RV Trip 3.11 Tubac Presidio State Historic Park – Madera Canyon – Tumacacori National Historical Park – Titan Missile Museum – Mission San Xavier del Bac – January 20-26, 2018

When we left Patagonia Lake our plan was to visit Tumacacori but that Saturday was the first day of the US Government shutdown and it was closed so we carried on past Carmen Arizona to visit the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park. We saw a weird thing on the Interstate, the distance signs were all in kilometers instead of miles! We found out later that the US had planned to convert to metric back in 1978 when Interstate 19 was being built so they had gone ahead and put the signs in KMS. When they decided not to convert they just left the signs since it was too expensive to switch them;-)

Tubac is the oldest Spanish Presidio (settlement) in Arizona and was established in 1752. The State Historic Park has artifacts from the archeological excavation done on the property, an original 1885 schoolhouse, Arizona’s first printing press from 1859, and on the day we visited had a special exhibit and tasting of Chocolate (Sharon was very happy about this)! The first set of photos show what the Presidio would have looked like and show the outside/inside of the schoolhouse. You’ll get a kick out of reading the blackboards that show how many lashes you got as punishment for various naughty things the school children might have done;-)

In order to show the results of the archeological excavation they created an underground room with glass displays showing what they found at the various levels of the dig that began in 1974 by the Arizona State Museum and the University of Arizona. The excavation included the Spanish structure that housed the commandant’s residence and the military headquarters for the Presidio. The layers of the excavation along with the historical records tell the archeologists who lived here at various times and what they ate.

Outside the museum building they had several interesting displays. The first had a rotating rock grinding apparatus that would have been used to grind down grains or corn. It was incredibly hard to rotate with only me pushing the wheel (we have a video that shows it better but that doesn’t work as well with the upload to the blog). They also had a variety of different grind stones, called Molinos on display that also were used to make flour. In the wood working shop they showed how two men would have cut through a large squared log to make wooden floor boards. There was a typical outside kitchen and over the fireplace there was a flat piece of metal that would be used to make Tortillas. Lastly they used the Ocotillo cactus stalks for room dividers and for ceiling decoration.

The best part of this site was the chocolate tasting!! Never eat a cacao bean raw because they can be poisonous!! First the beans are taken out of the cacao pod and they ferment before they are dried. Once dry they must be roasted, at this point it’s ok to eat them. For the demo they took the roasted bean, cracked it open and took out the nut that is crushed into nibs. They took the nibs and again crushed them but with heat under the crushing stone to melt the nibs. This was our first taste, pure melted chocolate. In the 1700s, the Spanish mainly used chocolate as a drink, similar to coffee today, except they drank it at every meal. They gave us a sample of the original bitter chocolate drink. Then you could “spice it up” by adding different ingredients including sugar (which the Europeans introduced in the 1500s), cinnamon or chili to create your own custom drink. Just for fun they gave us samples of chocolate covered frozen bananas (delicious) and, wait….chocolate drops on bacon! I know, it sounds weird but it was very good. We said we need to find some of the Jalapeno Bacon we had at one of the wineries and put the chocolate on that!!

Next we saw the printing press that came from Cincinnati and printed the first Arizona Newspaper in Tubac in March 1859. Interestingly it was only used in Tubac for short period and then was used by the Tombstone Epitaph (which we visited earlier). In was donated in 1930 for display in the State Park. They also had a description of why they called it minding your P’s and Q’s and how the nick on the stalk of the letters was different for P’s and Q’s so the printer could distinguish between the two letters;-)

The next day we left our odd ranch campground (where we had a coyote walk right by the RV and at night you could hear them howling!) in order to walk around Tubac and window shop. Tubac features over 100 eclectic shops and galleries and is described as the place where Art meets History. Our first stop was La Paloma de Tubac which was a Latin American market place in a historic adobe home. They had traditional crafts from more than 100 villages from Sierra Madre Mexico to the Amazon Basin of Brazil. Certainly lots of things to look at but when you are travelling in an RV the space is tight so you are extremely selective about what you might buy, we didn’t buy anything here but we were tempted. We wandered around many other shops and galleries but the prices were still best at La Paloma as it was slightly out of the way. Our campground host recommended going to the Golf Course for lunch but it turned out to be a much further walk than anticipated and although the view and the interior décor of the old stables were great the food was only so-so. We were surprised there were few tourists around but then we realized the NFL playoff games were on TV.

The following day we decided to do a long hike in Madera Canyon which is part of the Coronado National Forest. We read online about a loop trail combo that gave you great views of the Santa Rita Mountains. We were able to drive the RV to the highest parking lot, Mt. Wrightson Picnic Area, and there were 3 spots for RV’s there. We took the Vault Mine Trail, to Aqua Caliente trail and on to Josephine Saddle, and returned to the parking lot on the Super Trail. The total for this loop combo was 13 KMS with a total elevation gain of 1600’ but the hard part was that the elevation gain was all in the first 3 KMS! It was basically straight up a ridge with tons of switch backs. The description said you will go up a very steep trail and you will think it will never end but persevere for the views! We kept wondering when or if we would ever reach the T junction to head across to the saddle but we stopped often to enjoy the view and eventually made it. The ridge traverse to Josephine Saddle reminded us of the “Eyebrow” trail we took last year in New Mexico as you went across a very narrow path with a massive slope downwards on the left so we concentrated on making sure every foot placement was solid! We even saw little patches of snow around as the sun didn’t get to some areas on this trail. The rewards of the views made all hard work well worth it. The main mountain we kept seeing was Mt. Wrightson and its elevation was 9453’. We started at 5450’ at the parking lot and reached 7080’ at the saddle. On our drive out of the park we had to stop for the Wild Turkey crossing;-)

The US government shutdown was now over (at least temporarily) so we stayed in this area another day so we could visit Tumacacori National Historical Park. The Santa Cruz River and Valley had been home to the O’odham, Yaqui, and Apache peoples long before the Spanish arrived. The O’odham people used ditches off the river to irrigate their crops. Jesuit Padre Kino arrived in Tumacacori in 1691 and established a mission on the East side of the river as part of the New Spain expansion northwards from Mexico. The goal of the Spanish was to take over the land and to convert the natives to Christianity. In 1751 some of the O’odham people revolted and this caused the Tubac Presidio to be built with 50 soldiers. The Tumacacori mission was moved to the west side of the river to try to get protection from Tubac. In 1767 King Charles III of Spain banished the Jesuits and then the Franciscans took over the missions. In 1800 the larger church you can see now started construction as the Tumacacori settlement had outgrown the smaller church. The church (San Jose de Tumacacori) wasn’t finished until 1822 and they had to scale back the size due to budget constraints. It is made of Adobe, wood and plaster and has now been standing for 200 years! The church was really only used for 6 years until 1828 because the new nation of Mexico banished all Spanish-born residents so there were no priests to lead service. The settlement people did look after the church until 1848 but then it was left and deterioration began once the wooden roof collapsed. In 1908 Tumacacori was named a National Monument and in 1919 restoration began on the structures and basically has continued to this very day. The contrast between Tumacacori and San Xavier del Bac (which you will see later) is very dramatic and in fact some of the Tumacacori statues were moved to San Xavier del Bac to be preserved.

Ok that covers the core historical sequence but in terms of our visit we started with a short video on the history of the settlement and then took a volunteer guided 1.5 hour tour of the church and the grounds. We went down the road to a Mexican restaurant called Wisdom’s Café for a great lunch (one of the advantages of having the National Park pass so you can return anytime) and then returned to finish seeing the museum exhibits. It was funny when we left the park as we had started an RV sideways parking trend and there was even another LTV Unity beside ours;-)

Since we are extremely goal oriented we decided to stay in Amado for one extra day so we could hike the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail from Tubac to Tumacacori and earn our 3rd NP hiking pin;-) The trail was about 14 KMS total (counting the return) so we parked at the Tubac Presidio lot (since it had RV spots) and then followed the trail and the Santa Cruz river to Tumacacori. We showed the ranger our photos and since they were out of pins they took down our names and address so they could mail us the pins when the new shipment arrived. Juan Bautista de Anza was the second commander of the Tubac Presidio and he led two successful overland expeditions in 1774 and 1775 to the Pacific resulting in the establishment of San Francisco.

The trail was fairly easy since it was flat but it was a bit hot as it was exposed and we reached 73 F. We also had a couple of river crossings to do. We saw a lot of plastic garbage along the river and found out later that the river banks had flooded and a large amount of garbage had come from Mexico up the river. They were doing a massive cleanup day on the weekend to gather all the plastic. This also meant that the trail had been rerouted so it no longer corresponded with our trail map. We had part of our lunch at a bench along the way and when we reached Tumacacori grounds we saw the fruit tree orchard and the O’odham irrigation ditch. We were just in time for the flour tortilla demonstration so we each had a very fresh tortilla with refried beans and homemade salsa, yumm! On the return trip Sharon called her parents so we got to chat with them and they could do a virtual hike with us. We split a very large Lime a Rita once back at our campground;-)

The next day we were heading to Tucson but had a few stops on our list. First we went to the Titan Missile Museum which was located in Green Valley and easy to get to off I-19, once a top secret place but now a National Historic Site. During the 40 years of the Cold War the United States and the Soviet Union built up a huge arsenal of Nuclear Weapons. The US used the Nuclear Triad which consisted of three main delivery methods for Nuclear weapons. Land-based Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) like the Titan II and Minuteman, land-based bombers like the B-52, and Sea Launched Ballistic Missles (SLBM) carried on submarines. The premise was that no matter how severe an attack was the US could still launch a counter attack.

The Titan II missiles were housed in underground concrete and steel silos that were designed to withstand any nuclear attack that hit anywhere greater than 1.5 miles away. There were a total of 54 of these missile silos in the US (18 in Tucson, 18 in Little Rock Arkansas, and 18 in Wichita Kansas) and the one we visited is the only remaining one. The Cold War was one of deterrence where each side created in the mind of the enemy the fear of attack in order to prevent the start of a war. In September 1981 the Reagan administration decided to deactivate the Titan II ICBM’s so the missiles were removed from the silos to be used to launch satellites and the top 25’ of each silo was blown apart using 2800 lbs of explosives. The only remaining silo was turned in to a museum but they had to lock the silo closure door in a half open position so it could not be used to launch a missile. The Soviets used their satellites to verify that all silos were destroyed.

Volunteers now give you a guided tour of some areas of the silo. We saw the radio antennas and the backups that they used to communicate. The guide described the process of entry for the 4 people that operated each missile silo (on duty for 24 hours) and what roles they performed. We went down to level 2 of the silo where we went through the various protection doors until we entered the actual control room. He described the detailed steps they would go through if a launch message was received and the controls in place to ensure that multiple people were required in order to actually launch the missile. Luckily none of these missiles were ever fired although they did have one location that was used for test launches and they had to inform the Soviets each time a test was being done so the Soviets would not assume an attack was underway. After the guided tour we were allowed to wander around the surface area with other displays. For those Star Trek fans the movie First Contact was partially filmed at this museum. What a truly unique experience to be able to see this part of our world history!

Our next stop was the Mission San Xavier del Bac that was built from 1783-1797. It is the oldest European structure in Arizona and the labor was provided by the O’odham people. It is considered to be the finest example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the United States and gets over 200,000 visitors per year. This mission is still actively run by the Franciscans and continues to serve the Native community. We watched an interesting video in the museum that described the renovation process. Cement based stucco had been added in the 80’s on the outside but they actually found this was causing worse deterioration especially to the interior decorations due to water retention. They removed and replaced this stucco with traditional mud plaster incorporating pulp from the prickly pear cactus. They also brought an interior restoration crew over from Italy to restore the interior walls and statues and they trained locals in the methods so ongoing upkeep could be done. The interior is nothing short of spectacular and I will let the photos tell the story. After touring the grounds we had to try the traditional Indian Frybread that they sell in the square with all the sweet fixings. We likened it somewhat to the Beavertails we get back in Canada, yumm;-)

Next stop Tucson.



  • Hi,
    You two are definitely not in our area! It looks like you are having a great exploration of the beauty and culture of the country ! It certainly is inspiring! I imagine you have instigated many to aspire to do some road tripping and too, have met some amazing people that have done or are making their own trek! Enjoy! Love to have story telling slide show in the Colpoy’s Bay WI Community Hall! What is you thought? Keep on inspiring. Love what you are doing:):) Karin

    Liked by 1 person

  • I really enjoyed that segment!!! The San Xavier Mission building is a unique blend of native/European architecture. It would have been something incredible to see! Loved the Lime A Rita can – I thought YOU guys made that drink – not bought! I burst out laughing.
    I also laughed out loud at the school blackboard list of punishments – girls not being able to play in the boys area etc. Especially given that in the 1960’s, Nina and I were going to a school in Dryden where they still made us go in the “boys’ entrance” and the “girls’ entrance”, walk down separate sides of the halls to our classrooms….after which, anything was fair game!!! (-:

    You have to let me know if you find that jalapeno bacon!!!!

    hugs to you both

    Liked by 1 person

  • Follow up – I forgot to ask. Was there any mention about missile silos being transformed into homes? There are some decommissioned silos in the U.S. that have been bought by individuals who are now living in them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • They didn’t mention that Ella. They said the other 53 Titan II silos were destroyed. Maybe there were other silos for something other than the Titan II. I also thought I heard at some point that one of the silos was filled with water and divers could dive in it but I can’t recall where that was.


      • Apparently, it’s in Central Washington State and you need an advanced/night diving etc certification….but hey, they say that the conditions are perfect all year round. (-:

        Liked by 1 person

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