After so many years of California drought, it was refreshing to head east on Amtrak’s Sunset Limited in the strongest storm to his SoCal in five years! Little did I know that the deluge would delay the train two hours, pushing back the arrival, the transfer to the airport, and the car rental on my way to explore the history of Pima County with my old friend, Clifton, and his new friend, Odie-Beast!
There were five national park sites to explore this weekend, so any delay was going to spell trouble. Nonetheless, as soon as I could, I hustled the 60-ish miles down to Tumacácori National Historical Park, in the rain, which was also driving, to meet up with my friends.
Like California, Arizona also has its fair share of Spanish missions. Nine in total, they are much older and better at incorporating native words into their titles. Mission San Cayetano de Tumacácori was first constructed in 1691, making it the oldest mission in modern Arizona. That was 78 years before Junípero Serra founded his first mission in San Diego!
Clifton couldn’t bring Odie-Beast into the park, because he was very rambunctious, so I hustled in to take a look. The main church is magnificent, done up in Moorish-Egyptian style, once brightly colored, and adorned with the scallop shells of Santiago! That sure took me down Memory Lane!
Founded by Trent native and Austrian-educated Father Eusebio Francisco Kino, the mission at Tumacácori was one of 20 spanning the modern borders of Arizona and Mexico that were founded by this prolific builder! Tumacácori, which either describes the flat or crooked or white rocks of the area, or “a place where wild chiles are gathered,” was built to convert the local O’odham people. When they rebelled in 1751, the mission was moved to the west side of the Santa Cruz River and renamed San José de Tumacácori!
I didn’t have much time to explore Tumacácori, because the sky opened up, and I had to run for cover! After meeting up with Clifton and Odie-Beast, we decided to head further up the road to another critically important historic site: Tubac Presidio State Historic Park!
San Ignacio de Tubac is Arizona’s oldest European community, a Spanish presidio, or fort, founded in 1752 after the O’odham rebellion. It was also Arizona’s first state park!
As you may recall from my historical landmark quest across California, Juan Bautista de Anza played a crucial role in California history, blazing an overland route from Mexico to San Francisco! He was the second commander of Tubac, and Tubac is where he launched his famous expedition!
By this point, the rain and wind had really started to pour, but the site was so important to Arizona and California history that we had to tough it out! Sadly, there wasn’t much to see aboveground. Years of weather and neglect have pushed the last remains of this presidio, one of only two surviving presidios, underground. Within the walls of the old presidio are many mysteries, such as why there is a wide layer of charred earth midway down. No one is sure why the presidio would have burned!
Eager to be spending more time out of the rain, Clifton and I explored the nearby museum, full of artifacts from the different periods of occupation: O’odham, Spanish, Mexican, and American. There were pottery, military uniforms, swords, rifles, and these neat millstones left over from the Spanish colonial period!
We hustled back to the car to figure out what to do next. With lunch on our minds, we headed north, stopping at a Thai restaurant before continuing into the mountains west of Tucson. With sunset coming on, there was no time to do much exploring of Saguaro National Park’s west unit, but we were able to take a short spin down a nature trail by the visitor center.
I will have to come back to revisit this park tomorrow, while Clifton and Odie-Beast climb nearby Mount Lemmon, but for now, this stroll gave us a glimpse of both the mighty saguaros of this park and the adventures to come tomorrow!
See you mon-soon!