What you see:
Tumacácori National Historical Park preserves the ruin of the Franciscan mission San José de Tumacácori. The embellished front of the church stands in front of thick adobe walls that rise to a flat roof over the nave. To the right of the main entrance, a bell tower stands above the baptistery. A white dome draws your eye to the back of the church. Inside, the 75-foot-long nave leads to the altar in the sanctuary. A mortuary chapel and cemetery are in a walled area behind the church. The visitors center contains exhibits, and an adjacent patio garden displays plants of the mission period.

Tumacácori National Historical Park

San José de Tumacácori as seen from the visitors center

What you learn:
You’ll learn about the oldest Spanish colonial missions located in what is now southern Arizona. In 1691, Jesuit Eusebio Kino sought to expand the reach of the Catholic church northward. So he founded the mission San Cayetano de Tumacácori on the Santa Cruz River, from which he ministered to the O’odham people who had lived in the area for thousands of years.

In 1767, King Charles III of Spain banished the Jesuits, and the Franciscans took over the missionary effort. Construction of a new mission church, San José de Tumacácori, began in about 1800 but took over 30 years to complete. Finally, a series of Apache raids drove the last residents out in 1848.

Tumacácori National Monument was established in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt. The National Park Service added nearby ruins in 1990, and the site became Tumacácori National Historical Park.

Sanctuary of Tumacácori Mission

The nave and sanctuary inside the Tumacácori mission where mass was held daily

What you experience:
Your first impression of Tumacácori National Historical Park is the visitor’s center designed in a style similar to the mission church. After browsing through the exhibits, you exit to a veranda. There you see Mission San José de Tumacácori framed by an arch. Walking toward the church, you take in details around the arched entrance. The bell tower stands out to the right, feeling incomplete without its intended dome.

Inside, the long, narrow nave stretches toward the sanctuary. The adobe walls are exposed in places where the original plaster has fallen away. Here and there, the remains of paintings of the apostles can be glimpsed. As you approach the altar, the high dome above, with its faded decorations, becomes visible. A large cross adorned with plastic flowers rests on the altar. Stand quietly and imagine a Franciscan Father celebrating mass with a congregation of Spanish soldiers, settlers, and O’odham converts standing in the nave.

Mortuary at Tumacácori  Mission

The mortuary where families might spend time with a loved one before burial

Back outside, as you walk toward the rear of the mission, the cross-topped white dome comes into view. The mortuary chapel and a small cemetery remind you of the transitory nature of life. Walking through the grounds around the church, you’ll see the remains and foundations of other buildings. Nearby were the gardens, orchards, and pastures that supported a community of a few hundred people. Complete your tour by following the short trail to the mesquite-cottonwood environment along the Santa Cruz River.

Santa Cruz River

The Santa Cruz river near Tumacácori where water reaches the surface providing reliable water source

On weekends from October through April, local artisans will enhance your visit to Tumacácori with demonstrations of tortilla making, paper flower making, and O’odham basket weaving. In addition, the park hosts many special events throughout the year, including the not-to-be-missed La Fiesta de Tumacácori held in December.

Getting there:
Tumacácori National Historical Park is on a short section of the historic route of US 89 between Nogales and Tucson, Arizona. Take I-19 47 miles south from Tucson or 20 miles north from Nogales to Exit 29 and follow the signs to the park. In nearby Tubac, visit the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park to learn more about Spanish colonial history in southern Arizona. The Juan Bautista de Anza National Historical Trail passes by the mission along the Santa Cruz river.