On the trail of Father Kino

Kino missions near Tucson

For a regional travel planner, contact the Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau: (520) 624-1817 or www.visittucson.org. For information on travel and auto insurance requirements in Mexico, go to www.aaa-arizona.com and click on "insurance."

The Pimería Alta Missions & More (Southwestern Mission Research Center, Tucson, 1996; $12.95) offers an overview of the region and Kino's missions.

The missions

Before visiting, please call and check church schedules to avoid disrupting services in progress.

San Xavier del Bac. From Tucson, take I-19 south 10 miles to exit 92 and follow the signs for 3/4 mile. 7-5 daily; free. (520) 294-2624.

Santa María Magdalena. From the border at Nogales, take Mexico 15 south about 60 miles to the Kilometer 192 milepost in Sonora. Here the road forks; turn right onto the main street into town and look for the white church dome at Kino Memorial Plaza. Bring a lunch and picnic on the cheery, tree-lined plaza, or try the spicy steak and shrimp combo at El Toro, in front of the baseball stadium as you enter town.

Tumacácori National Historical Park. On the first weekend in December, La Fiesta de Tumacácori celebrates regional culture with native crafts, foods, and a mariachi mass. (For more information, see "Time travel in Tubac.") About 45 miles south of Tucson, take exit 29 from I-19. Turn left under the bridge, then drive north 1/4 mile on Frontage Rd. 8-5 daily; $3. (520) 398-2341 or www.nps.gov/tuma

Guided tours in Mexico

The best way to visit the other Kino missions in Mexico (they range from weathered ruins to quaint chapels) is on one of the three-day, two-night tours offered in spring and fall by the nonprofit Southwestern Mission Research Center.

"We want to acquaint people with the region and its past, both European and indigenous," says historian and tour guide Al Gonzales. "These churches are show-and-tell objects through which we can relate the story."

Guided trips cost $295 and include lodging and most meals. Proceeds help preserve Kino missions in Mexico. Reserve well in advance; space is limited; (520) 628-1269 or www.smrc-missiontours.com.

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