Thanksgiving in Tubac, Part 3

Tubac Village, Tumacacori and Nogales, Mexico

November 24-28, 2004 and November 23-27, 2005 (Page updated Dec. 3, 2005)


1. Memphis to Tucson, Mission San Xavier

3. Tubac Village, Tumacacori and Nogales

2. Arizona’s Delightful Tubac Golf Resort

4. Tucson Botanical Gardens and Flight Home


Index to 18 Photos - 2004

Index to 17 Photos - 2005


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By Lewis Nolan


Nov. 26, 2004 – Friday. Tubac to Nogales, Mexico


Tubac’s historic claim to fame is that it was the first European settlement in what is now Arizona. It was established in 1752 as a
Whimsical planters in Tubac
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Spanish fort, or Presidio. The Spanish arrived in 1687. The Jesuit missionary Father Eusebio Francisco Kino established more than 20 missions in the region to bring Christianity and Spanish control to the Native Americans in the area. The first mission was built of adobe in nearby Tumacacori in 1691; it was destroyed in Indian raids and rebuilt several times.


Tubac Presidio is now the centerpiece of a State Historical Park that traces the growth of southern Arizona. Spanish colonists settled here during the 1730s, raising cattle, sheep and goats on the northern frontier of what was Spain’s New World empire. A bloody revolt by the Pima Indians was put down in 1751. The Presidio was built and garrisoned by Spanish cavalry to protect colonists and the nearby mission.


The second commander of the Presidio, Juan Bautista de Anza II, led two overland expeditions through the southwest and to the Pacific Ocean. He is credited with the founding of San Francisco in 1776 – a year when much history was being made on the other side of continent. Once Anza returned to Tubac, the garrison was moved to Tucson and the Tubac Presidio was abandoned. For a decade, the area was left unprotected and Apache Indians killed and plundered at will. The Spanish Viceroy who ruled Mexico reactivated the fort in 1787.


Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821. The Mexican flag flew over Tubac until 1848, when another Apache assault caused great loss of life and abandonment of the fort.


Tubac was part of the Gadsden Purchase by the U.S. government in 1853. One of the early entrepreneurs set up shop in the abandoned fort commander’s house, performing marriages and establishing the first newspaper in Arizona. By 1860, Tubac was the largest town in Arizona. But the Civil War drained it of troops and resources to the point that it was again deserted in the face of Apache raids. Among the celebrated Apaches who did battle here were Geronimo and Cochise, whose name today graces some rugged canyons known as “Cochise Stronghold.”


Although the Tubac area was resettled after the Civil War, the discovery of silver in the Tombstone area about 120 miles to the east as well as the routing of the first railroad through Tucson about 50 miles to the north drew development interests away. Tubac never regained its earlier importance.


Today, Tubac has transformed itself into an artists’ colony of considerable renown. About 90 art galleries and shops line the meandering streets and offer a wide variety of arts and crafts. The emphasis is on Southwestern design and style.


The weeklong Tubac Festival of the Arts draws hundreds of artists and crafts people and many thousands of potential buyers in February. Betty and I have attended it twice.


A number of pottery and metal pieces we’ve purchased in the shops of Tubac grace our home. My favorite is a copper fountain about three feet across and three feet high. Pumped water cascades down its stacked, metal leaves into a small pool. There is a small group of artisans who fabricate the fountains and assorted wall hangings in a their studio here. Their shop is called “Designs in Copper.”


Tubac Village has a hacienda architectural style that is laid-back and inviting. It has a half-dozen or more places to eat, ranging from
Betty, Lewis at spice plant
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fine dining to quick sandwiches. We had a very good sit-down meal at Shelby’s Bistro plus some delicious carryout subs.


There are several inns and B&Bs in Tubac. One mile away on the Anza walking trail along the grubby Santa Cruz River is our favorite, Tubac Golf Resort, with 46 rooms and suites. More than 1,500 miles farther down the historic route is San Francisco.


The Tubac area has become attractive enough that a new, zero-lot line development is going up next to the art village. “Barrio Tubac” is the name of the upscale community offering “homes from the low $200s.” The “barrio” name is a curious one since to me it suggests negative, L.A. slums. We drove through the development and wondered why the homes are being built on such tight lots since land is cheap around here. Our real-estate-developer son observed that high density yields higher profits.


Five or fewer miles down the frontage/service road that parallels I-19 is the Tumacacori (pronounced too-muh-COCK-ahh-ree) National Historic Park. The National Park Service manages the ruins of three, ancient Spanish colonial missions and attendant farm-related structures. A modern, interpretative display recounts the building of the first mission here in 1691 and the recurring cycle of abandonment and rebuilding in the face of ferocious raids by Indians. The somewhat restored main building of the mission falls well short of the grandeur of the much larger Mission San Xavier del Bac to the north. But it’s worth a stop because the Park Service exhibits tell the story of Father Kino and other determined missionaries so well.


Tumacacori also offers a non-descript restaurant that serves very good Greek and Mexican food. The owner is of Mexican ancestry; his wife is Greek. The New York Times favorably reviewed the no-frills establishment a few years ago. It is located in the desert version of a grungy strip center across the road from the Historic Park.


Nearby is Santa Cruz Chili & Spice, a 60-year-old business that operates a small spice factory and retail outlet. Visitors can
Betty by pottery sign, Tucson Botanical Gardens
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watch women working the machines that grind up and package dozens of spices, which are sold in the shop along with other souvenirs. Put out for sampling are trays of tortilla chips and different dipping sauces. The sauces are based on chili peppers with varying degrees of hotness. The store is also a good place to buy a cold soft drink or bottle of water.


The best shopping – at least in terms of prices – is found about 10 miles to the south in Nogales, Mexico. It’s an easy and fast drive down I-19. The return usually takes longer because of Border Patrol checkpoints.


This section of the Arizona-Mexico border has the heaviest load of “undocumented” persons in the U.S. The Mexicans and others trying to sneak into the U.S. pour across the border by the thousands every month, seeking work and a better life. Most are captured and returned to Mexico only to try again.


Heavily armed Immigration and Naturalization Service agents – some wearing body armor and some accompanied by drug-sniffing dogs – inspect cars and trucks at seemingly random times of day and night. The checkpoints are set up at different stretches of roadway. Some of the signs on I-19 are hinged so they can be opened as needed to direct motorists to slow down and stop. Sometimes a bus is parked near the checkpoint, the better to load up and haul illegal aliens back to Mexico.



It is a problem driven by economics that seems to have no solution. The hiring by the U.S. federal government of several thousand additional Border Patrol agents and investment of many millions of dollars in fencing, surveillance equipment and other measures has not stemmed the tide.


On our last visit to Tubac we talked with a craftsperson about the problem. Some of her friends had moved out of Nogales, Arizona because of the flood of illegals crossing and abusing their property from Nogales, Sonora.


The twin cities have populations of about 20,000 each. It’s a visual shock to drive past the new and shiny shopping centers on the northern edge of Nogales, Arizona and then over a hill. The sudden sight of shabby stucco on an opposite hillside presents a view of unkempt Mexico at its worst.


While drastically disparate in appearance, both towns are driven by tourism and distribution. A wide range of products flows both ways. One of the biggest is produce grown in the warm climate of Mexico, where labor is cheap. There are several dozen produce distribution companies along I-19 just north of the border. Big trucks transport the fresh lettuce and other vegetables from Mexico to wholesalers across the America.


With all this hustle and bustle in the area, we were surprised that our Cingular cell phone service did not work without roaming charges. Even Tucson is outside Cingular’s service zone.


Nogales was a favorite spot of Mexico’s legendary hero and revolutionary Pancho Villa, who would slip across the border at will. He once brought an 85-piece band with him to entertain his American friends.


It’s the easiest crossing into Mexico that we’ve experienced. It’s far quicker than crossing from California into Tijuana; from Del Rio, Texas into Ciudad Acuna; and from El Paso into Juarez. We’ve found that what works best for us is to drive the main road into the center of Nogales, Arizona and park in a pay lot near McDonald’s. The pay lots are fenced and watched by the people who collect the $5 parking fees. There is at least one lot that provides free parking for patrons of a sponsoring drug store on the Mexican side of the border, where many prescription drugs are sold at large discounts.


From McDonald’s, it is a walk of a block or so to the crossing. One enters Mexico through a stadium-style gate. A bored Mexican policeman eyes everybody but we’ve never seen him stop or question anybody.


It’s more time consuming to cross back into the U.S., especially now that anti-terrorism measures have tightened border security. We’ve seen that showing the Immigration or Customs agents a passport (an American drivers license with a photograph also works) seems to considerably
Betty, Casey shop in Nogales
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speed up the process. This is especially true if you look like an American tourist. An individual is allowed to bring back the equivalent a liter of liquor duty free. I think duty fees kick in when the monetary value of total purchases exceeds $400; there can be exemptions for certain items manufactured in Mexico such as jewelry.


This being the day after Thanksgiving and part of a long weekend for many Americans, we found Nogales jammed with tourists and area residents seeking bargains. We didn’t arrive until after lunch and had to park on the street.


Several drugstores have sprung up within 100 feet of the border, taking advantage of the throngs of Americans looking for ways to stretch their budgets. The stores are generally spic-and-span and advertise some of the most popular medications at discounts of 30-to-50 percent. Several had signs about the availability of flu shots – hard to get in the U.S. this year because of supply shortages.


Since Casey was with us, I purchased three bottles of Controy, an orange-flavored liquor that is Mexico’s version of France’s Cointreau. I paid $10.50 each, one-fourth of what the French import costs back home. We hugely enjoy a tablespoon of it poured over a small bowl of low-carb raspberries, sometimes mixed with blueberries and strawberries.


Betty purchased a half-dozen liters of white vanilla, a product she uses in baking cookies and other treats. She has not found any of the clear liquid in any Memphis stores. Betty also bought several silver bracelets to give to friends back home and a mirror framed with hammered metal and Mexican tile for Casey. Casey bought a small sombrero for his girlfriend, Caroline Cardon.


The line to the U.S. crossing was 50 yards deep. That was at least 45 yards longer than the lines we encountered during half-dozen or more previous crossings. But those crossings had been at midweek or off-season and were pre 9/11.


Once back at the resort, Betty and I decided to have dinner at Shelby’s Bistro that evening.  Casey wanted to stay back to relax and watch TV at the Casita. I had a very good green salad topped with grilled Ahi tuna. Betty had an excellent pepperoni pizza. We got a takeout pizza for Casey.


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