Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Tucson, Arizona - Hiking and Sightseeing

I spent the Thanksgiving holiday with Roger hiking, sightseeing, and relaxing in Tucson, Arizona.  Earlier in the year, we explored a few places in the northern part of the valley, including Sabino Canyon and Mt. Lemmon.  For this trip, we decided to focus on the western portion of the valley and points south.  I arrived in Phoenix on Wednesday night, and after a 2 hour drive on Thursday morning, we arrived at our hotel in Starr Pass.  Since it was Thanksgiving day, our plan was to eat good food and relax by the pool.  Even though winter is off to a mild start Salt Lake City, the warm sunshine felt great.

Gates Pass

On Friday, we drove through Gates Pass to the western district of Saguaro National Park.  We hiked several miles of the Hugh Norris trail, but did not make it all the way to Wasson Peak.  The scenery was beautiful, but it wasn't strikingly different from the surrounding areas outside the park.  After a few hours of hiking, we had seen enough of the trail and completed the remainder of the scenic drive before heading back to Tucson.

At the entrance to Saguaro National Park - West
Hugh Norris Trail
Saguaro cacti spine
Cholla cactus
Saguaro along the Hugh Norris Trail

On Saturday, we drove south to Tumacácori National Historical Park, a place where native O’odham, Yaqui, and Apache people coexisted with early European Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries.  Beginning in 1681 and continuing until around 1848, the Native Americans and European missionaries shared a complex history that eventually led to the construction and abandonment of a beautiful church, the Mission San José de Tumacácori.

Mission San José de Tumacácori

I learned of Tumacácori when I spoke with a ranger at the National Park centennial celebration in Flagstaff, AZ this past August.  After an hour drive south from Tucson, I was hoping the park would be interesting enough to make the trip worthwhile.  It far exceeded my expectations and ended up being the highlight of my weekend.  Tumacácori National Historical Park is a historical and architectural gem, set in the tranquil  and picturesque Santa Cruz river valley.  It was a beautiful place to explore, both inside and out, and the adjacent visitor center and museum were very educational.  There were few people inside the park, and I often had the entire church to myself.  There was an immense sense of peace as I walked around the area, sometimes so intense that it felt like time had stopped.

Outside the mission with the bell tower in the background
The santuary
Mission San José de Tumacácori
Convento ruin
The façade of the church

On our way back to Tucson, we stopped in the small community of Tubac.  It was a bustling place full of galleries, restaurants, and shoppers. Our brief visit was a bit of a disappointment, however, as we found little in the way of locally made art.  Our final stop for the day was the Mission San Xavier del Bac, a Spanish mission on the Tohono O’odham San Xavier Indian Reservation.  The church was completed in 1797 and is the oldest European structure in Arizona.

Mission San Xavier del Bac
On the hill adjacent to Mission San Xavier del Bac
Mission San Xavier del Bac
Candles at Mission San Xavier del Bac
Inside Mission San Xavier del Bac

We were treated to a beautiful sunrise on Sunday morning as a cold storm approached the area.  We spent our final hours in Tucson hiking through Tucson Mountain Park and visiting the immense Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.  It was a great way to finish up an excellent holiday weekend in the Tucson area.

Sunrise at Starr Pass
Sunrise over Tucson Mountain Park
Tucson Mountain Park

Tucson Mountain Park