Exploring Tumacácori National Historical Park

I love visiting historical churches and Mission San Jose de Tumacacori is a beautiful example of a Southwest mission. It is located about 45 minutes south of Tucson and is operated by the National Park Service. In 1691 Jesuit Priest Eusebio Kino founded a mission nearby at an O’odham Indian village, the oldest mission site in Southern Arizona. In 1756 the first church was built here and in 1800 the present church. This site was on the route of the 1775-1776 Juan Bautista de Anza expedition, the first Spanish overland expedition from New Spain or Mexico to Alta California. Anza led a party of about 240 people to establish a settlement in San Francisco.

View of Tumacacori Mission
Front of Tumacacori Mission

The Mission was abandoned by 1848 after the Mexican-American War. In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt declared it a National Monument and efforts began to restore the church and outer buildings. It was redesignated a National Historical Park when two other nearby mission ruins were added. The complex includes an historical adobe building housing a museum with exhibits and gift shop. We started our visit in the small museum – I liked this sign board explaining history of the tortilla.

After stepping outside onto the grounds near the church, we actually got to eat a homemade tortilla with beans prepared by a local woman. She rolled out flour tortillas by hand and baked them on a mesquite fueled grill. I got the photo below of Mark mid bite with his tortilla.

Tortilla Demonstration

On the grounds is the heritage orchard with trees planted in the same area as the original orchard. A project was formed to find and propogate the oldest living fruit trees from historic orchards in the region. Communities were identified where fruit trees descended from mission orchards might still exist. Seeds, cuttings and grafts were collected from yards and orchards in Southern Arizona and Northern Sonora, Mexico with eleven fruit varieties collected. The trees planted here include apple, apricot, fig, olive, peach, pear, plum, pomegranate, quince, lime and orange. The photo below is from a blooming peach tree.

Flowering peach in the heritage orchard

A pathway leads for a short walk to the Santa Cruz River, a lovely spot lined with huge cottonwood trees. Close to the river is the historic Anza trail where a four mile portion can still be walked from Tumacacori to the nearby town of Tubac. I would love to walk this trail if we return in the future. Rangers also conduct walks here during certain times of the year visiting the ruins of two other missions along the way.

Santa Cruz River

Below is a side view of the church. An adobe wall surrounds the back and includes a small chapel and cemetery.

The inside is open to the public and is very atmospheric with its crumbling adobe brick walls.

Interior of the Mission Church

Tumacacori is a very small town with only a few businesses including the Santa Cruz Chili & Spice Company, a small family owned shop. This is a favorite stop as they have an interesting assortment of spices, sauces, jams and honeys.


Although they feature a number of chile spice mixtures, they also have other spices and herb mixtures for cooking and baking. I was most interested in their cinnamon, as they have several kinds from different parts of the world. The great thing is one can sample most of the spices or herbs for sale, so I could pick out the best cinnamon and chile to buy. Mark and I really liked the prickly pear cactus candy.

A little cinnamon on my hand at Santa Cruz Chili & Spice Co.

After this “fragrant” stop, we headed to Tubac, a small town with a number of shops and galleries. Mark was not too enthralled with the shops, but I like these artsy kind of places and enjoy seeing things people have created. I was happy they had an RC Gorman studio as he is one of my favorite southwest artists.

RC Gorman Gallery in Tubac

As a Navajo painter, his works often included brightly colored images of Native American women. We visited his original gallery in Taos, New Mexico some years ago. The gallery owner here told us that one of his paintings hung in the White House dining room. With some birthday money I got a decorative tile from the gallery, pictured below.

RC Gorman Art

We wandered around checking out the Tubac Art Center and several shops. Some of them had yards filled with decorative metal art, pottery and statues for sale. The owner at the Gorman gallery told us that there is no crime in Tubac and shop owners leave their wares outside and unsecured when the buildings are closed. He said some pieces like a sculpture outside the Gorman gallery are worth quite a bit of money but there are never any thefts. How encouraging in our modern age that a town can leave things as they are with no worries!

Enjoying the shops in Tubac

I hope you enjoyed a look at our day of exploring in Tumacacori and Tubac.

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3 thoughts on “Exploring Tumacácori National Historical Park”

  1. We visited Tubac when we returned from hawk watch in a park in outskirts of Tubac. Had lunch just south of Tubac. Then visited the galleries. Loved the shops. Wanted to buy but no space in van. Next year the mission. Thanks for keeping us grounded in the area. Leaving soon?

    1. So nice to hear from you Ilona! We left Rincon last Thursday and are now at an RV park near Huachuca City/Sierra Vista area. Our park is out in the country and I am really enjoying all the birds that come to our campsite feeders. We wanted to stay in this area so we could do some birding in the canyons and along the San Pedro River in Sierra Vista. We will stay here more than a week and then move on to New Mexico. Will do some blogs on our stay here when I get caught up on our stay in Tucson. I hope this finds you well!

  2. Love that tile!!! Great souvenir, such a beautiful piece. Reading about the missions reminds me of a funny memory and my awful mission I made in 5th or 6th grade, lol. I think there is a mission in LA i should look into

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