You don’t have to go to California to visit historic Spanish missions and presidios. Southeastern Arizona has a few missions of its own, including San Jose de Tumacácori.
Founded in 1691 by Father Kino, the mission is the oldest in the state and preserved as part of the Tumacácori National Historical Park.
“The Tumacácori mission is at the heart of the large Spanish land grants that established cattle ranching in Arizona,” says Jonathan Mabry, board chairman for the Santa Cruz Valley Heritage Alliance. “The mission was one of the few places in southern Arizona that remained occupied during periods when every ranch and mine had to be abandoned because of Apache raids. So it’s one of those enduring places in southern Arizona that has a really deep time line and a deep importance for history.”
It’s also the setting for one of southeastern Arizona’s most popular festivals — La Fiesta de Tumacácori, which takes place this weekend.
The fiesta began in 1965 as a commemoration of Father Kino’s first Mass at Tumacácori. But it has become so much more and grown in popularity each year, drawing thousands from all over the Southwest. Native dancing groups including Apaches and Tohono O’odham, ballet folklórico and mariachis will perform during the two-day festival.
“It’s a celebration of the continuity of cultures in the upper Santa Cruz River Valley,” Don Garate, historian and chief of interpretation at Tumacácori National Historical Park. “You don’t see these Indian tribes in one spot at the same time.”
Seeing Arizona’s missions and presidios is a quick day trip down Interstate 19.
“They are really gems in southern Arizona,” says Mabry. “They represent the Spanish period of our history. There is so much continuing influence of the Spanish and Mexican periods on southern Arizona’s history.
Here are two other stops to add to your itinerary:
SAN XAVIER DEL BAC
Located just nine miles south of Tucson, San Xavier del Bac is nicknamed the “white dove of the desert.” The dome and towers rise out of the desert floor and make an impression on any visitor. The architecture is a blend of Moorish, Byzantine and late Mexican architecture.
“San Xavier is considered the finest example of Spanish colonial architecture in the United States,” says Mabry.
Details: 1950 W. San Xavier Road, San Xavier District. Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Free. (520) 294-2624 or www.sanxaviermission.org.
TUBAC PRESIDIO STATE HISTORIC PARK
Portions of the fort built in 1752 in response to the Pima uprising are on display in this park. Living history demonstrations about life in the presidio take place 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays, October through March.
Details: The park is 45 miles south of Tucson on Interstate 19. Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. $3 per person age 14 and older. (520) 398-2252 or www.pr.state.az.us/Parks/parkhtml/tubac.html.
La Fiesta de Tumacácori
What: Two-day festival featuring native dancers and mariachi. When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Where: Tumacácori National Historical Park, Interstate 19 at Exit 29
Information: (520) 398-2341 or
Getting there Take Interstate 17 east to Tucson, then take Interstate 19 south to Exit 29.