Follow the path of history in Arizona

In Tubac, on a shaded, rustic patio, a woman in a long skirt ladles pozole from a large cast-iron pot. Molinos, or grindstones, stand sentinel by her feet. Nearby, a man planes boards for rough-hewn furniture. Squint your eyes and it’s the late 1600s, the time when Spanish colonists established small settlements in Pimería Alta, the frontier along what is now the Arizona-Mexico border.

Tubac is the oldest Spanish settlement in the state, so a passion for the past comes naturally to this southern Arizona town. But that’s especially true this year―the 250th anniversary of the Tubac Presidio, now a state historic park. You can wander the adobe remnants of the presidio, built in 1752 to protect the nearby Tumacácori mission and its settlers after a bloody revolt by native Pima people. The 12-acre state park also includes a museum, a 19th-century schoolhouse, and an early-20th-century community hall. On Sunday afternoons through March, you can get in the spirit of Tubac’s early days as you watch the work and craft demonstrations by docents in period attire. One way to celebrate the anniversary is at a November 10 lecture and walking tour of the presidio and Tubac townsite.

The state park also serves as the trailhead for the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, which follows part of the route from Mexico that the explorer used in 1775 to lead a group of colonists to settle San Francisco. The 4 1/2-mile trail crosses the Santa Cruz River three times on its way to the main unit of Tumacácori National Historical Park. There you can roam the partially restored mission established in 1691 by Father Eusebio Francisco Kino. Next month, you can really get into Tubac’s heritage at La Fiesta de Tumacácori (December 7-8), and enjoy Spanish, Mexican, and Native American crafts, foods, and music.

Back in Tubac, the town’s architecture reflects its years as an extension of Spain, then Mexico, and finally the United States. Many of the old buildings now house art galleries, shops, and restaurants. Still, when you turn a corner and find yourself alone on one of Tubac’s dusty, narrow streets, it’s not hard to imagine that a Spanish soldier or settler once trod the same ground. Travel planner

WHERE: Tubac is 45 miles south of Tucson off I-19.

COST: Presidio: $3. Tumacácori: $3.

CONTACT: Tubac Chamber of Commerce: (520) 398-2704 or
Tubac Presidio State Historic Park: 8-5 daily. (520) 398-2252 or
Tumacácori National Historical Park: 8-5 daily. (520) 398-2341 or

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