Tumacácori – pronounced too-muh-ka-koh-ree – has been in the public purview since 1908 when it was declared a National Monument by President Theodore Roosevelt. Initially managed by the National Forest Service, it was taken over by the National Park Service in 1916 and in 1966 placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
In 1990, Tumacácori was redesignated as a National Historical Park and the Guevavi and Calabazas mission units were added. Today the park consists of 360 acres in three separate units, including the Tumacácori Museum building, also a National Historic Landmark. The Guevavi and Calabazas missions are only open in the winter for guided tours only.
Visiting Tumacácori National Historical Park
Tumacácori National Historical Park is a simple day trip from Tucson, Arizona. In fact, you may want to start your mission tour at Mission San Xavier del Bac just 15 minutes south of downtown Tucson, and then continue on to Tumacácori half an hour south.
Mission San Xavier del Bac is intact and a lovely example of early Franciscan mission architecture; Mission Tumacácori preserves the remains of an abandoned mission.
Missionaries have been in this area of the country for hundreds of years. You can learn more about this rich history at the Visitor Center and the Museum when they are open.
Self-Guided Tour at Tumacácori National Historical Park
We really enjoyed being able to take our own, self-guided tour of the mission and grounds. The National Park Service has done a great job of preserving the ruin. The majority of the structure is original except the roof and floor, but in accordance with their policy they have not attempted to restore it to it’s original look. That’s what makes it so interesting. You can see the original plaster walls with remains of the original frescoes.
Stand by the sanctuary and picture what it must have been like; the missionaries trying to bring their faith to the local Indians; and the Indians cautiously trusting them because the missionaries could provide some safety inside their walls.
Go outside; see the unfinished bell tower with replicas of the original bells. Walk along the original walls and gates. These too are unrestored; you can see the original adobe and paint. As you walk the perimeter, you get a sense of the size and scale of this settlement in the desert.
Hiking at Tumacácori National Historical Park
Be sure to take the short walk to the Santa Cruz River … this is the water that allowed settlement here in the first place. Water truly is the “life blood of the desert”.
If you are up to a longer walk, we highly recommend the 4 mile Anza Trail. It runs along the river to the nearby town of Tubac. There is lots to see and do there; a museum, galleries, pottery and local gifts, and several cute bistro restaurants.
We really enjoyed the walk and the town; our only problem was that we couldn’t buy anything because we didn’t have the car. It is an 8 mile round trip from the mission to Tubac and back. We didn’t want to carry much, so we didn’t do any shopping.
Our recommendation… If you like to hike AND shop, you might want to consider starting your adventure by parking in Tubac and then walking to the mission and back. (Take water! It is the desert.) This will let you end your day strolling around the quaint town of Tubac, Arizona.
Other Missions in the National Park System
If you enjoy visiting old missions, there are several more to choose from, all administered by the National Park Service. We have talked about several of these – the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park in Texas and Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument in New Mexico.
Need Help Planning Your Visits?
If you would like to explore this or other National Park Units, but need a bit help in the planning, please give us a call at (480) 609-3978. We are happy to offer customized trip planning.