We have been busy since our Grand Canyon trip a few weeks ago! Charlie has been working some overtime, I’ve finally started the volunteer position at the hospital and we’ve been taking advantage of our free days. With only four weeks left in Arizona, we’re feeling the crunch of actually doing those things about which we keep saying, “Some day when we’re free, I’d like to head over to…” So with an eye toward our dwindling free days, we recently used a few to head down to Tucson.
I’ve been wanting to visit a Spanish mission while we’re here in the Southwest, and there is a gorgeous one located on the southern end of Tucson called the Mission San Xavier de Bac. It’s also known as the White Dove of the Desert, because it literally seems like a snow white bird rising out of the bleak desert landscape.
The mission’s ministry to the local Indian population began in 1692 with Franciscan missionary Father Eusebio Kino, though the actual church was not built until 1756. It is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona, and it’s been pretty well restored. We took a tour with a really animated guide who told us all about the history, as well as pointed out some of the harder-to-spot details within the sanctuary.
Even now, the mission seems very isolated on the far edge of the city and would have been literally in the middle of nowhere when it was constructed. It was really interesting to think about these monks moving to this completely defenseless and cut-off piece of land to minister to people they couldn’t have had less in common with. San Xavier del Bac now sits on an Indian reservation and, as we were leaving, we passed a couple of Christian churches. Wouldn’t it be great if Father Kino could see these modern congregations worshipping within sight of the mission he founded centuries ago?
We spent the rest of that day hanging out in a neat little neighborhood near Arizona State University. It was completely taken over by hippies, and we enjoyed people-watching from our perch in a crepe shop (mmm…banana strawberry nutella crepes…) and browsing through all the interesting shops. It was also fun to drive through ASU’s campus, since we have a soft spot for university communities. It looked similar to Auburn, and it definitely made me a little homesick!
That night, we had dinner at a great place called El Sur. I had found it online and was sold on the promise of $5 shrimp fajitas and the fact that they bring grilled onions and jalapenos to the table with every entree. It was fantastic, and left us feeling like we had found “our” place in Tucson. I’m looking forward to going there again at least once more before we leave Arizona.
Earlier this week, we made the drive back to Tucson to visit Mt. Lemmon on the north side of town. Mt. Lemmon is the highest mountain in the area and is known as a haven for locals trying to escape the desert heat. The elevation gains roughly 6,000 feet from the base to peak, causing the temperature to be an average of 20 degrees cooler at the top. The elevation also causes the scenery to change dramatically as you wind up the mountain’s 26 mile summit road. We started in the desert with endless views of cactus and ended up in a mixed conifer forest with snow on the ground. The mountain has seven “life zones,” which basically means it’s like driving straight north from Mexico to Canada all in one afternoon.
We loved our afternoon here! The weather was beautiful, and we enjoyed stopping at all of the viewpoints to see how the scenery was changing. It was also really fun to look down at the road below and see how high we were climbing with each switchback. I had read that cyclists use this road as a training ride for some of the major tours, and we came across several of them along the way. A few looked like they were really hurting, and I so wanted to just give them a lift to the top!
When we reached the top, we found the cute little community of Summerhaven, which is home to The Cookie Cabin. Of course, we had to stop in and toast the beautiful weather and gorgeous drive with a cookie the size of a dinner plate! After winding our way back down the mountain, we headed back to Casa Grande in the midst of another breathtaking desert sunset.
So even though Charlie’s been working like mad and my schedule has picked up with the second volunteer position, we are definitely still finding time to enjoy the beauty and the adventures around us!
(See more of our day trip pictures here)