After our trip to the Titan Missile Museum, we stopped at Mission San Xavier del Bac, a historic Spanish Catholic mission on the Tohono O’odham San Xavier Indian Reservation. Architect Ignacio Gaona designed the mission under the direction of Fr. Juan Bautista Velderrain. Franciscans continue to run the church to serve the O’odham native community, whose ancestors built the mission between 1783 and 1797.
We joined a tour group in progress when we arrived at the courtyard outside the doors. The docent pointed out specific art pieces and explained their symbolism, but I had trouble hearing at the back of the crowd, so I stuck with taking pictures. I could have stood there for hours finding all the little details in my camera’s viewfinder.
Walk through the carved mesquite doors and enter a church rich with bright colors, paintings, carvings, frescoes, and statues.
Back outside are different views of the exterior, bell tower, hill, and plaza.
We’ll have to visit San Xavier again some day to enjoy more of the art and symbolism, meet the local vendors, browse their wares, and grab a bite to eat.
We thought we had allotted enough time to see everything on our list, but we needed at least a couple more days. Fortunately, Rincon Country East accommodated our request for two more nights.
Off we drove to Biosphere 2, the research facility owned by University of Arizona (UA) since July 2011. UA scientists conduct several large-scale projects at the facility originally built to “research and develop self-sustaining space-colonization technology.” One such project is the Landscape Evolution Observatory (LEO), a large-scale laboratory used to explore how the evolution of physical and biological processes of the landscape affects “water, carbon, and energy cycling within the landscape, and between the landscape and the atmosphere.” In other words, research on global warming.
The visitor center alone has plenty to keep a person busy for up to an hour, including a film presentation, exhibits, and multimedia displays. A bookstore and café are also on site. The best part is taking the under-the-glass tour. Led by a docent, the one hour and the 15-minute tour includes the tropical rainforest, desert, and ocean environments; the LEO; as well as the basement “technosphere” and the “amazing lungs.” The tour also includes the scientist’s living quarters, or human habitat.
Tropical Rainforest Environment
Aquaponics project explores how fish, bacteria, and recirculating water is used to grow plants at a faster rate using less water. It looks like something we could have in our backyards.
The Amazing Lungs. There are two on site, this one is included in the tour. Air expanded as the heat of the day rose causing the lung to rise. At night, the air contracted which lowered the roof—made of galvanized rubber—to the floor on its metal legs. Although the Biosphere is no longer self-contained, fans are used to simulate the expansion and contraction.
The LEO Project is enclosed within the three arched glass buildings. Each section contains a bed 30 meters long and 11 meters wide at a 10-degree slope. The beds are filled with 1 meter, or 500 metric tons, of basalt rock. Approximately 1800 sensors and sampling devices are installed to collect data which the scientists analyze.
For our last day in Tucson, we packed a lunch, and headed to Tucson Mountain County Park and found a great place to have a picnic in the Ironwood Picnic area. After a quiet meal among the mesquite, palo verde, and teddy bear cholla we drove to Old Tucson Studios. Expecting a cheesy sort of place that would extract money from our pockets, we were surprised to find the old movie and television sets realistic and the entertainment professional and amusing.
The music, singing, and clapping attracted us toward the Grand Palace Saloon. Jon was glad we were standing at the back of the bar when the dancers came out and selected men to come up on stage, dressed in can-can outfits, of course. Don’t look too long at the out of focus print, you’ll get dizzy.
We wandered over to the Mission next and laughed at the actors who insulted the audience members as they walked into the arena and took their seats. Then we enjoyed a slapstick routine involving a gun fight, explosions, and falls from high places.
Next, we strolled through the town to see the sets where filming of over 400 movies and television productions took place since the Audie Murphy days.
We felt we got our money’s worth at $18.95 a head. We took Gates Pass Road back to town and stopped at the overlook. As I stood on the hill the Tucson Valley and Rincon Mountains came into view through the V of the rock formations. It was then that I realized why I felt at home in Tucson. It’s the mountains.
The San Bernardino Mountains towered over the valley where Jon and I grew up, and hills surround the valley where we live now. There’s something comforting about hills and mountains standing tall and strong ready to protect the inhabitants that live in the shadows.
Next stop, Casa Grande.