We’ve spent a good deal of time in Southern Arizona over the years, but have never run out of places to visit. Some, like Mission San Xavier del Bac, are worth return trips to see the mission, shop the many vendors set up outside, and see the changes as the continual restoration takes place. The mission, known appropriately as the “white dove of the desert” was founded in 1692 by Father Eusebio Kino in 1692, and the current building was started in 1783. It’s been an active church over the years, and is still an active church and convent on what is now the Tono o’ odham Reservation. Brenda and I first visited the mission in the early 70s while stationed in the area. We remember the exterior as being beautiful, but the interior was worn and the wall sculptures and paintings were dull and damaged. Now, walking into the church is a visual explosion of color and ornate sculpture, thanks to a major renovation begun in 1989. A film in the museum tells the story how a number of expert craftsman from Italy and Spain were assembled and brought to the mission to begin the slow, painstaking task of restoring the mission to it’s original condition, both inside and out. A select group of Tono o’ odham were chosen to travel to Italy, apprentice with these experts, and return with them to help restore the mission and carry on through the years. One of the interesting aspects of the movie told of the exterior deterioration. Each year, crews would repair the walls and roof with cement and white paint. It was discovered that it sealed the interior adobe and because it couldn’t “breathe”, it would deteriorate. They found that the original builders used lime, sand, and the crushed liquid of Prickly Pear cactus which bakes to a bright white in the desert sun. This is the mixture used today and it’s proven to last longer and be more protective than “modern” methods. All in all, it was an interesting visit for us, both in admiring the beauty of the mission and learning the details of the restoration.
Where there is mining in the West, there are ghost towns, and Southern Arizona has more than it’s share. We took a road trip along the “Ghost Town Trail”, an area east of Tombstone that once was a thriving mining area. We started on the eastern edge of the trail at Cochise Stronghold, an area in the Dragoon Mountains where the Chiricahua chief and his band lived for about 15 years and where he is reputed to be buried. It’s a pretty place of rocks and oak forest, cool and shady in this area of desert. From there we traveled to Pearce, a town that once had 1500 residents but now is just a few dilapidated buildings and mobile homes. Turning onto the dirt road to Tombstone, the landscape begins to look “lunar” until coming to an area of hills and the site of Courtland, completely abandoned with only a few ruins left from a town that once had 2000 residents and a movie theater. Further down the road was Gleeson, once a copper mining town. Traveling through this area makes us wonder just how people lived here – little shade, no surface water, hot summers and cold winters….and Domino’s didn’t deliver! We finished up our drive in Tombstone, spared from becoming another ghost town by the tourist draw of the O.K. Corral and the Earp Brothers.
We come to Southern Arizona to avoid the cold and snow of the north, so naturally we woke up on day to 26 degree temperatures and snow. Looking out at the foothills we saw a completly different scene than normal – but it was beautiful!
We decided to take a road trip to Parker Canyon Lake, knowing that being higher in elevation it would be a pretty trip. So with friends Don and Betty, we headed south to the lake. As the road wound its way up into the hills, the snow started getting deeper……and deeper. But the views just got better. We finally arrived at the lake, just in time for a bit of sunshine that made it the perfect day. We’ve been to the lake a number of times, but never had a view like this:
We’ve enjoyed our time in Benson and the Saguaro SKP Park, but are moving on to the west looking for new sights and warmer weather. We’ll miss our friends Don and Betty and Kirk and Sue, but as full- timers we know it’s never “good-bye”, just “see you down the road”. And we’ll leave you with one of those famous Arizona sunsets. Until next time, when we’ll “see you down the road”!