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Jesuit priest Eusebio Francisco Kino founded mission San Cayetano de Tumacácori on the Santa Cruz River's east bank in the late 17th century. The mission’s story weaves together the history of Europeans, Mexicans, Spanish and the O’odham (Pima) nation. Today Tumacácori, near Tubac, Ariz., is a national park. Photo by Thomas Duran
Columns Hit the Road

Hit the Road: Lots of history for little-known town

Likely you’ve not heard of Tubac, a town of less than 1,200 residents about 45 minutes south of Tucson, but it has undeniable and important ties to California history.

It was 245 years ago this month that Juan Bautista de Anza, a military officer in the service of the Spanish Empire, left Tubac (then a part of Mexico) on an expedition to find a route to Northern California.

The Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail, known locally as the Anza Trail, follows the Santa Cruz River near Tubac, Ariz. A 4-mile portion of the verdant path runs from Tumacácori National Historical Park to Tubac Presidio State Historic Park. Photo by Fred Snyder

The goal was to continue the colonization of Alta California to enhance Spain’s grip on the New World. The route took de Anza through the state park that bears his name — Anza Borrego Desert State Park — and culminated in what is now San Francisco.

We first discovered tiny Tubac about five years ago when we stopped for the night after touring southeast Arizona. Tubac was a pretty sleepy village then; we could walk down the middle of the few streets and not worry about sharing the pavement with cars.

Our return visit in mid-November, thanks to a nephew’s wedding, revealed a place that hadn’t changed much but did have a bit more of what makes Tubac a great place to visit.

A mariachi band that includes a Mexican Elvis entertains at Soto’s Outpost in Tubac. The town of 1,200 lies about 45 minutes south of Tucson. Photo by E’Louise Ondash

Tubac (pronounced TWO-back) still provides a weekend respite from the frenetic urban pace, but this still-small rustic artist enclave now offers more boutiques, galleries, good food, scenic hiking trails and historic sites.

We enjoyed the cuisine at Tubac Market, with its abundance of deli offerings (including an ample selection of gluten-free meats and salads) and a respectable wine selection that makes it ideal for lunch; Soto’s Outpost, where we were serenaded by a four-man mariachi band that featured a greatly entertaining Mexican Elvis; and Elvira’s, where the mole and amazing glass artwork blanketing the ceilings and tables merge into an explosion of flavors and colors. Don’t miss the next-door store where you’ll find one-of-a-kind (and sometimes downright bizarre) home furnishings and works of art.

Winter days in Southern Arizona are ideal for hiking, and the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historical Trail (known locally as simply the Anza Trail) is perfect for an easy 7-mile trek — or as far as you want to go.

Cool mornings and the heavily shaded path means dressing in layers is a must. I was bundled up for the first several miles; by the end, my jacket was tied around my waist.

The countryside seemed surprisingly verdant for this time of year and reminded me that Arizona offers diverse topography and climate zones. It was pure pleasure to walk the trail as it followed the winding Santa Cruz River, which looked pretty peaceful and innocent.

Heavy rainstorms during the summer and winter, however, can turn the Santa Cruz into an angry, dangerous tool of erosion. On this day, though, the water was nothing but a part of a beautiful landscape.

I didn’t have time to visit the nearby Tumacácori National Historical Park, but other wedding guests did. The story of the late-17th-century mission (pronounced toom-a-COCK-or-ee) weaves the history of Europeans, Mexicans, Spanish and the O’odham (formerly Pima) nation — all who lived in or immigrated to this corner of the Southwest.

Visit For more photos and commentary, visit Want to share a trip? Email [email protected].

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