Great Western Loop – A Spanish Mission & More

Day 6 ...

was a take-it-easy kind of day. We stayed at our cooler mountain campsite till it began to heat up around 0930. We bid adieu  to our new friend, Richard, and the Coronado National Forest and headed down the mountain to Tucson city which was already roasting. We did laundry and provisioned (read that … we stopped at WalMart for food, supplies and to get cool). Most National Forests, by the way, only allow 14 days of camping within a 30-day period. We only needed four days this time, but it’s good information to know.

 A nice respite in a cool hotel room.

A nice respite in a cool hotel room.

We checked into a local Comfort Inn for a night as the temperature climbed to 102F. It was a lovely room with a king-size bed, A/C … free breakfast and a pool and cost considerably more $$ than the $5/night we’d been paying at the campground. We soaked up the cool, took refreshing showers, did some writing and had a picnic dinner in our room.

A few thoughts about Tucson? We saw the road signs above most often in Tucson. Horse riders and bikers are as common as cars here. The terrain is dry and hilly and the ride is like a roller coaster at times ... 'dips', they call them. Evidently when it does rain, flash floods are violent and quite common ... not unlike Las Vegas and we were warned constantly to avoid the dips when the rains came.

Current temperatures excepted, we really liked the city and the surroundings. We’ve put it on our ‘come back when it’s cool’ list … next winter maybe?

 This is not your typical mission. Even from a distance, the mission was impressive.

This is not your typical mission. Even from a distance, the mission was impressive.

Day 7 – Mission San Xavier - Miles: 703

Though we were up before 0600, we seemed rushed this morning. We hadn’t finished up our blog writing last night, there were still some bills to pay, emails to answer and research to do. We finally got out of the hotel by 1000. I’d seen a small blurb in a local brochure about Mission San Xavier del Bac located just south of town and it looked interesting.

 Mission San Xavier del Bac is considered the finest example of Mexican Baroque architecture in the USA.

Mission San Xavier del Bac is considered the finest example of Mexican Baroque architecture in the USA.

‘As a national historical landmark and the only remaining intact mission in Arizona, Mission San Xavier is considered the finest example of Mexican Baroque architecture in the United States.’ The mission was first founded in 1692 by Jesuit priest, Eusebio Francisco Kino. The current structure was begun in 1783 and completed in 1797. It is still a working church which services the people of the Tohono O’odham nation. The mission school dating back to 1873 is still in operation and run by the Franciscan Sisters of Charity to educate local children.

Click on a thumbnail below to make it larger.

As hot and dusty and bright as it was outside, it was cool, serene and darkish on the inside. The interior was extremely ornate as most Spanish Catholic churches tend to be. A refurb is currently underway to restore original adobe brick, limestone plaster and stabilize paint pigments in the original artwork. We wandered throughout, enjoying the cool and taking in the vibrant, opulent embellishments.

 We're not far from Mexico and passed through Border Patrol checkpoints en route.

We're not far from Mexico and passed through Border Patrol checkpoints en route.

Despite the oppressive Sonoran Desert heat, we decided to head further southwest to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The ~125 mile drive from the mission to just beyond Why, Arizona (yup, that’s the name of the town … Why). We traveled through Tohono O’odham tribal lands (that’s pronounced Tow-HOE-no Oh-oh-thahm) along the Ajo Highway (AZ-86). The arid, parched tan desert contrasts beautifully with the color of the mesquite, palo verde and ironwood trees, creosote bushes, cholla and seguaro.  We passed through a Border Patrol checkpoint en route. We thought they’d search Blue, but after a quick glance inside through the driver’s side window, they let us pass without further ado.

 Entrance to Organ Pipe National Monument

Entrance to Organ Pipe National Monument

We arrived late afternoon at the national monument visitor center. The heat was tolerable in the shade, though the car thermometer was reading 102F outside temp. May is off-season for this park. Only minimal ranger staff was on duty, but they were quite welcoming. Our senior passes allowed us free entry to the park and half price camping fees. We had the place nearly to ourselves, so we had a pretty good choice of spots, close to the ablutions block which offered flush toilets and solar showers.

Instead of mountain and bear warnings like the Coronado National Forest, here we were warned of rascally ravens and pilfering packrats.

 Early evening vista along the Desert View Trail. Lots of organ pipe cactus in view.

Early evening vista along the Desert View Trail. Lots of organ pipe cactus in view.

Once the sun was dropping in the western sky, it was pleasant in the shade of Blue’s east side. As the sun set, the temperature dropped comfortably and we enjoyed an evening walk on the Desert View Trail. Gotta make those 10,000 steps a day!

 Desert nights ... cool and an inky black, star-studded sky.

Desert nights ... cool and an inky black, star-studded sky.

We lingered in our camp chairs till after 9pm enjoying the cool and gazing at the star-studded sky. We recovered our Star Map 3D+ app from the cloud, previously used aboard Nine of Cups. It works as well here in the desert as it did at sea … no ambient light and millions of stars. We picked out Jupiter and Venus, Ursa Major (the big dipper), but Orion was too low on the horizon to see. We need to refresh our constellation knowledge.

Join us next time as we explore Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The cacti are blooming!