Tubac Road Trip
by Jeff Atwell | photos by Fred Schmiedeskamp
Friends from out of state had been in town for two days. We checked in on their Instagram to see how things were going. They had traipsed through the Catalina foothills on a sunset horseback ride, conquered vertigo on the zip lines out in Oracle, and discovered prickly pear margaritas at their resort. By all accounts, they were having the quintessential Southern Arizona getaway.
We were on the agenda for day three, and said we’re taking them to Mexico. Or, just 20 miles shy of the border to Tubac. Mid-May in Southern Arizona means 100˚ is here or near. But on this blessed day, cloud cover and a forecasted high of 79˚ made us feel like school kids on a snow day.
Good Fortune #1
Ten miles south of Tucson, Mission San Xavier creates a bright white pop just off I-19. We pulled in right at 11am. Mass had started and there was just enough room at the back of the mission to step in and get a look at the statues and murals inside the oldest European structure in Arizona, without disrupting the service.
We walked the grounds and got some pictures of the Spanish Colonial architecture and cactus gardens in full bloom. On the way back to the car, the Tohono O’odham frybread stand and curious ground squirrels provided two more things our friends from the East Coast had never seen.
Good Fortune #2
We had wanted to have lunch at Elvira’s, a 90-year-old restaurant from Mexico with satellites in Tubac and Tucson. All morning I had been thinking about their mole poblano. But it was Sunday and we were hunting food at lunchtime without a reservation.
When we found Habanero’s in another corner of the village of Tubac and snagged the last open table, we were back on our lucky streak. We started with a round of habanero mango margaritas and tore into a basket of chips with guacamole and salsa that was hot, hot, hot. After some hefty street tacos, we were back on our feet.
Good Fortune #3
Our covert motive for the Tubac trip came out when we started to stroll. Tubac’s shops sell art, jewelry, and all sorts of Mexican home decor. The last time we came down to Tubac, we wanted to get a tin star chandelier for the patio but could not decide on raw tin, patina, or painted. After stewing on it back home, we decided on yellow. Bright yellow.
As we popped in and out of import shops and art galleries, I tried to remember where that little place was that had the painted stars—down an alley off a side street, where the pavement turns to dirt. We walked through the village and searched many colorful shops before we found it. High gloss and cartoon yellow. And it was the last one!
Good Fortune #4
On the drive back to Tucson, a massive storm formed over the Catalinas. Our friends were used to rain, but not desert rain. We could see ribbons of downpour angling off the wall of grey that blocked out the mountain. We were barreling down 1-19 under a bright sky without a drop of rain on the road until we hit midtown.
We had hoped to stroll Fourth Avenue or the University of Arizona campus to show them a little more of our city, but everyone wanted to get back to the house and watch the storm from the patio. The yard smelled of wet creosote and the chill in the air was invigorating, the last we’d feel for a while. We hung the star, sat back, and watched the ground suck up the rain. When the storm let up, we asked what they’d like to do next and they chose another Southern Arizona phenomenon—they went back to their resort for a siesta.