I grew up in and around Tucson, Arizona, and I thought that I had a fairly decent appreciation of the history and culture of the area, but I was wrong. It turns out that visiting the Grand Canyon with the Brady Bunch doesn’t do it justice, and watching Val Kilmer offer his huckleberry services to the Earp brothers isn’t quite the same as walking the streets of Tombstone. Who knew?
I first suspected that my understanding of the place that I was raised was, well, suspect, when my wife and I visited Boston on our honeymoon (in 2001). We did all the touristy things, almost all of which were also educational and ripe with history. It was surreal and amazing, but it wasn’t until we saw a group of local schoolchildren reenacting speeches of liberty, and the apathetic boredom that hung to their every word, that I realized I had treated my old west surroundings in much the same way. Basically, that stuff was always there so I took it for granted. It happens.
That is why, when we visited Tucson over the holidays, we decided to take the boys on a historical day trip through the surrounding history of the area—a history of Spain, Mexico, Native Americans, and cowboys, none of which had video games of any kind. Challenge accepted.
Please note, the Grand Canyon is about eight hours away from Tucson, so it wasn’t included on this trip, and while there are tons of other wonderful things to do in the area we have either experienced them (Old Tucson, the Arizona-Sonoran Desert Museum) or will do so on future trips (Sabino Canyon, Colossal Cave).
The three places we visited on our day trip through history were the Mission San Xavier del Bac, the ghost town of Fairbank, and the pinnacle of wild west tourism, Tombstone, which is, apparently, too tough to die. The boys had a blast, and that means we all did.
And now for the post-vacation tradition where you sit in my living room (any living room will do) and I force you to watch a slideshow:
San Xavier del Bac Mission 1 of 9Also known as the "white dove of the desert" this breathtaking mission is on the outskirts of Tucson and has long been the focus of detailed restoration (as seen in the next few photos).
Learn more about the San Xavier Mission.
Inside the San Xavier Mission 2 of 9This is the ceiling inside the church. The detail is amazing. The inside of the church reminded me of a brighter Notre Dame.
San Xavier Mission Interior 3 of 9The vibrant colors, paintings, carvings, and statues make the San Xavier Mission a must-see when visiting Tucson.
Outside San Xavier Mission 4 of 9When the San Xavier Mission was founded by Father Eusebio Kino in 1692 the land around it was prime for farming. Despite the fact that the adjacent river is now dry there is still farming in the area.
Visiting San Xavier Mission 5 of 9The mission is a fully operational church, and as such you may have to wait for Mass to conclude before entering (unless you're there for said Mass, then go on in). My boys opted to wait.
There is a gift shop and a museum (operates on donations) on the premises, both are open to the public.
The Ghost Town of Fairbank 6 of 9The kids were a little nervous about the idea of a "ghost town" until they understood that it meant the town was now abandoned, not haunted. Although one could probably make the case for the latter as well. The restored classroom in Fairbank was a big hit.
Resorted Schoolroom in Fairbank 7 of 9The restored schoolroom in Fairbank, Arizona (between Tucson and Tombstone) was a surprising hit with the boys. We had to drag them away, which is why I'm pretty sure that something paranormal was afoot.
Learn more about Fairbank.
Boothill Graveyard 8 of 9Yes, that Boothill (also, Boot Hill). The infamous cemetery, filled with the good and bad of Tombstone, Arizona, is free to visit and an interesting setting for the many conversations it is sure to evoke.
Learn more about Boothill.
The O.K. Corral 9 of 9Yes, that O.K. Corral. There are a number of gunfight shows in Tombstone, but there is only one held in the real O.K. Corral (Val Kilmer not included).
Learn more about Tombstone and the O.K. Corral.
Read more from Whit Honea at his site Honea Express and the popular group blog DadCentric. You can follow Whit on the Twitter or Pinterest (his opinions are his own and do not reflect those of Babble or most rational people).