Exploring Tubac, AZ

But first…

The slide toppers that Steve ordered arrived and our friendly installation team members John and Dave arrived to help with the installation.  The whole operation went smoothly, thanks to the fact that the three of them had installed new toppers on John’s coach just a few days before.  Thanks, guys!  Our beautiful new toppers are currently being tested by some fairly high winds in the area, and they’re doing just fine so far.

While the boys were busy outside I cooked up a storm inside to feed everybody.  I prepared another favorite Filipino dish – Pancit Guisado – a noodle dish with chicken, pork, shrimp and vegetables.  Judging by the empty skillet and smiles all around a little while later, I think it was a hit!

Pancit Guisado
Pancit Guisado – a little bit of everything in this one!

And now back to the main story…

While in Tucson back in Jan. 2013, we managed to make rounds to several area attractions. We knew back then there’d be several other places we’d want to check out upon our inevitable return this year.

Our new friends Carla and Len, whom we met at Black Canyon City this past November, gave us some tips on what to explore beyond Tucson.  They mentioned a drive to Tubac just 45 miles south, and tempted us to check out their property in the area that they have up for sale.


We drove down and viewed the 10-acre parcel that sits on a hill with fantastic views of the surrounding mountain ranges, a place for a peaceful getaway.  We liked the location, but we just weren’t ready to commit, as we have no idea yet when we may want to end our mobile lifestyle.  The possibility of living on that nice piece of land will just have to go on our back burner for now.

Tubac Property
Imagine a house here with the mountains all around you.

With that stop completed we began our sightseeing in and around Tubac.  Our first stop was the Tumacácori National Historic Park, which preserves the ruins of three early Spanish colonial missions.  The area was originally visited by Jesuit Father Eusebio Francisco Kino in 1691, and Tumacácori became the first mission established in what became Arizona.  We took a self-guided tour of the mission site and checked out the church ruins.

Tumacacori National Historical Park


The Tumacácori mission church and outbuildings sat abandoned and deteriorating for 60 years beginning in 1889.  President Theodore Roosevelt created  the Tumacácori National Monument in 1908 to preserve the ruins.

Mission San José de Tumacácori
The mission church in 1889

The majority of the church, with the exception of the roof and the floor, is original. Unfortunately the interior was mostly gutted by souvenir hunters, which meant that little of it was left by the time preservation began.

Mission San José de Tumacácori
Mission San José de Tumacácori today

The building blocks of the mission are sun-dried mud bricks known as adobes, and they make up most of its structures.

Mission San José de Tumacácori
Front of the church
Tumacacori National Historic Park
The remains of the nave
 Mission San José de Tumacácori
A display of the colorful nave in the past – note there were no pews or benches

Other highlights of the tour took us through the gardens, the cemetery behind the church, and the unfinished mortuary chapel.

Mortuary Chapel at Mission San José de Tumacácori
The mortuary chapel was circular in design

The mission and church were abandoned in 1848 due to relentless attacks by the Apaches, diseases and continued turmoil during the U.S. / Mexican war.

Mission San José de Tumacácori t
The convent is on the right

Next we drove toward old-town Tubac, where from the freeway we could see flags of all the governments that have ruled this little village during the past 250 years.  Tubac is Arizona’s oldest European community and home to the oldest Spanish presidio (fort) in Arizona.  It was once the largest town for miles, then it became a ghost town, then a mining town, then a ghost town again – whew!  For the past 60 years it has been the artist’s colony that we saw today.

Tubac, AZ

We walked through the artsy town where dozens of galleries filled the streets.


An unusual display at one business
Are you talking to me?

By now our tummies were growling, spawned by exquisite aromas coming from nearby Elvira’s Mexican Resturant.  This place was originally located in Nogales, Mexico, and moved to Tubac at some point – lucky for us.  As we entered the cool darkness of the interior, the decor immediately caught our attention.  Blown glass everywhere – colorful, original, whimsical, and all sparkling from the ceiling and walls.

Blown glass everywhere!

We were pleased not only with our food but also with the server who was friendly and attentive, educating me a bit about the dish I ordered – Chile Enogada.  It consisted of poblano chilis filled with picadillo (a mixture containing shredded meat, aromatics, fruits and spices), topped with a walnut-based cream sauce called nogada, and fresh pomegranate seeds.  Holy cow, it was so yummy!

This place was pricey, but it served amazing food that was memorable for both of us.

Chile Enogada
The Chile Enogada represents the three colors of the Mexican flag: green for the chili, white for the nut sauce and red for the pomegranate. Delish!

We walked off our sumptuous meal while visiting the Tubac Presidio Historic State Park.  It was founded in 1752, and by 1854 when the U.S. acquired Tubac through the Gadsden Purchase, it lay in ruins.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park
The Presidio of Tubac – historical painting by Bill Ahrendt

On this self-guided tour we entered an underground display to view excavated portions of the original adobe foundations.  It showed sections of walls and plaza floors from the commanders quarters, circa 1752, as well as artifacts discovered during the presidio’s excavation.  Encased in glass was a cross-section showing layers of ash and debris that delineated the different phases of the violent history here.

Tuback Presidio State Historic Park
What is left of the Presidio

The park also featured a museum which displayed the timeline of human settlement in the Santa Cruz River Valley, dating back to the Pima Indian settlement in the 1500’s, and a display of Arizona’s first printing press.  It preserves three significant buildings on the National Register of Historic Places: Arizona’s second oldest Territorial School House, the Otero Hall and the Rojas House.

Old Tubac Schoolhouse
Old Tubac Schoolhouse, circa 1885.  This unruly student has apparently been held over for detention!
Student punishments in 1848
Just a few of the punishments for students in 1848
1872 Instructions to the Teachers
Nothing here about checking students for weapons or drugs!

After a full day of looking and learning Tubac’s history, we were ready to head back home. Since this town is only 26 miles north of the Mexican border, we had to stop at an interior border patrol checkpoint to answer one simple question, “Are you both U.S. citizens?” One quick nod as the drug dog circled our car and we were on our way!

Border Patrol Checkpoint
Steve always threatens to “turn me in” for taking pictures of border crossings and checkpoints

As we headed off I looked back and saw pink clouds hovering over the Santa Rita Mountains, bringing a beautiful close to a pleasant day of sightseeing.

Santa Rita Mountains




  1. That part of Arizona has an amazing history! If you like to read autobiographies, Martha Summerhayes (wife of an Army man sent to Apache territory during the mid 1800s) recalls her journeys there, her life, her friends and neighbors, and her hardships and joys, in a fascinating read that’s available only electronically from Project Gutenberg in several formats. I will never tire of reading this book, especially since I’m a woman, and she writes as only a woman can write. Click here for more info: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/1049

  2. Glad those new toppers are working well for you. Love the B & W header. I’ve never been much of a history buff until we began this lifestyle and started exploring missions; fascinating architecture and always compelling stories.

  3. The Pancit Guisado looks delicious!

    We also enjoyed our stop at Tumacácori National Historic Park. Isn’t Tubac a hoot. Couldn’t afford much there.

    That unruly student looks like he needs a few lashes on top of his detention…lol

  4. I agree with Terri. What an interesting history. I’m not crazy about all the proselytizing that goes along with missions but that is a beautiful one. And what a gorgeous looking dinner you had. Anything with pomegranate seeds gets my vote!

  5. We went to Tubac and enjoyed it very much. We had a delicious lunch at Elvira’s. Loved the blown glass everywhere!
    I know you love birds… I heard a bit North of Tubac in the Green Valley area… they are known for birding.

  6. Thanks for showing us Tubac and Tumacacori. We’be been by them a number of times, next time we need to stop and explore.

  7. Thanks for the tour…a new new destination for us to explore! Hopefully we can get there before we leave.

    What a lucky work crew….your lunch looks yummy!

  8. We enjoyed a stop in Tubac a few years ago — I was captivated by the glass decorations at Elvira’s, and after seeing your photos of your lunch, I wish we had eaten there! Next time. The school rules are outrageous! Hmm….I think that boy in the classroom has broken rule #1 on the list….

  9. Interesting history down there. we like to walk through those old buildings and wonder what life must have been like and how they built them. Love the punishments and instructions for the teachers!

  10. Hmmmmm, gonna have to try that Pancit Guisado as it looks fabulous! Now on to google to find a recipe…

  11. Looks like a great way to spend the day, next time we’re in Tuscon we’ll have to check out Tubac. Had our frozen Lumpia the other day…what a treat, thanks again.

  12. The pictures of the blackboards did it … confirmed, that is, that we did not make it to Tubac, or if we did, it was a ghost town back then. No CBP checkpoints back then either, although we had to go through two of them on our way to Big Bend this year … same question. The interior shots of Tumacacori is like I remember, but looks like new areas have been opened to visitors. More reasons to return to that part of Arizona.

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