A Mission Church, Desert Museum / Zoo, and a Big House

We passed San Xavier del Bac on our way back to Tucson from the Titan Missile museum, and as it gets two full-colour pages in our guide book (we use DK Eyewitness guides), we stopped to have a look. Apparently it’s the oldest and best-preserved mission church in the region, established by the Jesuits in 1700 and with the current buildings dating back to 1797.

Mark had spotted it in the distance as we drove down to the Titan museum (we were looking out for signs so we’d know where to turn off the main road on the way back); I was driving and commented “oh, that? I thought that was a very small chemical works” (from behind it’s white and a combination of rectangular and domed shapes). So whenever we do see a chemical works or anything similar, Mark now points and comments that the Catholics have been here as well….

After viewing the church, we made a swift escape from the very unusual mix of Catholic and local American Indian stuff in the gift shop and headed back to the camp site we’d picked out for the night.

The following day was spent at the nearby Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, which contained everything you could possibly want to know about the local area, starting right back at the beginning with the formation of the Earth 4.5 or so billion years ago. They do a great job of fake rocks here, as evidenced by the cave exhibit we walked through – just like Carlsbad Caverns.

Another great display of rocks, some of which we noticed came from the Queen Mine at Bisbee….

Volunteers were scattered around near the visitor centre with tables of interesting stuff (like a pensioners’ show-and-tell) ready to talk to visitors. We talked to two of them and found out all about the Saguaro Cactus from one and all about other critters (carpenter bees, paper wasps and the like) from another. There was lots more to see in terms of flora as we walked around the 21 acre Zoo / Museum, as well as all manner of local wildlife.

Cactus Garden:

Mountain Lion:

Mexican Wolf:

Prairie Dogs:

This was the first time I’d ever seen a stationary hummingbird:

Bighorn Sheep:


Gray Fox:

Gila Monster:

Elf Owl (allegedly the smallest owl in the World):


Black Bear:

The next day it was time to leave the Tucson area and head up towards Phoenix and the Apache Trail. It had rained overnight and we drove through some torrential downpours along the way. Luckily, there was a brief interlude in the rain when we stopped on the way to look at Casa Grande, the remains of a large adobe structure built by the local indigenous people in the 14th century. No-one knows what it was used for….

Like San Xavier del Bac, this wasn’t something you’d drive a long way to go see,  but it was worth stopping off to have a look at given that it was on our way and broke up the journey nicely. After a night on a campsite at Apache Junction and having made full use of the campsite facilities (most notably the laundry) we were ready to head off up the Apache Trail…..