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March 2021

Tubac & Environs

My newly planted Arizona Ash tree just yesterday popped out its first tiny green leaf of the season, harbinger of Spring.  March in the desert is to me Arizona at its best, and a great time to explore before summer’s oppressive heat hits. You’ve taken care of your Covid vaccinations, check that you have a face mask and hand sterilizer, and follow me to a favorite S.E. Arizona destination, Tubac and its environs. From Surprise, this is best done as an over-nighter.

Zip south on Hwy. 10 to Tucson. On the S. end of the city the freeway splits. 10 continues E. To New Mexico, whereas Hwy. 19 angles S. Towards Nogales. Take Hwy. 19. Once on 19, it is about a 40 minute straight through shot to the historic town of Tubac. The exit to town is clearly marked. A left turn over the freeway will take you to East Frontage Road and the entrance to town. But first, a wonderful little side excursion. Take a right on E. Frontage Road and head the 4 miles S. to Tumacacori.  I would suggest a first stop to be the Old Mission.

In 1757, Spanish Jesuits began construction of the church and multiple out-buildings, and  additions and improvements continued till 1824. The community served the O’Odham Native community. Mexico achieved independence from Spain in 1891, and with it came the expulsion of all Spanish-born residents, including in 1828, Tumacori’s priest.  In the mid 1850’s, the O’Odham peoples left the area, and all buildings there fell into disrepair. The entire complex is now under the auspices of the U.S. Dept. of the Interior, and the National Park Service oversees the site. Presently, the property is open to self-guided tours. Excellent informational printed materials are available at the entrance. I highly recommend them. The couple of buck donation will more than pay for itself as you explore the old church, cemetery, and buildings at your leisure.  As the Old Mission is in a state of what I would term “arrested decay,” and not fully restored as is beautiful Mission San Xavier du Bac  (which we highlighted last month), you can actually see right back to the bare bones of the adobe then white-washed structure. The ground are massive and well maintained. There is a haunting and nostalgic sacredness about it all. I would highly recommend a visit. Bring a camera.

Across the street and just down the road a very short piece, you will find a wonderful long-held family business, the Santa Cruz Chili and Spice Co. It was featured last year in Arizona Highways Magazine. It is a Mecca for all things peppery. The address is 1868 E. Frontage Rd. It is open Mon.-Sat., 10:00am-3:00 pm. You’ll find a wide array of original fiery family blends, S.W. cookbooks of every variety, great Mexican vanilla very reasonably priced, as well as interesting regional specialties like pomegranate or prickly pear cactus jellies. Kids and grandkids will probably zero in on exotic oddities like scorpion or cricket suckers, with the little critters crystalized whole in the candy.  However, for more substantial fare, I suggest a sit-down outside patio lunch at Wisdom’s Restaurant within eyesight just north and across the street (1931 E. Frontage Rd.).

Although you’d expect maybe Amish or Quaker from the name, Wisdom’s is actually a home-style Mexican restaurant, though you’ll also find standard American fare and even vegan on the menu. Wisdom’s turned out to be an expected and very happy dining surprise. Prices were reasonable, and everything we tried from the chiles rellenos, to the slow roasted turkey and hot crispy cinnamon-sugar dusted fruit burritos (try cherry) home-cooked scrumptious. They also serve an excellent Margarita. Indoor and patio dining available. The place is quiet, unpretentious, with a leisurely friendly “down-home” feel.  But don’t get too comfortable, because you’ll want a couple of hours to walk off the ample lunch.

This will be no ordinary walk, but one of my all time favorite S.E. Arizona strolls. It is easily doable for most everyone, as nearly the entire 4 mile stretch from the Old Mission (trail starts on back side of Mission property) to the town of Tubac is flattish. It follows the original old historic Anza expedition paths up to Tubac. The route is wonderful for bird watching. Take binoculars, camera, and oh yes, water, as there is no potable water anywhere, though a good portion of the trail follows trickles of the Santa Cruz River.  The trail alternates between open grassy meadows, and dense old growth cottonwood groves along the river’s riparian zones. Especially in Spring and Fall, this trek is absolutely top end, a rustling-leave delight of a walk. If you are really fit, you might do a round-tripper, or if a poke-a-long aging walker like me, have someone drop you off at old Tumacacori Mission and meet you an hour or two later for a pickup in downtown Tubac.

Tubac itself is a small historic early land-grand era Mexican style pueblo, now pretty much turned artist colony. It is a delightful place to spend a half or whole day, like an American side visit to old Mexico. Shops, galleries, even a sleeper but highly informative of local history State Park and Museum. I have yet to fine anyone who has not enjoyed Tubac. For my wife and I, Tubac is at least a once a quarter “return to” getaway.  Lots of folks also rant about Elvira’s Mexican Restaurant on the W. Side of town.  I found the food OK, but frankly over-rated, though the queso fundido, a spicy Mexican sausage and melted cheese dip blend was excellent. But everything to me was way over-priced, especially after Wisdom’s.

By now, you’ll be foot-sore and pooped, ready to relax. You couldn’t do better than an overnight stay at Tubac Gold Resort, just past the old country cemetery on the N. End of town (1 Otero Rd.).  It is a magical place.  It is part of the original vast Otero Family land-grant. At one time it was the largest Spanish-era working cattle ranch in what was then Mexican territory. The original hacienda, chapel, and buildings have all been restored, but all the original character retained.  The grounds and whole property are stunning, in an old world way. You could find cheaper accommodation at one of the many chain motels in not far away Green Valley. But for ambiance and a feel that you have time travelled to an earlier era of Arizona’s rich history, stay at the resort. Yes, it does have a very scenic golf course, which by the way was where the Kevin Costner movie golf film Tin Cup was filmed. But we focus rather on Don Otero’s Rancho. Strolling the grounds around the original hacienda you can almost hear children laughter, castanets and guitars.

All of the places I have shared in this blog, are lightly populated and very easy to “social-distance” in. With simple precautions, there is so much there to enjoy.


Anthony de la Torre
Sun City Grand resident

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