Celebrating National Public Lands Day 2012

Outdoor enthusiasts probably already know that today is National Public Lands Day, a day on which we can visit U.S. National Parks and Historical Sites for free. Many public lands around the country also had programs for volunteers to clean up and preserve sites of interest. Here in Southern Arizona, there are several interesting properties run by the National Park Service. I decided to visit one that was new to me: Tumacacori National Historical Park.

The site at Tumacacori has a long and kind of sad history that reveals a lot about what life was like in the Sonoran Desert before the 20th Century. A mission was established near this site by Father Eusebio Kino in 1691. Father Kino was a Jesuit priest who, during his time in this area, established a network of missions and interacted with native tribes. The official historical record states that Father Kino (an Italian of noble origin) was well regarded and respectful of the Pima (aka Tohono O’odham)  among whom he lived. Tumacacori was Kino’s first mission in the area, though he started preaching long before a church was built here. Kino would go on a year later to start the mission at San Xavier del Bac, which I visited in March, and numerous other missions in Arizona and Sonora.

Father Kino died in 1711 in Magdalena, Sonora, where he is buried today. After his death (and likely before it, too) the mission at Tumacacori struggled. The mission complex (as shown above) should be considered more of a town center than just a church. There was a granary that stored food, a school, a cemetery, orchards and fields, irrigation canals, and a kiln to fire bricks for construction–all in this one spot. While that made it an important spot for the community, it also made Tumacacori an attractive target to hostile Apache who repeatedly raided the site in spite of attempts at fortification. (To be fair, the Pima were also sometimes restive–it was an uprising by the Pima that forced the move to the current site in the mid-1700s.)

European politics also influenced Tumacacori’s fate. In the 1760s, the Jesuits fell out of favor with the Spanish king and were expelled from New World colonies. More precisely, Jesuit priests like those at Tumacacori were rounded up and sent out into the desert to almost certain deaths. Their replacements, from the Franciscan order, wanted a bigger and better site and put the Pima to work building the current church around 1800s. Although this church was never actually finished (the design was scaled back several times due to lack of funding, and the bell tower was never more complete than it is now), at one point it was functional–the facade still shows some traces of the bright paint that once covered it, and the inside also hints at better times.

Note, for example, the niches in the side walls along the nave and the painting behind the altar. The ceiling also shows faded patterns. So what happened here? Well, after the Mexican Revolution, the Spanish-born Franciscan priests were also expelled, leaving the site without a resident priest and in the care of the Pima, who had their hands full with awful weather, Apache raids, and disease. The Mexican-American war provided the final blow to Tumacacori: Supplies became harder to come by and Mexican troops abandoned the nearby presidio (fort) at Tubac, making the site even harder to defend. In 1848, the last native residents of Tumacacori decamped to the more vibrant and better-defended mission at San Xavier. As they retreated, the Pima took much of the church’s artwork with them. Whatever was left was subject to a fast and intense decay. Only about 60 years passed between the abandonment of the mission and the creation of the National Historical Site under Teddy Roosevelt, but the mission looks like it suffered centuries of damage.

Cemetery at Tumacacori. The grave in the center is the only one that is identified. Others are from the early 20th century; any traces of pre-20th century graves are gone.

The site is worth a visit if you live in Tucson or the surrounding areas. Admission is normally $3 and includes a self-guided tour. A festival in December also includes music and dancing from local native peoples. While San Xavier is hands-down the better example of a mission church, it does not offer such extensive historical and educational display as Tumacacori. I felt I learned a lot more here about what life was like at a colonial-era mission, and one of the highlights of the site’s museum was hearing audio recordings in which elder members of the Tohono O’Odham, Yaqui, and Apache tribes discuss their lives and heritage.

The town of Tubac, which I just love for its galleries and boutique shops, is a few miles up the road. (Technically, it’s a few kilometers–I-19 south of Tucson has metric highway signs. As a runner, it’s a good thing I’ve become so adept and making distance conversions in my head.) I went to Tubac today as well, but only after another short detour to the Coronado National Forest site on the outskirts of Nogales. I took a nice, 10-mile drive out to Peña Blanca Lake. This body of water that is not so impressive on its own, but the drive out is filled with hairpin turns and rolling hills. It was also nice to spend a few minutes sitting out on a dock in the middle of the desert, appreciating all that our public lands have to offer.




Spring Break, in Review

Well, the end of Spring Break is here and it’s appropriately gloomy where I am. It’s been raining for hours with a forecast high today of only 52 degrees. If I had any hope of getting in one last hike or a trail run, it seems it’s not going to happen now.

In all, I had a good break. I hiked about 16 miles over the last week and change, and ran just over 11. My pulled hamstring is still a bit tender, but I hope I’ll be back up to full sped soon. I also had a nice day trip to Tubac, saw a spring training game here in Tucson, and was even able to get quite a bit of work done. If I get myself motivated and out of bed, I’ll also be going to brunch later today.

Spring Break always comes not a moment too soon. I haven’t actually had a real Spring Break trip in three years, but I consider it my first peek at what summer will be like, when I no longer have stacks of grading and classes to teach, and when I can sit at home and focus on my dissertation. I’m eager to be done with grad school a lot of the time. While I’m very proud of how active I’ve been in 2012, my weight loss, and the willpower I’ve shown in sticking to a diet and not drinking, I do struggle to stick with these changes and to be social at the same time. I just feel old sometimes, and when I’m out with friends who are all several years younger than me, eating bar food and getting drunk and horsing around while I play the wallflower, that feeling is heightened. I mean, what do people, especially single people, do to be social and meet other singles when they’re in their early 30s and don’t want to hang out at bars? I spent all day yesterday following Facebook check-ins of friends at Irish bars all over the country (and the world). I had zero desire to join in the fun. I guess that’s good in some ways… but there’s a fine line between good sense and being a wet blanket, right?

The Adventures of Chavalina in the Desert, Pt. 1

Well, it’s Spring Break and I had about zero fun and exciting plans leading up to this week. To boot, I also pulled a muscle in my thigh last week, so I’ve run a total of about four miles in the last seven days. Time to find other ways to amuse myself.

1. Tucson Festival of Books

Yesterday, I went to the Tucson Festival of Books. Hard to believe this event is only in its fourth year and is already one of the country’s biggest book fairs, but then again what artsy person wouldn’t want to come to Tucson in March? The highlight of the event for me was seeing one of my favorite authors, Luis Alberto Urrea. In addition to being a great writer, a big supporter of education, and a one-time Tucsonan, he is also a lot of fun to hear speak. Most of his Saturday morning talk centered on his new book, Queen of America, which I finally purchased. I waited months to buy it at the festival especially so I could have him sign it. He told me I have a rock star’s name and I giggled like a little girl. Wooo. I also toured the tents a little, had a nice lunch, and saw the Kinetic King from America’s Got Talent. Overall, I give the book festival high marks, but potential attendees should be warned: It does get crowded, and some of the panel rooms are awfully small for the number of folks who come to hear the talks. Get there early if you want to see a popular author!

2. San Xavier del Bac

Yeah, it only took me 3.5 years to see this attraction, but at least I picked a good day. The mission is located on the Tohono O’odham San Xavier Reservation, and today there was a mass and a powwow going on, so it was extra crowded. The mission is showing its age a bit, and there are ongoing restoration projects, but it is well worth a visit. There are few places in the U.S. where you can stand inside an 18th century building and appreciate the history. The mission’s altarpiece features over 50 statues of religious figures that were crafted in Mexico and brought to the mission. The building itself was mostly constructed by Native American laborers, but the architecture shows Spanish and Moorish themes.

San Xavier del Bac

The chapel beside the mission.

I hope that folks will keep up the good work of restoring this place. Visitors can also take a short walk up the hill beside the mission, where there is a shrine and some great views of Tucson.

3. Tubac

I’ve never had much interest in visiting Tubac, so I’m not sure why it sounded to magical to me today, but it did. Truth be told, I wanted to go to Nogales but I didn’t want to go by myself. Tubac sounded like a place where I could find a lot of the same types of Mexican crafts, some art galleries, and even a Mexican restaurant that used to be in Nogales. Sort of like being in Mexico, in a sanitized white-person non-authentic way… Maybe?

I had a great lunch at Elvira’s, delicious chiles rellenos. I also noted that they had a great selection of tequilas and offer a $.50 tequila shot as a “welcome.” I’m guessing that this is a throwback to their days in Nogales, where many shops/booths/restaurants offer you free tequila shots to loosen you (and your wallet) up a little. Sadly, though, since I’m still on my personal prohibition, I passed on the low-cost alcohol. Food here is a bit on the expensive side ($18.00 for chile rellenos, rice and beans, and a side of chips and salsa), but it is delicious and filling. Bonus points for the stylish decor.

Tubac Galleries

I also liked the various galleries more than I thought I would. Many of the stores feature a similar selection of Mexican imports. Look in a few different places to find the best price on a particular item. Other stores are more high-end galleries with lots of Western and Mexican-inspired art including furniture, photos, jewelry, mixed-media, painting… anything you could imagine. Prices range quite a bit. I saw some lovely paintings that were close to $2000, but there was also more reasonably priced work. As an unabashed feminist I particularly loved the Feminine Mystique gallery, which featured work by many different female artists. Some paintings were priced as low as $30, making it one of the more affordable places I visited. My only purchase today was a cute baby outfit that will be a gift for a friend, but I hope someday to return. Maybe when I have money and can afford an $1800 painting of baby quails. Baby quails! Cutest things ever!

Plans for tomorrow: WIll be hiking in Sabino Canyon. Expect more pics.