in the 1970s. Arizona winemaking has grown from a curiosity to a serious scene since then.

Arizona has three wine trails—Sonoita/Elgin, Verde Valley, and Willcox. The Sonoita/Elgin region is where the modern Arizona wine era began. There are 10 wineries on the trail. 

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive 70 miles west on state routes 80, 90 and 82 to Patagonia, a wine country hub known for its quirky cafés and boutiques. For lunch, stop at downtown’s Velvet Elvis—honoring the Mexican painting style, not the King—which the governor’s office named an Arizona Treasure. Try the Pancho Villa pizza with Asiago, jalapeños, and house-made beef chorizo.

Sonoita Creek State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Patagonia drive 13 miles northeast on SR-82 to Sonoita. Located right off of the main road heading into Sonoita, Dos Cabezas WineWorks has been serving up its wine since 1995. The wines are made with all estate-grown grapes and are mostly blends (except for their single varietal Syrah). Their blends are made using several different varietals and cover the gamut of whites, Rosés, and reds. The La Montaña may be the most memorable because it is a 50/50 blend of the bold Syrah and Petit Verdot. 

Drive northeast another 7 miles to Rune Wines the state’s only solar-powered off-the-grid vineyard. Rune is located at the top of the hill between mile markers 39 and 40 on Highway 82 in Sonoita (that’s how directions are given around here) and overlooks the beautiful Arizona landscape.  It offers tastings outside under a shade canopy where you can soak up panoramic views of the high desert grasslands. For a well-balanced red, the 2019 Wild Syrah pleases with bold berry notes.

The Old Presidio, Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since 82 percent of Arizona land is owned by Native tribes and state and federal governments large roadless stretches remain on the map. Since you can’t head directly west, backtrack 55 miles northwest to Tucson for the night mainly on SR 82 and I-10. Head to Tito & Pep, a bistro known for mesquite-fired cuisine for dinner. Seasonally shifting vegetable dishes dazzle here especially the roasted carrots with labneh, pomegranate, and sunflower seeds.

Where to stay: Tucson/Lazydays KOA or Rincon West RV Resort

Plan your road trip through southern Arizona with these resources:

Worth Pondering…

The trip across Arizona is just one oasis after another. You can just throw anything out and it will grow there.

—Will Rogers

San Xavier del Bac, a National Historic Landmark

Just south of Tucson, San Xavier del Bac Mission stands as an active church, an architectural wonder, and a testament to the Jesuit priest who founded it 300 years ago

Located nine miles southwest of Tucson, Arizona, off Interstate 19, San Xavier del Bac is on San Xavier Road, just three miles southwest of Mission View RV Resort, our home base for exploring Tucson and regions south.

One of the oldest and best-preserved Spanish Colonial missions in the United States, its stark white walls and ornate baroque façade dazzle above the flat desert for many miles. Often called the White Dove of the Desert, San Xavier del Bac Mission is one of eight missions established in Arizona when the Spanish ruled the area.

San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rising out of a sage-filled prairie that seemed to go to the end of the Earth—or at least to Mexico—I didn’t need road signs to guide my toad toward the church.

I explored the beautiful courtyard. Seven graceful arches surround a patio and a fountain once fed by natural springs that probably refreshed horses carrying church-goers.

San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Catholic mission was founded in 1692 by Jesuit priest Eusebio Kino and its remarkable building—now a National Historic Landmark—was added roughly 100 years later by Franciscan monks following the Jesuits’ expulsion from the territory. Original plans for San Xavier were for the mission to be the center of a larger system with a dual purpose of providing religious services and educational programs to the native people. This explains the comfortable historic meeting rooms neighboring the church that were built for larger groups to gather.

San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Construction of the mission began in 1783 and came to an end in 1797, a remarkable endeavor considering the lack of resources in the area. Enduring wars, an earthquake, and harsh elements from the environment, the mission is in remarkable condition as a result of the loving care of the local Tohono O’odham American Indian tribe and is considered the most significant relic north of Mexico.

The Spanish Colonial architectural style is clear with white stucco walls and stunning three-story bell towers shouldering a baroque entryway enhanced with Franciscan reliefs. There is clearly a difference between the twin towers as one appears to be under renovation with parts on the top missing. The visitor quickly assumes the tower is being repaired, but that is not the case.

San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The tower has always looked as it does today and the reason remains a mystery. Old bookkeeping records suggest that taxation laws exempted buildings under construction, and, therefore, the church remained unfinished. Another legend is that the tower has been left in this state until the “Excellent Builder” comes to complete the mission.

On this hot, sunny day, the coolness of the interior was a surprise. The air conditioning available is supplied by nature through intelligent design and expert choice of building materials.

San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The next surprise comes when my eyes adjust to the darkness and my breath is taken away by the beauty and quality of this mission.

The entire structure is roofed with masonry vault making it unique among Spanish Colonial buildings within U.S. borders. Little is known about the people who created the artwork that covers almost every square inch inside, including the ceiling. Some believe that artists from Queretero in New Spain (now Mexico) were probably commissioned by the Spanish royal family.

San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The main gold and red altar is decorated in Mexican baroque style. Its elaborate columns were built in guild workshops and carried by donkey through the Pimeria Alta valley to the mission.

Research has proven that more than 50 statues were carved in Mexico then transported hundreds of miles to be gilded by local American Indian artists before installation. Once the sculptures were in place, area craftsmen—some of them ancestors of the mission’s current restoration workers and caretakers—added clothing created from gesso.

San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After Mexico gained its independence in 1821, San Xavier del Bac became the property of Mexico. The last resident Franciscan friar departed shortly thereafter and the mission lost all funds with which to maintain the facilities. The Tohono O’odham did what they could, operating a school for many years and protecting the mission from Apache raids.

In 1854, the United States purchased the area with the Gadsden Purchase and San Xavier once again became a Catholic-held entity under the Diocese of Santa Fe.

San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many more transitions of ownership followed including a time when the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet opened a school for Tohono O’odham children. Within my generation, the mission became a nonprofit entity, supported partially by the Catholic Church. Mass is still held every weekend and is open to the public.

San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Throughout these years, only basic care was performed to prevent the daily decay of the massive ornate interior and its thousands of artifacts and art pieces. Wood was used in most of the carvings which swells and shrinks from variations of climate and humidity. In order to clean the artwork and walls, a special mixed cleaner must be used sparingly and carefully to remove grime without removing paint. Paints were made of natural materials which are almost impossible to replicate today, and fade with time.

San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most of the restoration and maintenance work was done inside the church, sometimes on bended knees or lying on the floor. It is excruciating and exhausting work.

Yet, one tower remains unfinished.

Still an active church, San Xavier del Bac Mission retains its original purpose of ministering to the religious and educational needs of parishioners. The church and gift shop are open daily.

Worth Pondering…

Alone in the open desert, I have made up songs of wild, poignant rejoicing and transcendent melancholy. The world has seemed more beautiful to me than ever before.

I have loved the red rocks, the twisted trees, and sand blowing in the wind, the slow, sunny clouds crossing the sky, the shafts of moonlight on my bed at night. I have seemed to be at one with the world.

—Everett Ruess

South of Tucson Off I-19

I-19 Interstate Highway is 64 miles long and runs south to north from Nogales to Tucson

The Interstate 19 corridor south of Tucson is hard to surpass for a leisurely day trip from Tucson that combines art, culture, and history. There is so much to see and do between Tucson and Nogales that you’ll need to start early or break the tour into several more leisurely day trips as we did.

For our purpose, I’ll start with our southernmost destination, Mission Tumacácori, 29 miles north of Nogales, and work back to Mission View RV Resort, our home base off San Xavier Road in southern Tucson.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tumacácori National Historic Park

The oldest Jesuit mission in Arizona has been preserved in Tumacácori National Historic Park, a picturesque reminder that Southern Arizona was, at one time, the far northern frontier of New Spain. The San Cayetano del Tumacácori Mission was established in 1691 by Spanish Jesuit priest Eusebio Francisco Kino beside the Santa Cruz River.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A short distance east of the mission is the Anza Trail along the Santa Cruz River where you will find dozens of bird species. You can hike the Anza Trail north along the Santa Cruz for 4.5 miles to Tubac.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take Exit 29, turn left under the Interstate. At the frontage road, turn left. You can’t miss it.

Related: 13 Weird and Wonderful Reasons to RV to Tucson

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac

A destination for the arts, Tubac features over 100 eclectic shops and world-class galleries. Clustered in the village plaza, old adobes, Spanish courtyards, and ocotillo fences blend with a handful of newer buildings. Meandering streets are punctuated by hidden courtyards and sparkling fountains. Tubac also boasts a luxurious resort experience at the Tubac Golf Resort and Spa—a spot that features the golf course made famous by the 1996 Kevin Costner movie Tin Cup.

Tubac is north of Tumacácori on the east frontage road (or Exit 34 if you get back on I-19.

Tubax Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park

Established as a Spanish presidio in 1752, Tubac was the first permanent European settlement in what later became Arizona. The story of New Spain’s presidios is unique and Tubac is one of the few sites where it can adequately be told. Tubac Presidio State Historic Park preserves the ruins of the oldest Spanish Presidio site in Arizona, San Ignacio de Tubac, established in 1752.

Territorial schoolhouse at Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Park also preserves and interprets one of the oldest Territorial Schoolhouses. Further, the Park exhibits the hand press used to print the first newspaper in Arizona. The Weekly Arizonan was published in Tubac on March 3, 1859.

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory

There is no way to include a tour of the observatories atop Mt. Hopkins in a day trip and still see the other sites along the I-19 corridor. From the Visitor Center, a shuttle takes visitors with reservations up a very steep, narrow, and winding road to the top. The total time to ascend, tour the observatories, and descend is about five hours. But the view from the top is splendid.

Related: Now is the Time to Explore Southern Arizona’s Gorgeous State Parks

From Tubac, go north on I-19 about 11 miles and exit at Arivaca Road (Exit 48). Follow the frontage road north about 2 miles and turn right (east) onto Elephant Head Road. From here the visitor center is about 8 miles. Just follow the signs.

Mineral Discovery Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Green Valley

Situated just 25 miles south of Tucson Green Valley offers the best of both worlds: quiet residential streets in a stunning desert setting. Factor in gorgeous weather from fall through spring and you have a combo that has long been irresistible to retirees and the snowbirds who visit in the winter to escape the cold weather of northern locales.

Green Valley offers a number of parks, bike lanes, and trails that are typically busy with people enjoying the sunshine. Among the most noteworthy of the trails is the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, a 1,200-mile route, a portion of which passes through Green Valley.

The route commemorates the 1775-76 journey led by explorer and military officer Juan Bautista de Anza from southern Arizona to the San Francisco Bay Area to establish the first non-Native settlement there.

Mineral Discovery Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors to Green Valley can sample a 5.2-mile stretch of the historic trail by heading to the trailhead on Elephant Head Road. The packed-surface trail that traverses classic desert terrain is open to walkers and cyclists; equestrians can use the nearby river wash.

Green Valley is located 26 miles south of Tucson; from I-19, take Continental Ranch Road (Exit 63) or Esperanza Road (Exit 65)

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madera Canyon

A world-renowned location for bird watching, Madera Canyon is a major resting place for migrating species, while the extensive trail system of the Santa Rita Mountains is easily accessed from the Canyon’s campground and picnic areas. Hiking trails vary from paved, handicap-accessible nature trails and gentle walking paths in the lower canyon to steep, expert trails leading to the top of 9,453-foot Mt. Wrightson.

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located 12 miles east of the I-19 at Green Valley, Madera Canyon makes a delightful stand-alone day trip from Tucson. From I-19, take Continental Ranch Road (Exit 63) east. In about a mile, turn right onto Madera Canyon/White House Canyon Road. Just follow the signs.

Green Valley Pecan Company at Sahuarita © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sahuarita

While the founding of Green Valley dates back to the fairly recent era of the 1960s, the nearby town of Sahuarita and the surrounding region have much deeper roots. The Hohokam and Tohono O’odham people occupied the area for centuries before the 1690s arrival of Eusebio Kino, a Jesuit missionary and explorer.

Green Valley Pecan Company at Sahuarita © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The land on which the Green Valley Pecan Company began boasts a history as deep and rich as the soil that produces some of the finest pecans in the world. This expanse of fertile land in the Santa Cruz Valley belonged to captains of industry and crowned heads of state before being acquired by R. Keith Walden in 1948.

Green Valley Pecan Company at Sahuarita © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With plenty of sunshine, quality water, and rich, sandy loam soil, the conditions were ideal to grow pecans. In 1965, the Waldens began converting more than 7,000 acres from primarily cotton to the largest irrigated pecan orchard in the world. Their pecans are available in a variety of flavors including natural, candied, spiced, and other flavored pecans.

Related: Mountain Island in a Desert Sea: Exploring Southern Arizona Sky Islands

From the interstate heading north, exit at the Sahuarita Road (Exit 75); turn right (east) for several blocks.

Titan Missile Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Titan Missile Museum

This preserved Titan II missile site officially known as complex 571-7 is all that remains of the 54 Titan II missile sites that were on alert across the United States from 1963 to 1987. Able to launch from its underground silo in just 58 seconds, the Titan II was capable of delivering a 9-megaton nuclear warhead to targets more than 6,300 miles away in about 30 minutes.

Titan Missile Museum© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors must be able to descend and climb 55 metal grate stair steps and stand for 45 minutes to participate in the underground tour. The museum suggests wearing walking shoes with no heels or flip-flops. The museum’s website notes: “What was once one of America’s most top-secret places is now a National Historic Landmark.”

From the interstate heading north, exit at the Duval Mine Road (Exit 69); turn left (west) and follow the signs.

Mineral Discovery Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mineral Discovery Center

The ASARCO Mineral Discovery Center offers a fascinating look into the world of copper. On your tour you’ll see how copper ore is mined in the open pit and then at the center you can see how it is processed in the mill to extract the copper minerals.

Mineral Discovery Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Titan Missile Museum, continue north on I-19 and exit at Pima Mine Road (Exit 80). The Mineral Discovery Center and Mine Tour are on the west side. Just follow the signs.

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mission San Xavier del Bac

Mission San Xavier del Bac is a place both historical and sacred that no visitor to Southern Arizona should miss. San Xavier is one of the finest examples of Spanish colonial architecture in the U.S. The oldest intact European structure in Arizona, the church interior is filled with marvelous original statuary and mural paintings.

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The mission’s white walls and soaring bell tower can be seen for miles around and the site attracts tens of thousands of visitors a year. Plan to spend an hour or two walking the grounds of the mission and exploring the interior. I was awed by the glowing white walls against the deep blue sky—all set off by rugged desert terrain.

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Head North from the Mineral Discovery Center and exit at San Xavier Road (Exit 92). Head west and you will plainly see the magnificent church known as the White Dove of the Desert.

Read Next: Everything You Need to See and Do on an Arizona Road Trip

Worth Pondering…

As we explore America by RV, surprises await at every turn of the road. Natural beauty abounds when least expected.

A Southern Gem: 14 Reasons to Visit Tucson

No matter what season you visit, Tucson has a lot to offer

While Phoenix may offer a more metropolitan nightlife experience, Tucson can definitely hold its own when it comes to outdoor adventures and unique sights. In fact, in many ways, I prefer the relative quiet of this southwestern town over its larger cousin to the north.

Tucson is located less than two hours southeast of Phoenix and the Mexican border is roughly one hour to the south. Its proximity to Mexico has earned Tucson’s food scene major recognition—in 2015, UNESCO designated it the first “City of Gastronomy” in the United States.

The real, natural southwest captivates the imaginations of visitors fortunate enough to spend time in Tucson. Located in the Sonoran Desert, Tucson is the only place in the world the majestic saguaro cactus grows. The tall and stately cactus, stand like silent sentinels in the shadows of the five mountain ranges surrounding the Tucson valley. Tucson provides a stunning array of possibilities, satisfying culture seekers, outdoor adventurers, and fans of cowboys and cacti.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park

Saguaro National Park is a well-known Tucson attraction. The park is split into two by the city. The Rincon Mountain District is located to the East of Tucson and the Tucson Mountain District is located to the West. Both districts have their own visitor center, scenic drives, and hiking trail systems. In the west part, you will see plenty of the namesake cacti—the saguaro. In the east part, you will see colorful red rocks and more rugged terrain.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I highly recommend choosing several Saguaro National Park hiking trails to make the most of your time. There are both short, paved, accessible trails and day hike out in the wilderness. It all depends on what you are looking for.

Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum is one of the most popular attractions in town. A world-renowned zoo, natural history museum, and botanical garden, all in one place, this is a solid introduction to plant and animal life as you’ll find in the region.

Related: Explore Tucson Naturally

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Exhibits re-create the natural landscape of the Sonoran Desert Region so realistically you find yourself eye-to-eye with mountain lions and Gila monsters. Other species found here include prairie dogs, tarantulas, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Most of this museum is outdoors, so plan accordingly. Dress comfortably and bring a hat and sunscreen.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sabino Canyon

On the northeast edge of Tucson, Sabino Canyon offers a variety of terrain including a paved path for the lighter option, or miles of rugged ground to explore. Nestled in the Santa Catalina Mountains, Sabino Canyon offers a wide range of hiking adventures for beginners and experts alike. Enjoy a relaxing stroll along the paved Sabino Canyon Trail or ride the tram along the wide, scenic path.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sabino Canyon Tours offers a narrated, educational 45-minute, 3.8-mile tour into the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. The trams have nine stops along the tour with several restroom facilities and picnic grounds located near Sabino Creek. The tram turns around at Stop #9 and heads back down to the Visitor’s Center, at which point riders may remain on board and hike back down. Trams arrive on average every 30 minutes.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park 

One of my personal favorite stops, Catalina State Park sits at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains in northwest Tucson. Catalina is chock-full of epic mountainous backdrops, lush landscapes, towering saguaros, and trails for horses and hikers. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. If you visit in early spring, bright Mexican poppies and colorful wildflowers will greet you.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invite camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. The park provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails that wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest at elevations near 3,000 feet.

Related: Why Tucson Is Your Next Great Outdoor Adventure

Catalina Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Lemmon

Mount Lemmon is named after Sara Plummer Lemmon, a botanist who trekked to the 9,000-foot-plus summit with her husband in 1881. Today, it’s a great spot for outdoor adventures like hiking, camping, rock climbing, and even skiing. Yes, skiing in the Sonoran Desert.

Catalina Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Lemmon is located in the Catalina Mountains. Follow Catalina Highway (Sky Island Scenic Byway) to explore the mountain to your heart’s content. One of the most scenic drives in southern Arizona, the paved road provides access to a fascinating land of great vistas, natural rock sculptures, cool mountain forests, and deep canyons spilling out onto broad deserts.

Tohono Chul Park

Translated from the Tohono O’odham language, Tohono Chul means “desert corner.” This 49-acre desert preserve is a leading Southwest center of desert nature, arts, and culture. This oasis in the desert provides an informative look at the region’s fascinating cultural traditions and its flora and fauna.

Old Tucson Studios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Old Tucson Studios

Plenty of cowboys can be found at Old Tucson Studios. John Wayne and Clint Eastwood are among the Hollywood legends that starred in some of the 300-plus movies and TV projects that have been filmed at Old Tucson since 1939. Today it’s a movie studio and theme park.

Old Tucson Studios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s been just over a year since Old Tucson Studios closed its doors. The famous western attraction was shuttered because of the pandemic. Now, after a long process, Pima County is getting ready to announce who will take over the lease. Be sure to check the current status before planning a visit.

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mission San Xavier del Bac

Fifteen minutes south of Tucson sits an important piece of the city’s history: Mission San Xavier del Bac. This is one of the most awe-inspiring of all of the area’s attractions and is definitely worth the short drive. Mission San Xavier del Bac, also known as the White Dove of the Desert, is a magnificent building that blends Moorish, Byzantine, and late Mexican Renaissance architecture.

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1692 Father Kino, a Jesuit missionary came to the area. Eight years later he laid the foundation for the first church. This building was named for Francis Xavier, a pioneering Christian missionary. The current church, completed in 1797, serves an active parish. Today, this site is used as both a church and a school.

Titan Missile Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Titan Missile Museum

A National Historic Landmark known as Complex 571-7, the Titan Missile Museum is the only remaining Titan II missile site. On one-hour guided tours you’ll descend 35 feet below ground to marvel at the intercontinental ballistic missile that in about 30 minutes could have delivered a nine-megaton nuclear warhead to a location more than 6,000 miles away.

Related: 13 Weird and Wonderful Reasons to RV to Tucson

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tumacácori National Historic Park

The oldest Jesuit mission in Arizona has been preserved in Tumacácori National Historic Park. The San Cayetano del Tumacácori Mission was established in 1691 by Spanish priest Eusebio Francisco Kino. Jesuit, and later Franciscan, priests ministered to the O’odham Indians and Spanish settlers until 1848.

Tumacácori National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A self-guiding tour booklet for the Tumacácori Mission grounds can be purchased or borrowed. The walking tour of the site leads through several interlinked rooms with open doorways, and to the enclosed courtyard garden, filled by mature trees and Sonoran desert plants.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac

A destination for the arts, Tubac features eclectic shops and world-class galleries. Clustered in the village plaza, old adobes, Spanish courtyards, and ocotillo fences blend with a handful of newer buildings. Meandering streets are punctuated by hidden courtyards and sparkling fountains.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This village of about 1,500 people has over 100 galleries, studios, and shops, all within easy walking distance of each other. You’ll find an eclectic and high-quality selection of art and artisan works that include paintings, sculpture, pottery, metalwork, hand-painted tiles, photography, jewelry, weaving, and hand-carved wooden furniture.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park

Established as a Spanish presidio in 1752, Tubac was the first permanent European settlement in what later became Arizona. Those early ruins are visible in an underground exhibit at Tubac Presidio State Historic Park. Visitors also will see a museum that houses Arizona’s first printing press (demonstrations are offered), a furnished 1885 schoolhouse, and living-history exhibits.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Outdoor patio exhibits show how people lived, cooked, and worked in Spanish colonial times. The Park is home to three buildings on the National Register of Historic Places: an 1885 schoolhouse that is the third oldest in Arizona; Otero Hall, built as a community center in 1914 and now housing a collection of paintings; and a mid-20th century adobe vernacular row house.

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madera Canyon

Madera Canyon is known for exceptional and varied hiking trails. The Mount Wrightson trailhead provides access to several trails including the Super Trail and Old Baldy trail where experienced hikers can climb to higher levels. These two trails to its summit cross one another twice and make a figure eight.

Related: Mountain Island in a Desert Sea: Exploring Southern Arizona Sky Islands

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madera Canyon is a famed wildlife location, in particular for birds with over 250 recorded species. The resident birds include hummingbirds, owls, sulfur flycatchers, wood warblers, elegant trogan, wild turkeys, and quails, as well as numerous migrating birds. Other notable wildlife includes coati, black bear, raccoon, mountain lion, bighorn sheep, bobcat, and ring-tailed cat.

Old Pueblo County Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Old Pueblo

Tucson has preserved a flair of its American Indian and Spanish-Mexican past of a pueblo in the Sonoran Desert. The days of the Presidio de San Agustin del Tucson, the original fortress built by Spanish soldiers during the 18th century, seem not that long ago. Wandering through the recreated structure, it is easy to imagine what life was like when members of the Tohono O’odham Nation, Native American people of the Sonoran Desert, mingled there with Spanish soldiers and early Territorial Period settlers.

Old Presidio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The neighborhood surrounding the Presidio, the Presidio Historic District, is a charming, eclectic assembly of adobe and brick buildings in Spanish-Mexican, Anglo-American, and other architectural styles of the 1920s. Many houses have been restored to their former beauty, in brilliant colors of bright green, brick red, plum-purple, and hues of blue and yellow, and their original masonry.

Worth Pondering…

Once in a lifetime, you see a place, and you know, instinctively, this is paradise.

The Most Beautiful Places in Arizona (That Aren’t the Grand Canyon)

Half the state looks like it was drawn by Dr. Seuss.

Just over three decades ago we made several stops in Arizona on a cross country journey in an RV. My first reaction was how could anyone choose to live in this big, desolate god-forsaken desert? While camping at Usery Mountain, a Maricopa County Regional Park, I entered into a conversation with the campground host. A full-time RVer originally from Michigan, she had similar sentiments upon seeing Arizona for the first time and within several weeks fell in love with the desert and never left. I, too, fell in love with the Sonoran Desert and its flora and fauna and have returned to Arizona more than a dozen times.

Sedona from Airport Mesa © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona will completely shatter any pessimistic expectations you may harbor. Arizona is an absolute stunner! It’s a state where orange-hued slot canyons and colorful sandstone formations could trick even the most experienced explorer into thinking they’ve wandered off to Mars. Here, ancient deserts seem painted by unseen artists. That canyon? It is indeed grand! But look beyond it and you’ll discover a state whose beauty all but ensures you’ll want to stay for the long haul or return again and again.

Cathedral Rock, Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona

I can’t tell you exactly what it was at the time, but something brought me to Arizona… looking back, maybe it was the pull of Sedona’s vortexes. And I’m not the only one feeling the tug of some sort of unknown spiritual energy. Nearly 3 million tourists visit Sedona annually; a figure that’s tripled over the last decade or so. Just a day trip from Phoenix, Sedona is a gem of a town surrounded by forests and red-rock buttes that thrust skyward; all obvious reasons why so many seek out the new-agey Northern Arizona town. Recognized for their powerful energy and scenic views, Bell Rock, Boynton Canyon, Airport Mesa, and Cathedral Rock are said to be the strongest vortexes around the town. What does a vortex feel like, exactly? You’ll have to experience it for yourself in Sedona. 

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mission San Xavier del Bac

Located just 10 miles from Downtown Tucson, this stunningly beautiful mission was founded in 1692 and built in 1700 which makes it the oldest intact European structure in the state of Arizona and the best example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the country. Referred to as The White Dove of the Desert, the church’s interior is brimming with original statuary and detailed mural paintings that portray motifs influenced by both the Spanish and Tohono O’odham people. The style is truly unique to Arizona and is a must-stop when passing through Tucson or nearby Saguaro National Park.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley 

Since the 1930s, Monument Valley’s iconic desert landscape has been featured in dozens of movies and western-style films. With its tower-like red sandstone bluffs and long-stretched highway, Monument Valley’s panoramic scenery is essentially the picture of the American Southwest. Parts of the area including Hunts Mesa and Mystery Valley are only accessible by guided tour. However, road-trippers can drive through the park on a dirt road that winds 17-miles. A trip through the park takes about two to three hours from start to finish. Monument Valley also made our list of Most Beautiful Places in Utah.

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee

Bisbee’s reputation for being a little eccentric isn’t exactly a lie. The town has been nicknamed “Mayberry on Acid.” Hell, they even printed it on t-shirts. Nestled in Southeastern Arizona’s Mule Mountains and just 10-miles north of the Mexico Border, this mining town turned arts colony provides travelers an offbeat experience against a backdrop of historic mines, psychedelic art displays, and staircases leading to houses on stilts. What made Bisbee so… Bisbee? After a lucrative and long-running mining boom, creative souls from near and far found a home in the sleepy desert town. And there is certainly no denying that the creative influence remains very, very strong today in this underrated small town.

Painted Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Painted Desert

Millions of years in the making and spanning more than 953,000 acres from Grand Canyon National Park to Petrified National Forest, the aptly named Painted Desert is a living canvas featuring a palate of red, pink, and lavender. The unique landscape consists of innumerable impressive formations and features created by volcanic eruptions, floods, and earthquakes. About 25 miles east of Holbrook is Petrified Forest National Park. It takes some imagination to see it, but this area of what we know call Painted Desert was flourishing with vegetation and trees some 200 million years ago before volcanic lava basically destroyed everything in its path. The petrified wood, made mostly of quartz, is all that’s left today. 

Lake Powell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Page

For the uninitiated, Page looks like nothing more than a desolate spot on the map near the state-line crossing into Utah. Look a little closer. Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend, local secrets for years, have become some of the most photographed natural attractions in the Southwest (thanks to Instagram). A quick hike will get you to the Horseshoe Bend overlook where you can get a bird’s eye view of the Colorado River and horseshoe-shaped meander below. And in a state with no shortage of unique geological formations, some of the most puzzling and fascinating is to be found at Antelope Canyon. Guided tours are required, but the supernatural beauty of it all is definitely worth it. And a short drive to simmering Lake Powell and the stunning Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

Fountain Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fountain Hills

The Fountain Hills fountain is one of those strange sights that only seems to make sense in Arizona. There’s something especially impressive about a fountain that reaches a height of 330 feet, in the middle of the desert—even if it is man-made. The spray cranks up to 560 feet high on special occasions (like St. Patrick’s Day and Fourth of July), but it’s a captivating sight anytime, and it’s available for your viewing pleasure for 15 minutes every hour, on the hour, from 9 am to 9 pm every day.

Hole in the Rock at Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Phoenix

One of the first things you’ll learn about this state is that it’s beloved for its colorful sunsets, and one of the most quintessential ways to watch an Arizona sunset is by viewing it through the famous “Hole-in-the-Rock” at Papago Park, a naturally-formed opening in the red butte. In addition to its beauty, the park also holds historical significance—it was the home of ancient Hohokam Indians, served as a prisoner camp during World War II, and some areas of the park are still used for Arizona National Guard training today.

Worth Pondering…

To my mind these live oak-dotted hills fat with side oats grama, these pine-clad mesas spangled with flowers, these lazy trout streams burbling along under great sycamores and cottonwoods, come near to being the cream of creation.

—Aldo Leopold, 1937

Mission San Xavier del Bac: White Dove of the Desert

Fondly known as the “White Dove of the Desert”, San Xavier is a striking sight

In the vast Sonoran Desert on an Indian reservation just nine miles southwest of Tucson, one would not expect to find a beautiful church. Mission San Xavier del Bac is a place, both historical and sacred, that no visitor to Southern Arizona should miss.

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fondly known as the “White Dove of the Desert”, San Xavier is one of the finest examples of Spanish colonial architecture in the United States. It is truly an awesome experience. The sheer size and bright color against a blue sky and the tan colors of the desert make San Xavier Mission a striking sight.

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A treasure of southwestern history, San Xavier del Bac is an 18th century religious beacon that calls all to experience. The oldest intact European structure in Arizona, the church interior is filled with marvelous original statuary and mural paintings. It is a place where visitors can truly step back in time and enter an authentic 18th Century space.

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Xavier del Bac is a magnet to those that appreciate art, statues, sculptures, and paintings of its original times. The interior is filled with brightly painted carvings of apostles and saints and ornate décor statues that are actually draped in real clothing.

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A National Historic Landmark, San Xavier Mission is a mixture of Moorish, Spanish, and American Indian art and architecture. Its brick walls are six feet thick in some places and is coated with a limestone-based plaster with a formula that includes the juice from prickly pear cactus pads.

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mission San Xavier is on the Tohono O’odham Reservation. Tohono O’odham means “Desert People”. The Tohono O’odham were farming along the Santa Cruz River when Spanish Jesuit priest Eusebio Francisco Kino established the original mission here in 1692.

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Father Kino named the mission in honor of his chosen patron saint, St Francis Xavier. The San Xavier surname of “del Bac” means place where water appears”. Hence, its entire name: Mission San Xavier del Bac.

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Religious control of the mission was transferred from the Jesuits to the Franciscans in 1768. Shortly thereafter, the mission was destroyed by less friendly Indian tribes. The current San Xavier Mission was rebuilt under the direction of Franciscan Fathers Juan Bautista Velderrain and Juan Bautista Llorenz in 1783 and was completed in 1797, when Southern Arizona was part of New Spain.

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No one can say with certainty who the San Xavier architect was, who provided the construction labor, or who the artisans were, but most believe most, if not all, roles were fulfilled by the Tohono O’odham Indians. However, all agree that the architecture was the most profound of the early Spanish missions and the brilliantly colorful artistic embellishments are spectacular.

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Following Mexican independence in 1821, San Xavier became part of Mexico. The last resident Franciscan of the 19th Century departed in 1837. With the Gadsden Purchase of 1854, the Mission became part of the United States.

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1859 San Xavier became part of the Diocese of Santa Fe. In 1866 Tucson became an incipient diocese and regular services were held at the Mission once again. Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet opened a school at the Mission in 1872. Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity now teach at the school and reside in the convent.

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recently, Mission San Xavier became a separate nonprofit entity. It remains a testament to the endurance of culture throughout history. The church retains its original purpose of ministering to the religious needs of its parishioners. It’s a destination of Catholic pilgrimage where locals and visitors pray to Saint Francis for intercessory prayer to God.

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whether your interests lie in religion, history, or art, San Xavier del Bac is an attraction you don’t want to miss when visiting Tucson and Southern Arizona.

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located nine miles southwest of downtown Tucson, San Xavier del Bac is on San Xavier Road, just three miles southwest of Mission View RV Resort, our home base for exploring Tucson and regions south. San Xavier is open to the public 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., except during church services.

Worth Pondering…

History, although sometimes made up of the few acts of the great, is more often shaped by the many acts of the small.

—Mark Yost