You are currently browsing the monthly archive for June 2008.

When we picked Tucson on a map, we didn’t know what we might find. We just wanted to go somewhere new that wasn’t too expensive. Before our trip, I told a few coworkers where we were going and their response was invariably, “Why?” Early in our visit, passing one residential street after another landscaped with pebbles, only pebbles, I scribbled a note to myself, “I’m beginning to see why I received so many raised eyebrows in response to my vacation destination.”

It was easy to jump to that conclusion. We drove downtown. It was about a block long. We drove through the “historical district.” Again, a couple of blocks long. “What’s the industry here?” we wondered. The parks we visited had acres of cacti and dry land. Lots of questions come to mind about the region’s future in sustaining a human population.

If we had made such a hasty judgment about Tucson, we would have missed out on its charms, and experiencing so much that Tucson has to offer. As I quickly learned, there was much more to Tucson than first meets the eye. For one, we met the nicest and warmest people. On our tour at Fred Whipple, we met Jim, volunteer at the Tucson History Museum. He spent at least half an hour filling us in on Arizona’s history. Four “C”s marked Arizona’s settlement: cotton, citrus, copper, and climate. Water intensive crops like cotton and citrus replaced the traditional crops grown by native Americans like squash and beans. Next cattle were shipped to the area from Texas, considerably changing the landscape, destroying native brush and allowing cactus to take over. All that and more we learned from Jim, a wealth of knowledge. We could have listened to him for the rest of the day.

At the Tohono Chul museum, we met another gregarious docent. He hithered from my parts, D.C., and I liked him even though he wasn’t much of an Orioles fan. He talked to us for at least twenty minutes. Even at the drugstore, I spent twenty minutes talking with the cashier. Only one man at the entrance to Pima Space Museum was rude. Everyone else we met was extraordinarily warm and friendly. In a community of retirees, there seems to be a culture of slowing down and appreciating life. Instead of always rushing off to do the next thing, these are people who know how to enjoy the moment and connect with others. So many people we met left me wanting more, to spend more time with them, to get to know them better, to learn from them, to listen to more of their knowledge and wisdom.

Tucson was one of the most interesting vacations we’ve had. The visits to the observatories rank among my favorite sight-seeing ever. The University of Arizona, which graduates many of the nation’s astronomers, is heavily involved in the space program and is tied to the observatories. We were lucky enough to be there the night the Phoenix Lander, completely a U of AZ project, successfully touched down on Mars. Even though we weren’t at the U of AZ the night the Phoenix landed, we still felt excited to be in Tucson on such a momentous occasion.

Beyond sight-seeing, Tucson has much to offer as a city of considerable intellectual capital, both from the retirees, and the U of AZ. While I joked about reaching a CSP threshold, in reality, there was so much more to see in Tucson than we had time for. And even the heat, it’s true, is tempered by a breeze.

It was an unexpectedly fun vacation and I unhesitatingly recommend Tucson as a tourist destination. Just make sure you have water, sunscreen, and a hat.


Our last few hours in Tucson were spent being one of the 150,000 annual visitors to the Pima Air and Space Museum.

The Pima Air & Space Museum bills itself as “one of the largest aviation Museums in the world, and the largest non-government funded aviation Museum in the United States.” Built in 1976, it now stands on 200 acres and is second only to the Smithsonian in the size and diversity of its collection.

The museum has over 275 air and space craft from military, commercial, and civil aviation, including Russian MIGs, a B-29 Superfortress, the SR-71 Blackbird, a rare World War II German V-1 “buzz bomb,” the Air Force One used by President John F. Kennedy, and the presidential planes used by presidents Johnson and Nixon.

On the museum grounds are five enormous hangars and a Memorial Museum to the 390th Bombardment Group. A paid bus tour takes visitors to the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center (AMARG), known as the “Boneyard, ” across the street at the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

When we arrived at the museum, the first thing we did was take the bus tour to the AMARG. Well worth the cost, it takes an hour to weave through the many rows of planes as a guide rapidly explains what they are and how they were used.

Like astronomers, the military chose Tucson as the site for the AMARG deliberately because of its climate. Low humidity reduces rust and the ideal weather, low precipitation, and low threat of natural disasters make it possible to store the planes outdoors, eliminating the need to build many expensive hangars. The desert ground is also hard enough without paving to drive the planes across. Even though the planes are stored in open air, they are protected. Each is coated with several layers of spray latex that is easily removed if the plane is sold or returned to action.

If you’ve always wanted to own an old fighter jet, the AMARG is the place to buy it. Though it’s called a “boneyard,” many of the planes are still in working order or can be with little work. Most of the purchase orders come from other countries who use them for their military. Australia, for example, supplies its Air Force with Ardvarks and consequently pays for one-third the cost of operating the AMARG through its purchases. There are also private buyers, who I guess buy the planes to be cool, because what’s cooler than inviting a friend for a spin on a F-15! The only thing you can’t buy is the F-16. Iraq uses them, so the U.S. has been destroying every plane or part of one (even buying them off of Ebay) that it can get its hands on. For every dollar the military spends in operating the AMARG, it receives $2 to $3 back in profits. Finally, a profitable government program!

While I admit that I didn’t expect the Museum to be one of the highlights of our trip, I was impressed with how much I enjoyed it. The boneyard had more planes than I’ve ever seen in one place. While I’m not brave enough to confess just how ignorant I was/am in the ways of military aircraft, let’s say I learned a lot, leaving me with still very little knowledge.

When we returned to the museum, we headed for the hangars and a walk around the planes stored on the museum grounds. The best of these was the Air Force One used by Kennedy. Visitors are allowed to board the plane, still well-preserved by Plexiglas covering most of the interior. Whatever I expected it be like, it wasn’t. For one, the sixties décor was almost comical. More than that, the interior was striking in its simplicity. Not ornate, not opulent, and in fact, not even comfortable, with one narrow aisle and few amenities. Maybe for its day it was nice. Even so, what was so notable was that the décor didn’t just reflect the taste of a different era, but revealed a less complicated age. Maybe I’m wrong, but I imagine that the modern Air Force One is outfitted with the best of our time, sophisticated equipment, conveniences, all designed for maximum comfort and show, proving the status of our president in its gadgetry. Kennedy’s plane reflected an age when the average home was only 1500 square feet to house bigger families, with fewer appliances, and without things that today we consider necessities, like air-conditioning and dishwashers. How our expectations have changed!

The absolute best part of the day was when we happened upon John Day. Looking up inside the belly of a “Flying Fortress,” I asked my husband a question. The elderly gentleman standing beside us answered, and went on to share details about flying it, using words like “we” and “I.” He seemed too spry and looked too young to be a WWII veteran so I tried to make sense of his sentences. I asked incredulous, “Were you in World War II?” “Yes,” he nodded. At 83 years old, he was living history.

John had three other brothers who also served in World War II. He admitted to having some guilt, “While my brothers were having a miserable time stationed in places like Asia and Germany, I was living it up in London.” His face broke into a broad grin as he laughed, “What was it that the British complained about American soldiers? ‘Too much time, too much money, too many women.’” All of John’s brothers survived the war. John went on to extol the benefits of the GI Bill, which was an opportunity for someone like him from a small town in Maine to get a college education.

I have spent a lot of time pondering that, imagining Day and his brothers settling in at a college after being at war, what life must have been like for them, the ups and downs after they returned to the States.

I stood before him in awe and appreciation. There’s a lot of rhetoric today about the soldiers in Iraq fighting for “our freedom.” I have the utmost respect our soldiers who enter our military with the intention to protect our country, many of whom are sacrificing their lives, limbs, relationships, and mental health in Iraq for a war that some don’t even believe in. What I take exception with is Bush’s campaign of deception. We know that Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11. Hussein is evil, there’s no question about that, but he’s not stupid. Before he invaded Kuwait, he gave us warning, and when we said nothing in reply, he perceived our silence as tacit approval. Iraq was no threat to the US. We had no more reason to invade Iraq than to invade Darfur, or Myanmar, or any of the other beleaguered and tragic places on earth. Standing before John Day though, I was in the presence of someone who really did fight for the freedom of our country, and for the free world at large, from real and menacing threats, that had they been the victors, would have created a much grimmer life for us all. I was choked up then as I am now writing this. I thanked him for serving, but the words seemed empty. How can “thank you” capture the gratitude of generations, millions who have been the beneficiaries of these veterans’ selflessness, enjoying a world of peace, freedom, and prosperity because of them?

Day was only one of the volunteers at the museum. There are over 250, who serve over 66,000 hours as docents, tour guides, and aircraft restoration technicians. All of the volunteers we met were veterans and each one warm and kind, answering our questions and sharing stories eagerly. I asked another veteran to explain the Nose Art. “Well, when you get a big group together, there’s always someone who knows something, so we could always find an artist.” The paintings were often done by someone in the squadron and the name of the plane was decided collectively, though the pilot had final approval of the naming and artwork. He went on wistfully, that many of the planes were named after the pilot’s wife or girlfriend. I smiled and replied, “That was a different era, huh?” to which we both got a little misty-eyed, he maybe in reverie, and me, I can’t say why exactly, except some combination of respect and a longing for simpler times myself.

Whatever I expected to experience at the museum, it wasn’t that it would be one of the highlights of our visit to Tucson. We left the museum for the airport and I felt grateful to have been reminded of one gift we seldom remember. It was the day after Memorial Day. Our visit couldn’t have been a more fitting end to our Memorial Day vacation than by having first-hand contact with veterans who made me remember, feeling humble in their presence, and grateful for the lives their service has granted us.

My pictures of this excursion
Pima Air and Space Museum
Nose Art

The Tohono Chul Park located in North Tucson was founded when the land owners, repeatedly approached by commercial developers, finally turned the land they acquired bit by bit into a park.

It was our last day in Tucson and we still had the Air and Space Museum to visit, so we arrived early on Tuesday morning. The sun was already blazing hot. While we waited in line at the ticket booth, we listened as a mother with two children discussed her admission options. Ultimately, she decided on the season pass. I don’t mean this in a bad way, but I couldn’t help but think, “WHY?” It was at that point that I realized I had reached my CSP, or Cactus Saturation Point for those of you unfamiliar with Tucson. The park was lovely, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that I didn’t fancy myself going more than once, even if I did live in Tucson. Unless, of course, iTunes, the Internet, and the printed word failed to exist. Not that there’s anything wrong with cacti, but think about it. They grow so slowly, so the truth is that you could forego visiting the park for ten years and when you went back, it would look exactly the same.

My husband had reached his CSP too. Just when I found some plaques in the park describing everything you would want to know about Saguaros, for example how long they take to grow, and, well, something else that was interesting, but I’ve forgotten now, my husband came over and hurried me, “Let’s go!” he said impatiently.

We hurried through the rest of the park, seeing a lot of interesting things, but mostly looking forward to ice water and air-conditioning. All kidding aside, the park really was lovely and well-worth the admission cost. The pictures will prove it (most of them are from the park, but some are from other sites, grouped here, because. Just because).

My pictures of this excursion.
Tohono Chul Park

Of all the interesting places we visited and all the surprises that Tucson offered, our visit to the Kitt Peak Observatory topped it all. My husband, always thoughtful and a masterful trip planner, reserved our visit as a surprise to me. We were originally meant to visit the day after we arrived in Tucson, but because of the overcast weather, we had to reschedule to Memorial Day.

The Kitt Peak Observatory is administered by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO). Indirectly it is supported by tax dollars: our taxes support the National Science Foundation, which supports the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), which in turn supports NOAO. While one night at an observatory like Fred Whipple may cost $8,000, the Kitt telescopes can be rented for a mere $75 per night, including the dormitory stay, and food. At that cost, you can understand why, even though it’s one of the smaller telescopes, it’s still quite appealing as a research tool for astronomers who don’t work for an institution like the Smithsonian. Like other observatories, astronomers have to apply for telescope time. Between one-half and one-third of the applications are accepted and the wait time is typically twelve to eighteen months.

The Quinlan Mountains on which the observatory is built are located on land owned by the Tohono O’odham Indians. As the Tohono tribe owns the mountain, the telescope could not be built without their permission, something they would refuse to grant if they perceived the building as defiling the mountain in any way. The astronomers obtained the tribe’s consent by sharing with them the wonders of studying space. A night spent peering through a telescope was all that was needed to convince the tribe that the mountain they considered sacred would not be misused. Since the observatory was built, NOAO works in cooperation with the Tohono O’odham tribe, renting electricity from them and giving them first priority for all jobs, such as working the gift shop or performing janitorial tasks. The gift shop also sells objects made by the tribe members.

The Kitt Peak Observatory has 26 telescopes in all, more than any other observatory. As we drove up the mountain the famous image of the four meter telescope stood tall above the nearly seven thousand foot mountain, like the building itself is reaching into space to unravel its mystery. In fact, one reason telescopes are built on mountains is to reduce the amount of atmosphere and subsequent distortion that the light has to travel through to reach the lens.

Our night program started at six p.m. It consisted of a box dinner, twenty minutes watching the sunset, a tour of a telescope, and an explanation of how to use binoculars and interpret a star chart. When it was dark enough, we went into the night, freezing at our high elevation, the dark sky glittering with stars. There our guide taught us several key constellations and stars to use for orienting ourselves for our own amateur study.

Finally, the highlight of the night was our chance to look through a telescope. Fourteen of us rode in a van that used only running lights to ensure that no additional light interfered with the astronomers data, somewhere through the darkness to one of the available telescopes. We climbed up two flights of narrow steps inside a small telescope building and sat in a circle around the telescope dome. For the next two hours, our guide programmed in one distant starry location at at time, allowing us to take turns adjusting the dome opening and viewing objects millions of light years away from earth through the eyepiece.

Unlike the pictures of space that we often see from Hubble, when you look through a telescope, there’s no color, only black and white. The color in the pictures comes from computer generated light-shifting to help us interpret the part of the light that isn’t in the visible spectrum. The color variations are there, just not visible to the human eye.

Here’s a list of some of the objects we saw:
Omega Centauri, 17,000 light years away.
Whirlpool Galaxy
Cigar Galaxy M82

The most spectacular object of the night was Saturn, bathed in bright, white sunshine, the rings as clear as in the Hubble photographs we’ve seen.

It was a romantic night that’s hard to put into words. I felt wonderfully small and insignificant. Our concerns are so trivial and fleeting. In the expanse and age of the universe, our lifespans cannot be measured in any way that is meaningful. It’s all too big for us to comprehend, to fit into a logical slot in our brain. Words like “forever” have no meaning. We grapple with spirituality. How did it start? What started the thing that started it all and what started that? We think linearly, but could it be circular, each thing creating itself? We can’t conceive of something so different, our imaginations always somewhat limited by our experiences.

In all that we’ve studied to date, a small portion, but yet a significant amount, we are still the only life in the universe. Whether we ultimately are or ever have been shouldn’t be as important as acknowledging and appreciating how rare life is. We would do well to treasure it more than we do. Life, such a gift, in all its forms and diversity from bacteria to whales. Yet we treat it with such disrespect, so little awe for the process that whether through eons of incremental changes or punctuated equilibrium, depending on your leaning, though it is most likely both, evolved us into the various realizations of where we are now. Why do we not revere all planetary life knowing how unfathomably long it took? Knowing from a practical standpoint how interdependent species are for sustenance, for a habitable world, knowing that without this interaction we would not exist now and we will cease to exist.

Ah, but we do not know this, do we. We fail to recognize the wondrousness of it all in our era that equates science with opinion. The ever-present fear resurfaces that our hubris will destroy us, a tragedy given what it took, the magic, the coincidence, the complexity, to make it all happen in the first place. We never want to be more of the nothingness of the rest of space, yet, our current course seems to be assuring that this will be our fate.

My pictures of this excursion.
Kitt Peak Observatory
JPL Nasa

In between our visit to Sabino Canyon and the Kitt Peak Observatory, we stopped at the San Xavier Mission. The mission is located somewhere south of Tucson, in the middle of, and this may surprise you, desert. All the descriptions of the Mission describe the “lofty white towers,” which they are, but as half the church was hidden behind scaffolding, we felt like we missed out on something. Still, it was pretty, and a stark contrast to long stretches of nothing. It’s such a grand church that it’s visible along the highway from a distance, the lone building surrounded by miles of land.

Like all missions, San Xavier was built to eradicate diversity. Why? Because, ‘the Church,” self-decreed ruler of thought, was troubled that somewhere on earth, there were people who dared to exist by a unique manifestation of the human spirit, and unimaginably, were not contributing in some material way to the church’s coffers. When you’re running an institution the size of the Vatican, you can’t go letting a bunch of Indians that you would never meet, living as they were in a remote area of desert that could not be reached except by traversing vast distances through great hardship and risk to personal health, go practice their own form of worship. It’s just not done. So by way of sealing the deal of forcible conversion and convincing these silly, earth respecting nomads, who managed to survive well for thousands of years in a land that’s even challenging for cacti to thrive, that they were wrong, the only sensible thing to do was spend untold sums of wealth building an edifice that proves your God is better than their Gods. If they’re not convinced, then there’s no choice but to assert your Christian right to violate the most important commandment and, assist them in shuffling off their mortal coil. And that, my friend, is the story of how the Mission was built.

Okay, maybe that’s a slightly cynical view, though I’m not entirely sure an inaccurate one.

The original mission was founded by a Jesuit in 1692. Sometime after 1768 the mission was destroyed by “less friendly Indian tribes,” as one website characterizes them. The Indians didn’t realize that when a bunch of pompous, self-important people invade your land and tell you what to think, you’re supposed to welcome and defer to them. At any rate, another mission was built two miles from the original location in 1783 and is the mission that remains standing today.

All kidding and sarcasm aside, the mission really is stately, beautiful, and worth the time to visit. In addition to its history, the church itself is ornate and features statues dressed in actual clothing, a point that, and I mean no disrespect, I found hilarious in its unusualness. It’s the only church I’ve ever visited that has dressed statues, though I think the gesture is sweet.

Anyway, you don’t need anymore of my sarcastic commentary. Here’s some information directly from the plaques in the museum. I’m not bothering with indenting, so everything from this point forward is a quote unless otherwise noted…There is also more information in the pictures section. It’s a lot so if you’re not a museum or history kind of person, just skip to the end to find the picture link.
Padre Kino was probably the first European to visit the Piman rancherias around Wa:k. His northern explorations between 1687 and 1711 pushed into new territory – the Pimeria Alta—which has been labeled the “rim of Christendom.”

Kino was escorted by Lieutenant Juan Manje on his journeys to the northern frontiers of New Spain. Spanish colonial policy relied heavily on the mission as a frontier institution. Colonial officials depended on the missionaries to concentrate scattered native groups at a relatively few mission sites. The missionary’s role, perceived by the Spanish, was to “pacify” the natives and make them loyal vassals of the crown of Spain. It was Kino who founded San Xavier Mission at the village of Wa:k in 1692.

This policy caused many problems between the Europeans and the Piman groups occupying the Pimeria Alta. Not the least was centuries old seasonal migration of the Pimans—traced back ot the Hohokam lifestyle. The natives remained in large rancherias during the summer and fall while tending and harvesting crops of corn, beans and squash. After harvest, they traveled to small camps to collect wild foods such as acorns and agaves, and to hunt rabbit and deer.

The Europeans failed to understand this lifestyle. They condemned mobility as “heathen vagabondage” because of their misunderstanding of the Pimans cultural and ecological adaptation to life in a sometimes harsh semi-arid environment.

Spanish missions were established in New Spain to serve as centers for the propagation of the Roman Catholic faith among native groups. The purpose of a mission was to Christianize and “civilize” the Indian population.

Along with the messages of salvation, the missionaries brought a new language, ideas, metal tools, livestock, and crops. The dog and possibly the turkey were the only domestic animals known in the Primeria Alta prior to the arrival of the Spanish. Horses, cattle, goats, chickens, and sheep were foreign animals to the Pimans and must have caused considerable excitement in the rancherias when they arrived. Fruit trees and vegetables, and especially wheat, played a major role in changing the Pimans centuries old diet and subsistence pattern.

The Spanish also brought a construction technique unknown to the Pimans—adobe brick making. With this new technology, the Pimans, under supervision, constructed structures several times the size of their humble grass huts.

Spanish occupation lasted until 1821, when Mexico declared herself a republic. The Mexican government was now in control of the Spanish built missions. In 1854, the United States ratified the Gadsden Purchase. This transaction made all of Arizona a U.S. territory. Wa:k and Tucson were now part of the United States.

The Hohokam, ancestors of the Tohono O’odham, lived in this area from 200 B.C. to A.D. 1450. Pieces of their beautiful pottery, shell and stone work are still found along the Santa Cruz River and other drainages in the Tucson Basin.

Jesuit History, the Blackrobes
The Jesuit Order was founded in the sixteenth century by St. Ignatius of Loyola. The Jesuits were called “blackrobes” because of the garb, or habit, of followers was the black frock or cassock of the lower clergy of the day.

Jesuits were first sent to New Spain in the fall of 1572. Father Pedro Sanchez, fifteen companions from Europe, and Jesuit survivors from Florida missions, arrived in Mexico City and began an unbroken chain of work that lasted almost two centuries.

Father Euseblo Franciso Kino was a Jesuit missionary who established a chain of missions in northwest Mexico. He was born in the Tyrolean Alps near Trent in northern Italy on August 10, 1645. He was educated in Trent, Austria and Germany and dedicated his life to St. Francis Xavier and the Jesuits after recovering from a severe illness. Kino wrote:

To the most glorious and most pious thaumaturgus and Apostle of the Indies, San Francisco Xavier, we all owe very much. I owe him, first, my life, of which I was caused to despair by the physicians in the city of Hala of Tirol, in the year 1663, second, my entry into Company of Jesus, and third, my coming to these missions.

Kino received his first mission assignments in 1681. He had hoped to be sent to the Orient but instead was sent to New Spain. He was assigned to be Missionary and Royal Cartographer for an expedition to Baja California. Padre Kino worked with native groups on Baja—which was thought to be an island—and then was assigned to Sonora in 1686.

Kino was a traveler and an explorer. During his 24 years of residence at the mission of Dolores between 1687 and 1711—he made more than fifty journeys inland, and average of more than two per year. These journeys varied from a hundred to nearly a thousand miles in length—all made on horseback. He kept careful record of his travels including the drafting of maps.

Kino will forever be remembered as a great missionary, ranchman, mathematician, explorer, historian, and geographer of the Pimeria Alta.

Franciscan History, the Grayrobes
The terms “grayrobes” and “blackrobes” stem from the different religious garb worn by two distinct missionary Orders. Francis of Assisi, who founded the Franciscans in the thirteenth century, favored simplicity of life and dress with the resulting robe, or habit, woven of strands of wool in its natural colors—white and black—without the sophistication of artificial dyes. The resulting color of the robe was gray.

Franciscans explored the Southwest long before the Jesuits arrived in Mexico, or New Spain in 1572. The first Franciscan to travel the Arizona-Sonora desert was Fray Marcos de Niza in 1538. He then guided the Coronado expedition in 1540, and one of his fellow Franciscans on that journey. Fray Juan de Padilla, was martyred on the plans of Kansas in 1542. Franciscans became permanent residents of the Arizona-Sonora desert only in 1768, after Royal suspicion and intrigue exiled the Jesuits from all Spanish lands. The movement was known in Europe as Regalism, and for nearly a century, its negative force continued to work likewise against the Franciscans in their subsequent efforts to extend the mission frontier beyond the last Spanish settlement at Tucson, north to the Gila River and the area of modern Phoenix.

In late 1780 and early 1781, four Franciscans, twenty-one soldiers, and a group of settlers with their families, totaling 160 people in all, established two Spanish colonies along the Colorado River and two missions for the Yuma Indians, upon whose the colonies were located. The colonies were called Concepcion and San Pedro y San Pablo de Bicuner—both located near modern day Yuma, AZ.

For six months, the Spaniards and Yumas tried to coexist. But the Spanish took Yuma land, allowed their livestock to forage through Yuma crops, introduced the whipping post, and made no secret of their contempt for the Indians. Understandably, the Yumas initiated an uprising against the intruders in July 1781.

Fathers Garces and Barrenche were martyred at Concepcio, and Fathers Juan Diaz and Joseph Moreno were martyred at Bucuner. The friars, along with the settlers and the military were caught in the middle of an uprising of 3000 Yumas, 250 miles beyond the last Spanish garrison. Seventy-four persons, mostly women and children, were held captive and 104 settlers and soldiers were killed.

Fray Francisco Garces was born April 12, 1738, in the town of Morata del Conde, in Aragon, Spain. He was ordained a priest at the age of 25 and three years later entered a seminary for missionaries, the Colegio de la Santa Cruz at Queretaro, Mexico. He was sent to the frontier mission of San Xavier del Bac in 1768.

Garces was pleased with his appointment to San Xavier. He enjoyed the people and the environment and was able to pursue his love of travel. Through the next decade, he stitched his name prominently in the fabric of history by crossing and recrossing the trails of the western desert. His treks carried him beyond Yuma to the Mojave and northwest to California. He was the Franciscan version of the Padre Kino.

Pictures of this excursion can be found here.
San Xavier Mission
Arizona Leisure

The weather up until Monday had been mercifully, unseasonably cool for us with highs only in the 70s. Monday promised to be different, warming up close to normal temperatures with a high in the 90s. We left the hotel as early as we could to avoid as much of the afternoon heat as possible. Our plan: a hike in the desert.

A short thirty minute drive northeast of the city, we arrived at Sabino Canyon in the Coronado National Forest prepared with full camelbacks at a ratio of 2 to 1, ice to water. It took a little aimless wandering to find the trail we wanted and even then it seemed like a path to nowhere. The dirt path was well-worn, but surrounded by Saguaro (pronounced “sawaro”) cacti towering far above us and in every direction as far as the eye could see, I set out with some trepidation. I wasn’t entirely convinced we weren’t walking along an abandoned trail toward Mexico, leading us to a future of thirst, dehydration, and death, a place so remote that by the time we might realize we were lost, we would have no strength left to return by our own capacity and no hopes of being found until we were well-shriveled and drier than the earth we were crossing.

Eventually our small path opened up in a wide one that was occupied by many other visitors. The locals were obvious. Unfazed by the heat, they were returning energetically from their morning exercise, many of them retired shirtless men covered in sweat from their run through acres of cacti.

We weren’t feeling so resilient. The sun was already warming us, and as our hike went on, our walking grew more lethargic, easily betraying us as folk from other parts. It wasn’t the temperature itself that was so sapping. A continuous light breeze and lack of humidity made for a heat that didn’t feel nearly as oppressive as you might imagine from seeing the temperature number alone. The trouble was the intensity of the sun, which even as early as May beats down on you emphatically, reminding you that, lest you had forgotten, you are in the desert. Even the thickly applied layer of sunscreen didn’t completely protect my bare shoulders. I reapplied and pulled on a cover-up, yet still managed a mild (and annoyingly uneven) sunburn.

Though the predominance of scenery in the Coronado National Forest are catci, there are other sites. After crossing many dry rivers during our drives, we were surprised to find a flowing river in the canyon. It might have proved refreshing if we had had time to play. The tall Saguaro are full of holes where birds have made a home, life obstinately finding a way even in a place like this. Indeed, many species of bird are acclimated to the southwestern heat. In addition to the many woodpeckers we saw boring into the catci, we saw a cardinal perched on a branch and another bird casually sunning himself on the banks of the river.

Our orginal intention was to hike to the top of the canyon, maybe for a view if the smog allowed. We soon realized that the plan was way too ambitious considering our time constraints, the intensity of the sun, and our laziness. We succumbed, found our way back to the straight paved shuttle road and made our way back to the car for our next adventure, the most interesting one we would have during our time in Tucson.

My pictures of this excursion.
Coronado National Forest

Fairbank, Arizona today reveals none of its history as a once vibrant community. To visit it is to see only an abandoned ghost town, a school house and a couple of buildings, no saloons, homes, hotels, or roads, and not even the railroad which sustained it. Only one path remains, a dirt trail to the cemetery atop a hill. Nature has reclaimed the abandoned land leaving no visible trace of what was once a bustling town, the central transportation point to and from Tombstone. What was there has largely crumbled or been burned to the ground.

Fairbank owes it’s history to its proximity to Tombstone. First called Junction City, the town started as a stagecoach stop along a railroad that stretched to Charleston (AZ). Nathaniel Kellogg Fairbank helped to finance the construction of the railroad in 1881, and by May 1883 Fairbank had become an official town. Tombstone ten miles to the East was responsible for Fairbank’s initial growth. Though Tombstone was in the height of its heyday, it was not itself connected to the railway until 1903. This made Fairbank critical as the central transportation hub for Tombstone, ferrying passengers to and from, importing items needed to sustain a population, such as cattle, and exporting minerals and ore from the Tombstone mines.

According to “Legends of America,” Fairbank soon had three different railroad lines and depots and was the primary entry and exit point for Tombstone. The stage connected travelers the remaining ten miles and continued to do a brisk business as Tombstone thrived. Even more railroad traffic was generated as the railroad lines extended southwestward to Nogales, Arizona and Sonora, Mexico.

The post office was established early, in 1883, and the town quickly went from having one store, saloon, and several houses, to five saloons, four stores, three restaurants, a school, a jail, a mill, and a Wells Fargo office. In 1889, the Montezuma Hotel was built for travelers. Residents could buy lots for $50 to $150 each and most worked at the nearby Central Mining Company or for the railroad.

The town wasn’t destined for long-term prosperity. For one, its success was tightly tied to the health of the nearby mining industry. As it declined so did Fairbank. Fairbank was also part of an old Mexican land grant called the San Juan de las Boquillas y Nogales. Years after the town was settled, in 1901, the Boquillas Land and Cattle Company re-entered the area, exerted their rights to the land and evicted all homesteaders, allowing only a small number of town residents to stay.

Built next to the San Pedro River, Fairbank suffered considerable property damage when in September 1890, the river overflowed its banks. But despite the damage and near deaths, the town rebuilt and rebounded, continuing to flourish through the 1940s.

The Fairbank School was built in 1920 and held classes until 1944. Students attended until seventh grade and then finished school in Tombstone. Today the schoolhouse is one of the few remaining buildings, restored as a museum. The post office closed in the 1970’s. With little regard for preserving the town’s history, the Montezuma Hotel was demolished when Highway 82 was built. I read that portions of its foundation remain, but even those we couldn’t find. The cemetery half a mile walk from the town entrance is vaguely distinguishable as a cemetery, but is so neglected that many of the aisles are overgrown and we had to work our way through brush to visit some of the headstones. Perched on top of a hill that perhaps once overlooked a town, it now overlooks a vast expanse of remoteness. It seems like a tranquil resting place, as far as those things go. All alone there as we were that day, it almost seemed as if the whole town, the cemetery, and its history would soon be forgotten entirely.

Ironically, a plaque at the “town” entrance states that Fairbank is the most intact historical town site along the San Pedro River. Another plaque informed us of Fairbank’s rich immigrant history. Immigrants came from Europe and Mexico to work the mines and stamp mills. The Montezuma Hotel and saloon were run by the Larrieu family from France. The Chinese worked the railroads and as they put down roots, they ran restaurants, laundries, and “grew wonderful gardens.”

While we walked among the ruins of Fairbank, I tried to imagine it as a bustling place. Reclaimed by nature as it is now, it was hard to picture the human history, people going about their daily lives, eager new residents descending from a train anticipating their new beginning, lively saloons and a hotel full of guests. Like walking among Roman ruins, it’s the kind of thing that reminds you of our impermanence. I’m sure there were residents of Fairbank who never imagined it wouldn’t always exist. Which of our modern cities will one day be ghost towns, one day thickly re-forested, with no trace of the uniform cement and asphalt that characterizes them today? It was a question I couldn’t help pondering the entire day we spent in Tombstone and the nearby areas.

My pictures of this excursion here.
Legends of America

To stroll through Bisbee, Arizona today, a small town that seems to have forgotten about keeping up with the Joneses, it’s hard to tell that at one time it was the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco. Tucked in the Mule Mountains, the houses terrace the mountainside like a seaside town in Amalfi. Staircases scaling five hundred feet or more parallel the shacks and homes of varying size and repair stacked vertically behind and on top of each other. Gardens are untended, fences constructed of scrap metal, and some houses long ago needed a fresh coat of paint, while yet others are painted in a multitude of vibrant colors. Near the edge of town, a steep climb up one set of steps provides a rewarding view of the intersection of the Iron Man miner statue far below, the streets convening at his feet. Together with the church rising above on the opposite hill, it paints a scene so picturesque that it reveals not only the history of a bygone era when the West was settled, but resembles the old European villages that some of our ancestors left behind.

Bisbee was discovered by a government scout, Jack Dunn, who found the rich ore deposits while chasing Apaches. In my research, I found this great story from Desert USA:

Dunn and a couple of partners grubstaked a prospector, George Warren, to explore the area and file claims on their behalf. Warren, however, spent a good share of his time drinking, and what few claims he did file were not in Dunn’s name, but in his own.

During a drunken spree two years later, Warren bet one of his claims that he could outrun a man on horseback in a two-hundred yard dash. He lost the race, and he forfeited his claim to what turned out to be one of the richest copper mines in the West.

Well, there’s one mistake I haven’t made in my life.

Twenty miles south of Tombstone, Bisbee, became the county seat after Tombstone’s decline in the late 1800s. Bisbee proved to be even richer in minerals than Tombstone, reaping three million ounces of gold, more than eight billion pounds of copper, besides deposits of silver, lead and zinc. By the early 1900s, Bisbee had a population of 20,000 people. It had a mix of rich culture, but also a bawdiness akin to it’s northern neighbor Tombstone. The Brewery Gulch district, for example, was notorious for its 47 saloons and was known as the “liveliest spot between El Paso and San Francisco.”

Again like Tombstone, if you can imagine how a fire might start in an area of dry brush and unrelenting sun, Bisbee suffered from a ravaging fire early in its history. In 1908 most of Bisbee’s commercial district was burned to a pile of ashes. The town was rebuilt two years later and has been largely preserved from the original 1910 construction.

As mining operations ended in the 70s, Bisbee evolved over the decades since into the “hippie” town it is today. The main street is lined with art galleries, coffee houses, and antique shops. We missed the other attractions: mining tours and a historical museum, but we did see the oldest looking woman under seventy. She sat beside us in a coffee shop and we heard her say, “I love sitting in the sun.” When I returned back to the hotel, I had an uncontrollable urge to use the remaining half of my tube of sunscreen. It took an hour to rub it all in, but it felt like time well-spent.

Over and over again, the West reminds us of the strength of our nation’s settlers and their pioneering spirit, their resolute, indefatigable determination to carve a home out of the landscape, no matter how lush and inviting, or how harsh, arid and remote, rocky, desert, mountainous, or fertile, they would not be discouraged from making a life where their hearts led them.

Bisbee’s charm reminded me of my favorite North Carolina town, Asheville, eclectic and full of artists, where there are no expectations to become or pretend to be anyone but who your soul requests of you.

My pictures of this excursion here.
Bisbee Arizona

Famous Boothill Cemetery, the burial grounds for residents of Tombstone, Arizona, is located just down the street from the town proper. Almost everything you’ll find (at least on the Internet) describing Boothill starts with a description similar to this one, “A name given to the frontier cemetery because most of it’s early occupants died with their boots on.” However, the truth is that the cemetery was actually named ‘Boothill” after Dodge City’s pioneer cemetery in the hopes of attracting tourists in the late 1920’s.

The first Tombstone cemetery was built in 1879 and was known as the “City Cemetery.” In 1884, a new cemetery was built on the west end of Allen street and was named the “Tombstone Cemetery.” The existing “Boothill” became known as “The Old Cemetery” and was largely neglected until the 1920s. By that time, many of the old wooden grave markers had rotted away. A group of local citizens went through the trouble and painstaking research to re-mark the graves, leaving the graveyard we visit today.

The cemetery has a separate section for Jewish graves and Chinese graves. The Jewish section was far down the hill away from the rest of the graves. I’m not sure why yet.

I don’t know why I have such an unnatural fascination with death, but I found a list of the graves on the Clanton Gang website and was so intrigued that I decided to organize the list by cause of death. There’s very little information in terms of the date of birth or any other details about these former Tombstone residents, but clearly, Tombstone wasn’t the safest place to live and judging by the date of death, it seems to have visited the residents pretty quickly after their arrival in Tombstone.

Of course, Boothill is best known as the cemetery that holds those killed in the gunfight at the OK Corral:
Billy Clanton Oct. 26, 1881—Murdered behind the OK Corral
Frank McLaury Oct. 26, 1881—Murdered behind the OK Corral
Tom McLaury Oct. 26, 1881—Murdered behind the OK Corral

There are those who were hanged
John Beather 1881
Bill Delaney Mar. 8, 1884
Comer W. “Red” Sample Mar. 8, 1884
Dan Dowd Mar. 8, 1884
Dan Kelley Mar. 8, 1884
Halderman Bros. Nov. 16, 1900

Those who committed suicide, why I wonder when Tombstone was such a cheerful place:
Verone Gray 1880’s
Delia William 1881—Suicide by arsenic, colored lodging house proprietress
Malvina Lopez d. 1880–Suicide, with lover John Gibbons

Those who died a natural death:
W.C. Bennett 1882—Heart trouble, native of England
Mrs. R.L. Brown 1882—Natural death
Miles E. Kellogg 1882—Natural death. Saloon keeper, age 44
Pat Byrne 1882—Pneumonia
Malcolm Campbell 1882—Pneumonia
Thos. Cowan 1881—Diphtheria, 11 months old
May Doody 1881—Diphtheria
Alfred Packrel 1882—Inflammation of the bowels, 24 year old English miner
James McMartin 1881—Rapid consumption
William Carpenter 1881—Nephritis, Baptist minister in Tombstone
Brady, Brother, d. 1883—age 11, Drowned in the San Pedro River, when one brother tried to save the other
Brady, Brother, d. 1883—age 12, Drowned in the San Pedro River
Eva Waters 1880’s—3 months old

Those who died through accidents:
Daniel Owyer 1881—Drowned
John Martin 1882—Killed working on Huachuca water line, native of England
M. Lopez 1880—Charcoal fumes in a closed room
G. Renacco 1882—Fell from a cliff
James Tulley 1881—Fell 250 feet to the bottom of a mine shaft, Grand Central Mining Co.
Hilly Hickson 1882—School boy died of injuries after falling off a pair of stilts
John Wickstrum 1882—Crushed and suffocated while digging a well.
George Whitcer 1882—Cable snapped sending his miners cage down a shaft
William Alexander 1880–Killed by a premature blast while prospecting
Simon Constantine 1882 –Killed with Thos. Kerney during a blast
Thos. Kearny 1882—Killed with Simon Constantine during a blast
Marshal Fred White Oct. 28 1880—Accidentally killed by Curly Bill Brocius on Sixth Street
John Gibbons 1881—Wagon accident crushed his skull
Douglas Lilly 1881—Wagon accident driving for the Sycamore Water Co.
John Gibson 1882—“He climbed the Golden stairs on the fumes from a pan of Charcoal”
J.D. McDermott 1882—Horse accident fractured his spinal column
Freddie Fuss 1882—Small boy who drank stagnant or poison mine water
Wm. Summers 1882—Found dead with a blow on his back that ruptured his liver
C.O. Ridgeway 1882—Found dead in a wagon along side the road
James K. Johnson “Jim” May 1881— aka Henry Johnson and George Johnson. Boothill Graveyard, accidentally shot himself at Galeyville, died of his wounds a few days later. Miner and resident of Charleston
Kansas Kid 1880’s—Killed in a stampede, cowboy’s real name unknown

Those who died fighting over the land or mining claims and land. Land? Really? It’s desert for one, and two, isn’t there an awful lot to choose from?
Bobby Jackson 1882—Shot with Hart and Serroux over mining claim.
Frank Serroux 1882—Shot with Jackson and Hart over a mining claim.
Frank Hart 1882—Shot with Jackson and Serroux over a mining claim.
J.W. Houten 1878—aka Van Houten—Killed by unknown assailants at Brunckow Mine, November 1878. Frank Stilwell and James Cassidy were arrested but acquitted. Allegedly beaten to death over a disputed mining claim. Nice.
M. McAllister 1882—Sustained a lung injury when shot during a fight over a piece of land. Went to Tombstone to recover, but died of the injury. Aka Happy Jack. (Well not after that, he wasn’t.)

Those who died from tangling with the law:
Judah Florentine Mar. 22, 1882—aka Florentino Cruz & “Indian Charlie”, murdered by Wyatt Earp.
Deron 1880’s—Shot by Slaughter while resisting arrest for his Part in a train robbery.
William Grounds “Billy” 1882—Shot in the face with a shotgun by an officer questioning him about the Martin Peel murder.
Dick Toby 1880’s—Shot by Sheriff John Behan.
Guadalupe Robles 1880’s—Shot by officers trying to arrest robbers who were seeking shelter in his house, one of which was his brother.

Those killed by Indians:
Albert Bennett 1883—Teamsters Bennett and Scott were ambushed by Indians.
Ben Scott 1883—Teamsters Scott & Al Bennett were ambushed by Indians.
Jos. Wetsell 1882–Stoned to death by Apache Indians.
Holo Lucero 1882—Killed by Indians.

Then, there was everyone else, who died through violent means:
Billy Kinsman 1883—Shot by a woman who was jealously in love with him. (oops!)
Louis Hancock 1879—Shot by John Ringo in bar room brawl in Stafford, Arizona, the fight allegedly started over a disparaging remark about a lady.
Mrs. R.B. Campbell 1882—Suspect poisoning.
Billy Clairborne Nov. 15, 1882—Shot by Leslie.
Bronco Charlie 1880’s—Shot by Ormsby, real name unknown.
Red River Tom 1880’s—Real name unknown, Shot and killed by Ormsby (never figured out who Ormsby was).
Harry Curry 1882—Killed with Seymour Dye while hauling hay.
Jack Dunlap 1880’s –Shot by Jeff Milton during an attempted train robbery. Lived long enough to squeal on his friends who left him to die. Aka 3-Fingered Jack.
Thos. Fitzhugh 1882–Found dead in a water closet in the back of Mrs. Kings lodging house on Toughnut Street, where he roomed.
J.J. Gardner Jan. 11, 1882—Shot in railroad camp on Babacomari and died in Tombstone at age 42. Wagon master, born in Ohio.
John Alexander Gillespie March 1882—Cochise County Sheriff less than twelve hours when killed at Chandler Milk Ranch trying to arrest Billy Grounds and Zwing Hunt, suspected killers of Martin Peel. He died instantly when Hunt shot him in the head.
Charles Helm 1882—Horse rancher in Dragoon Mountains, Age 34. Shot by Wm. McCauley.
James Patrick Hickey Sept 1881—First resident on Stowe St. in Charleston. Allegedly shot by Wm. Clairborne in Charleston.
John Hick 1878—Killed by Jeremiah McCormick at Watervale July 6, 1878 following a card game argument with William Quinn. Buried in the only white shirt found in Tombstone, belonging to Dr. D. S. Chamberlain, a visitor. Lucky Cuss Mine manager.
Margarita 1880’s—Dance hall girl, real name unknown, stabbed by another girl.
H. B. Mead 1881—42 year old blacksmith found dead in rear seat of a coach.
Lester Moore 1880’s—Gunfight over a package, both men died. Wells Fargo agent in Naco). Famous epitaph read: “Here lies Lester Moore, four slugs from a 44, no Les no more.”
Martin Ruter Peel Mar. 25, 1882—Mining engineer shot at work. Zwing Hunt & Billy Grounds were both suspects of the murder.
Tom J. Waters July 1880—Shot to death by his prospecting friend and cabin mate Edward Lyter Bradshaw after an argument over a blue and black checked shirt, Bradshaw was acquitted in Sept.1880.
Six Shooter Jim 1885—Shot by Burt Alvord real name unknown.
Ben Olleney 1881—Shot by Chacon.
Peter Smith 1882—Killed by Thos. Doland during a fight.
Charlie Storms Feb. 25, 1881—Shot in a gunfight in front of the Oriental Saloon by Luke Short.
Joseph Ziegler 1882—Shot through the left breast by fellow miner Ed Williams behind the old ice house near the corner of Toughnut and Fifth Streets.
Jos. Thomas 1881—Allegedly shot by Indian Joe, a fellow teamster wagon driver.
Ernest Brodines 1882—Murdered. A miner, native of Germany.
Alfred Cantrell 1881—Murdered by a man named Brown who was later hanged for his crime.
M. McCarthy 1882–Shot by a man named Poplin, miner.
McNemony 1882—Shot, full name unknown.
Bill King 1880’s—Shot by Burt Alvord, aka Cowboy Bill King. saloon keeper.
Jack King 1880’s—Shot by Cherokee Hall.
Jim Riley 1881—Murdered.
Johnnie Wilson 1880’s—Shot by King.
William Whitehill 1878—Shot.
Jasper Von 1882—Shot.

In a way, I wish we could go back to these wild old days. I’d love to be able to put a few bullets in the Red Sox fans at Camden Yards. I bet they would shut their loud mouths then. Is that a bad thing to say, because how can it be wrong when it feels so right?

My pictures of this excursion.
American Jewish Historical Society
My Cochise
AZ Central
Hub Pages
Arizona Leisure
Legends of America
Tombstone Web

June 2008