Winter in the Desert - 2013 travel blog







protected from the cold


mission school

Tumacacori church

mortuary chapel

native home

We traveled to Tucson to escape the cold. Last night we had a hard freeze and the high today was 48ยบ; ironically it was ten degrees warmer at home. We heard that parts of the freeway between San Diego and Los Angeles were closed due to snow and that there will be frost on the beaches tonight. Here the sky is almost always bright blue and sunny and this unusual cold weather will be traveling east, so someday soon it will be warmer here than Chicago and all will be right with the world once again.

Last time we were in this area people told us how much fun they had walking across the border to Nogales in Mexico. Their experiences sounded a bit like the trips we've taken to Progreso in the Rio Grande Valley. You walk across the border and the shops and restaurants nearby have the sorts of products and services that the geezer gringo would enjoy. But the man at the visitor center in Tucson told us that people have stopped day tripping here because of all the murders near the border and many of the shops and restaurants have closed due to lack of business. Very sad.

He advised us to go to Tubac instead, a town about thirty miles north of the border. This town has importance historically and has many artisan and craft shops that would appeal to any ladies who lunch. It felt like a small Santa Fe South. The self styled artist colony boasts eighty galleries and shops that feature hand-crafted items, sculpture, paintings, and clothing. The shops sold many bright, colorful items from Mexico and some specialized in outdoor art, especially that made of metal. We loved looking at them, but when we imagined them in our yard back in Illinois, the wallet stayed shut.

Tubac was begun as the first Spanish garrison town in what today is Arizona. As the Spanish moved north they began to worry about the Russians who had moved way south from Alaska. Three hundred settlers, cowboys, Indian guides, and mule packers traveled 1200 miles from Tubac on horseback to establish what today is San Francisco, CA, about sixty miles from the Russian Fort Ross. This journey must have been quite a trip; two babies were born along the way and one woman died in childbirth. It seems like this journey would have been better accomplished from the sea, but the route they took marked the best way through the mountains for the railroad that came much later.

A large one room school was built to educate the Indians in the Tubac area and the first newspaper printed in Arizona was produced here. A docent demonstrated this old press which took five months to schlepp here from Ohio with three skilled men who know how to work it. Setting the metal letters one at a time, aligning and spacing them, inking one side of the paper, letting it try before you printed the other side - it took forever. Luckily, few people around here knew how to read so many of the 300 copies per run of the newspaper were distributed to points east and west of here.

A short drive south brought us to Tumacacori, a mission town started a year before San Xavier, the mission we visited last week. We were surprised that the Tumacacori church was in such bad shape considering that this is a historical park run by the National Park Service. After the Spanish left the building unfinished, the locals worked on it for another forty years, but they ran out of money and ambition. Nothing further has been done. We were handed a self guided walking tour booklet and wandered the grounds trying to imagine what had been here.

On the drive back we went through a lengthy roadblock run by La Migra. We've seen programs on the news where locals who live right on the border complain that Mexicans move across their property unimpeded by the Border Control. It's probably more convenient for the inspectors to wait on the highway further north for everyone to come through, but that's no consolation for the ranchers who have drugs moving through their fields. After waiting a bit the inspectors took one look at our IL license plate and wrinkled faces and waved us through. I guess if you look like us you don't need to carry a passport even in Arizona.

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