There are two historically important missions south of Tucson just off I-19: Missions San Xavier del Bac and Tumacácori.
(pron: san ha’-vee-air and too-ma-ca’-cor-ee) “Bac” was the Papago Indian name for the site. The Papago Indians are now known as the Tohono O’odham, meaning “Desert People” as opposed to their cousins in the Phoenix area who are now the River People, due to their proximity to the Gila River.Visiting both missions and historic Tubac Presidio in between makes for a fine day trip. And if you have time, the Titan Missile Museum is just a mile or so west of the freeway and an excellent side trip. (See our videos)
(Titan > Exit 69; Duval Mine Road; follow signs. Tubac > Exit 34; under the freeway to frontage road; follow signs.)
All are highly recommended.
Mission San Xavier del Bac is about 15 minutes south of downtown Tucson. It is the finest example of Spanish mission architecture anywhere. It was built in the late 18th century and is today both an important piece of Baja Arizona history and an active Roman Catholic church serving the Tohono O’odham people.
It’s known worldwide as the “White Dove of the Desert” and you will know why as soon as you see it. This mission was lovingly and expertly restored in the 1990’s. Knowledgeable docents conduct tours, and we recommend you take one. Take some pictures, visit the little museum, buy a candle, and leave a donation. Then continue a half hour south to Mission Tumacácori.
Unlike its beautifully restored sister to the north, Mission Tumacácori survives in an arrested state of decay. It’s a National Historical Park and sometimes a park ranger is there to give tours. You can also take the short walk down to the Santa Cruz River, the life blood of Native American and early Spanish, then Mexican communities in this area.
In fact, from here you can hike the Anza Trail. In 1775 and 1776, Juan Bautista de Anza led 30 families and a diverse herd of animals 1200 rugged miles to a point on the Pacific Coast where they built the Presidio and Mission that became the village that became the City of San Francisco, California. (Click on Local History or Tumacácori in the Scroll Bar for annual events at the Mission.)
There is no place to dine near San Xavier, but just north of Tumacácori is Wisdom’s Cafe’ (authentic Mexican) which isn’t open Sundays.
If Wisdom’s isn’t open, there are several restaurants at the Village of Tubac.