An Artist Colony, A White Dove, and Friendship ~ Tubac, AZ

welcome to TubacCombine a growing artist colony, a White Dove of the Desert, and friendship and what you get is a nice day trip from Catalina State Park in Oro Valley, where we are camped, to Tubac, AZ.  I have been mute on our time at Catalina State Park, not because we are not enjoying looking out over and hiking into the Santa Catalina Mountains, but because this is our second visit (here is our first).  We have chosen to lazily pass the time in the company of good friends Stan and Marilyn (also camped here) over posting again about this great state park.

Mission San Xavier del Bac
Mission San Xavier del Bac

Stan, Marilyn, Terry and I began our trip to Tubac with a stop just 10 miles south of downtown Tucson to a place I hadn’t visited in many years, Mission San Xavier del Bac, the “White Dove of the Desert”.  This historic Spanish Catholic mission was founded in 1692 by Father Eusebio Kino.

In the late 1600’s, a stranger in dark flowing robes on horseback, a Jesuit missionary, ambled into the village of Wa:k.  The desert people who resided there, the Tohono O’odham, welcomed him with open arms, thus beginning the tenure of Father Kino’s mission work.

Present-day church construction began in 1783 and was completed in 1797. Following Mexico’s independence in 1821, Mission San Xavier became part of Mexico, but with the Gadsden Purchase in 1854, ownership changed to the US.  It is said to be the oldest intact European structure in Arizona, still containing the original mural paintings and statuary within its chapel, the frescoes and back altar quite striking.  It is very much an active mission today, with services being held daily.  A separate, smaller chapel to the side of the church is available for special prayer offerings.

Mission San Jose de Tumacacori
Mission San José de Tumacacori

Mission San José de Tumacácori (Too-muh-ká-ko-ree) was our next stop, four miles outside the town of Tubac.  This historic mission was also founded by Father Kino, one year earlier than that of Mission San Xavier.  No one knows the meaning of the word Tumacácori but it is believed to be an O’odham word.

In January, 1691, on the east bank of the Santa Cruz River, the oldest mission site in what is now Arizona was built, a very modest structure compared to Mission San Xavier to its north.  It’s original name was Mission San Cayetano de Tumacácori and was renamed to Mission San José in 1751 when the mission was moved to its present location on the west side of the river.  The structure was never completed, due to many woes:  Apache hostility, lack of government support, and disease, to name a few.  When Tumacácori lost its last resident priest, scaffolding still hung from the bell tower.  The mission is unfinished yet today, although restoration work has begun on what remains.

Having had our spirits rejuvenated and broadened our knowledge of Arizona history, we headed to the growing artist colony known as Tubac “where art and history meet”.   Established in 1752 as a Spanish Presidio, it houses Arizona’s first state park and European settlement, the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park. There is a museum that is open to the public, but quite frankly, a girl can only fill her head with so many facts and figures in one day.  We chose instead to wander among the roughly 100 eclectic shops and world-class galleries, a very nice way to wind down our day.

But wait, there’s more!  Our exciting finish to the day took us to Elvira’s to dine at what is probably one of the most popular and funkiest restaurants in Tubac, featuring gourmet Mexican fare.  The is the second Elvira’s restaurant to open, the first being in Nogales, Mexico.  We were thrilled to have friends Stan and Marilyn with us, along with new friends Gary and Christine, who we were fortunate to meet up with while camphosting in San Elijo State Beach in CA.  The food and drinks were yummy, the restaurant interior delightful (so sparkly) due to the hundreds of teardrops and colored balls hanging from the ceiling reflecting the light, and the company superb.

L-R:  Marilyn, Stan, Christine, Gary & Terry
L-R: Marilyn, Stan, Christine, Gary & Terry

We could not have asked for a better ending to our day and with the knowledge that we would see all four of these great folks again next winter in CA, we said goodbye to Gary and Christine.  Tomorrow will be a sad day for us as we part ways with Stan and Marilyn, two amazing friends who have crept into our hearts and will definitely remain there.

I must share one final photo of this area, as it speaks to the gentle spirit of this man.  He is not near old enough to be my poppy (papa) but I’m certain he was a sweet and gentle poppy to his children.  Sorry Stan, I couldn’t resist!

Stan, one sweet man and our dear friend
Stan, one sweet man and our dear friend

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Meditation and a Hike

For many, hiking is a form of meditation, getting in touch with nature.  This is certainly true for Terry, and I love hiking myself, but I need a little more.  That is what took me to the Tucson Community Meditation Center last night.  It came highly recommended to me by our friend Kevin.  A 30-minute Q&A, followed by a 45-minute sit and a Dharma talk about how to merge tranquility into your meditation practice rounded out the evening.

The speaker for the evening was Upasaka Culadasa, a lay-practitioner who has practiced Buddhist meditation for 35 years and is now devoted to helping students master meditation skills.  It was a very welcoming group that I spent the evening with and I felt blessed to have had the opportunity to sit in the presence of this revered teacher.  What I didn’t realize until this morning is how much his talk  on serenity spoke to me.

You see, for the most part, I tend to see myself as a tranquil person but I have discovered that I have been anything but serene for the past week or so.  What I have been is restless, with a somewhat uneasy feeling about me and not quite sure why.  I think I may have gotten to the crux of the matter.

When I retired and started this blog, it was with the intent of keeping family and friends informed of our travels throughout Mexico, but also with the thought that I would now have time to pursue my spirituality and write with a more philosophical bent as well. After all, the front page of my blog does say a ‘Journey of Self-Discovery and Adventure” and in my post on Ringing in 2012 I said to be true to yourself, so I guess it is time I do just that.

I enjoy writing about our travels and will continue to do so, as I want to share another great hike we did today in the Santa Catalina Mountains, for those who might like hiking and find themselves in the Tucson area.  Hopefully my occasional philosophical musings will not scare anyone off but if you think they might, hit the back button and get out while you can!  Otherwise, don’t say I didn’t  warn you.

The Santa Catalinas are so beautiful and so vast that we decided to do the Pima Canyon Trail, on the other side of the mountain.  We completed 8 of the 14 miles of this trail before turning back, and with an elevation gain just shy of 2000 feet, we said “good enough”.  Truthfully the literature warns that once beyond the 3-mile mark, the trail becomes noticeably more rugged and steep.  For me that means treacherous on the way down.  We did a lot of boulder-hopping after the 3-mile mark as well and had to stay alert to make sure we did not make a wrong turn, as the trail was not well-defined beyond this point.

I mastered the descent down the mountain, well almost.  We always carry a first-aid kit with us, mostly for the benefit of Terry, as the standing joke is that he seems to take any opportunity he can to injure himself in some way.  But today, this first-aid kit was to be all mine.  I got through the worst of the loose, steep descent, stepped onto a granite boulder, and slid down the other side, whacking my forearm on the way down.  I hit my funny bone (can someone remind me why they call it that?) and drew just enough blood to invoke sympathy from Terry, as he rounded the corner to see me laid out.  Thank goodness for an ice pack in our lunch sack, to reduce the knots that began to appear on my arm.  After a few minutes of easing the light-headedness I was feeling from where I hit the nerve in my elbow and my embarrassment, we were on our way once more.

Except for my minor mishap today, with enough trails under my belt, I think Terry may just make a hiker out of me after all.  Now, if he could just teach me how to pee in the wilderness without getting my boots wet!  Not happenin’.

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A Bird’s-Eye View

Advise from a Hawk:  Soar to new heights/Be a keen observer/Swoop down on opportunities/Rise above it all/Spread your wings/Find a field that suits you/ The sky’s the limit!  ~ (c) Ilan Shamir http://www.yourtruenature.com


We spent the bulk of the day at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, founded in 1952, and part of the pristine Sonoran desert in Tucson.  It encompasses 21 acres and is primarily a walking experience, with two miles of paths winding through its boundaries.  It is very unique in that it is part zoo, museum, and botanical garden and is one of the most visited attractions in Tucson.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum has garnered a worldwide reputation in the scientific community as a foundation dedicated to research and conservation efforts directed at the land, plants, and the animals of the Sonoran Desert Region.  Their mission is to inspire others to live in harmony with the natural world by fostering an understanding and appreciation of the Sonoran desert. This facility was also the pioneer for the creation of naturalistic enclosures for its animals.

Although the desert this time of year does not have the brilliant color that springtime brings, there has always been something very appealing about the desert for me, and the cooler temperatures are a welcome respite from what is soon to come.  With more than 300 species of animals and 1200 types of plants at the desert museum, you could certainly spend an entire day here and this is the perfect time of year to do so.

This facility is a wonderful haven for birds and there is a fabulous hummingbird exhibit on the grounds, giving visitors the opportunity to walk freely amongst these inquisitive, brilliantly colored little creatures.  Granted, it is difficult to capture these smallest of birds in a photo as they are buzzing you in midflight, but Terry was able to snap a couple of good shots.

We had the opportunity to view a couple of wonderful programs at the desert museum, the most remarkable being the Raptor Free Flight program.  We got an up close bird’s-eye view of a family of Harris’ hawks on a hunt.  The narration was terrific and it was so thrilling to watch this family of four soaring overhead and alighting on saguaro cactus.  How do they do that?  Very carefully, of course! Many times their flight paths took them literally within inches of our heads.  This program showcased how these magnificent hunters  cooperatively work in their native environment and they were successful in the hunt!

Running Wild is another program that has been presented for four years running at the desert museum and one that we were lucky to see.  A screen presentation regarding the history of the park, now in its 60th year, was recounted by curator George Carpenter.  At various times throughout this screening, background music was the cue for live animals to scamper or waddle onto the stage, while the curator described the habits of these animals and the conservation efforts that came into play to develop this Desert Museum.  It was amazing to see a hooded skunk, ringtail, Gambel’s quail, brown pelican, and porcupine sashay on stage and exit on cue.  We learned that it takes several months to train these animals to walk across the stage.

Last, but certainly not least, was the cute and cuddly prairie dog exhibit, always entertaining to watch.

Wait! Don’t take the picture yet! This is my chubby side.

Time for us to move on as it is now siesta time at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.  What a great day!

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Wishing on a Star for a Hot Tub

This was my initial thought after the effects of our hike today settled in.  Given the clouds moving into the Tucson area, seeing any stars tonight did not look promising and finding a hot tub in Catalina State Park was not going to happen. Settling for a nice hot shower seemed the most appealing alternative.

We enjoy staying at state parks when possible as they usually provide more wide open spaces and great views.  Catalina State Park, located within Coronado National Forest, sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains.

Sitting at an elevation of 3000 feet, this 5500 acre park is a haven for desert plants,  wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros.  Miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails wind through the park and on into the Coronado National Forest.  Mount Lemmon is the highest peak in the Santa Catalinas, standing at 9157 feet.

We opted for the Romero Canyon Trail hike today, a moderately difficult hike. We did not make it out to Romero Pass at 7.2 miles, choosing instead to turn around at 5.5 miles.  This round-trip 11 mile hike, with elevation gains of 2000 feet was enough for us.

Two happy hikers at the turn-around mark

It offered some stunning views, with lots of running water in the canyon.  It would be interesting to see how fast the water is moving through the canyon after the spring run-offs.

Most of the hike out was up, so the good news was we could cruise downhill on the return trip, but admittedly a little harder on the knees, as I watch my husband gingerly walking around the rig tonight.  If I am honest, my legs are protesting a bit tonight as well.

View towards Tucson hiking down off the Romero Canyon Trail

About 3/4 of the way back, we started to see paramedics and other rescue personnel hiking up past us.  There were a total of eleven rescue workers pushing up the mountain, and two staged with a bucket/gurney nearby, as well as seven rescue vehicles standing by to assist.  We never did learn what occurred, and watching the local news tonight did not provide any answers either.  We can only hope that whatever happened in the canyon today, it was not serious.

As we crossed over the stream at the end of our hike, a little boy, clad only in a t-shire and Superman undies, came racing around the corner dragging a toy truck. He stopped abruptly right in front of us, dropped his undies, and proceeded to water the grass along the trail.  Ah, the innocence of children!

Looking into the canyon from the Romero Canyon Trail
First sign of poppies along the trail

With some clouds rolling in, we were rewarded with a beautiful sunset over the Santa Catalinas tonight.

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