Mission San Xavier and Saguaro West

We enjoyed a great night’s sleep and woke to a glorious sunrise.  Being from Michigan, actually seeing the sun made it glorious.  We enjoyed fresh brewed coffee as we plotted our plan of attack for the day.

Mission San Xavier del Bac

Mission San Xavier del Bac is located 10 miles south of Tucson on the Tohono O’odham Nation San Xavier Indian Reservation.  The name translated means, “White Dove of the Desert”. The sky was without clouds as we made our way into the entrance.  There was a free tour starting within a few minutes so we decided to take it.  The volunteer guide provided a lot of information and history that we would surely have missed otherwise. 

The mission was founded in 1692 by priests sent by the King of Spain in order to control the native population.  Construction on the Moorish-styled structure began in 1783 and was completed (for the most part) in 1797.  I say “for the most part” because the parishioners apparently ran out of money before the full completion of the east tower.  The interior of the mission was done in baroque style.  Each side of the sanctuary had an even number of statues, paintings, and even doors – though one was painted onto the wall to maintain the illusion of symmetry. 

The exception to symmetry came with the addition of a statue of the only Native American Saint, The builders were also careful to incorporate some of the Tohono O’odham tradition in the construction.  On one side of the facade of the mission a cat is carved over a curled embellishment.  On the other, there is a mouse.  The native legend related to belief that when the cat caught the mouse it would signify the end of the world.  The construction of these statues on opposite sides of the facade ensure the two would never meet.  I thought the handle of the door was also fascinating with both a snake and a mouse. 

Outside the mission is Martinez Hill.  It was dedicated in honor of Lt. Col Martinez who was in charge of the Tucson presidio and died of injuries suffered during an assault by Apaches in 1868.   We walked up the path and around the hill to a small shrine to “Our Lady of Lourdes”.  Enough of this.  We were ready to find the “pagan” petroglyphs!

I had read that there were several places in Saguaro west where petroglyphs carved by the Hohokam people.  A very frail but friendly volunteer at the visitor center provided us with information to reach those most easily accessible in the park.  About two miles north of the visitor’s center we turned onto Hohokam Road.  There are plenty of trails throughout the entire park but our “get in shape for Tucson” plan had not quite materialized as we had hoped.  We opted instead for the short Valley View Overlook Trail.  This trail was just .8 of a mile out and back and afforded a nice vista of the park below once we reached the overlook.  (Bill is convinced that the National Park Service measures their trails “as the crow flies”.)

From there we took the one-way Bajada Scenic Loop road to Signal Hill.  There’s a nice picnic area at Signal Hill and a well-marked trail to the top.  (Round trip .3 miles.)  Upon approach there were already markings (often referred to as “rock art”) on the stones above.  For a vertically challenged individual such as myself, they were a bit hard to see.  We took the path upwards and soon came to significant petroglyphs.  These etchings were made during the Hohokam period, 450 – 1450 CE (Christian Era).   We lingered here a while.  It was humbling.

Along Painted Rocks Road

We returned to Tucson via the Pictured Rocks Road where we unexpectedly encountered the Tucson Harley-Davidson store.  Bill needed a new shirt and I needed a cup of coffee!  All available there.  As we reentered sprawling Tucson I located nearby American Legion at which Bill could receive liquid nourishment, a warm welcome, and camaraderie.  Within a few minutes he was introduced to other Vietnam Vets (one who was nearly 91 years old) and all who were Air Force Veterans.  There is a large Air Force base in Tucson.  Perhaps that has something to do with it.  

We had dinner at a less-than spectacular restaurant before heading back to our “adobe hacienda” to call it a night.

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