Author: Marie Pavese
Date of Trip: April 2014
With a golden sunrise on the horizon, our spirits were high as we drove along the I-10 south from Phoenix,Arizona. Before long, we arrived at the Biosphere 2 at a cool elevation of 4000 ft at the base of Tucson’s Santa Catalina Mountains, just north of Tucson on Oracle Rd./AZ Hwy 77 at mile marker 96.5. This is a large earth science center which researches future life on our planet in the observatory built to explore landscape evolution, water movement, beneath 6,500 panes of glass where a live rainforest, coastal fog desert, marsh,savannah,and million-gallon ocean exist.
Afterwards,there was a photo opportunity in the small, quaint town of Marana, which is like going back in time the the 1950’s through a time machine. We had to take photos with the ceramic donkey.
We worked up an appetite for lunch at the original El Charro Cafe at 311 N. Court Avenue, Tucson which was established in 1922, in the nation’s oldest Mexican restaurant in continuous operation by the same family. The founder, Monica Flin, the inventor of the chimichanga, came to Tucson via France in the 1800’s when her father Jules was commissioned to build the city’s St. Augustine Cathedral which we visited only steps away.The landmark restaurant is in the Old Town Artisans block by the Telles Block, Tucson Museum of Art and Historic block,beautiful Pima County Courthouse,Presidio San Agustin del Tucson,St.Augustin Cathedral at 192 s. Stone Ave reminiscent of European church architecture where mass is followed by live mariachi music(built in 1896),Soldado de Cuera Sculpture,Allande Footbridge, Garces Footbridge, Gazebo in Plaza de Mesilla, Francisco Pancho Villa Statue, Sentinel Peak/”A” Mountain,El tiradito The Wishing Shrine,and Hotel Congress where Wyatt Erp had his adventures.There are the Presidio trail and historic marked walking tours to enjoy in this area.
The El Charro Cafe Sonoran and Tucson-style Mexican specialties included the original Tia’s Topopo salad, Carlotta’s clasico chicken Mole,Charro Steak Tampiquena,handmade tamales,and famous carne seca. El Charro is a name given to the peasants of the province of Salamanca adapted in 1857 and applied in Mexico to good, able horsemen,recognized by the costume with the high crowned,wide brimmed hat. El Charro was the family residence since 1896. It was owned and operated by Monica .Under her guidance, it has become one of the most critically acclaimed family owned restaurants in the USA featured in Bon Apetit, Gourmet Magazine, USA Today, The NBC Today Show, Parade Magazine, the NY Times,LA Times, and the NY Post. It won the Tucson Lifestyle Reader’s Poll Gold Medal as Best Mexican Restaurant 9 yrs in a row and as one of America’s top 50 restaurant Icons by Nation’s Restaurant News in 2010. It was honored when the US Navy named the galley on the USS Tucson submarine as El Charro Down Under .
Mission San Xavier Del Bac ,exit 92 off I-19 is called the White Dove of the Desert. This is a famous landmark we could not miss. It was founded by Father Eusebio Francisco Kino in the late 1600’s.The church built by the Franciscans in the 1700”s is one of the finest examples of Spanish mission architecture in the USA. Major restorations were done by the experts who restored the Sistine Chapel. We enjoyed the free narrated tour which told us of the symbols of the sea shell,details of the artwork and sculpture,gardens and the story of the martyrs surrounding the facade. Indian fry bread was sold by patrons of the parish who were members of the Tohono Odom tribe who also ran the Tohono Chul gardens and tea house where we dined al fresco for another lunch on a separate day’s outing.Nearby was Sabino Canyon where mammoths roamed, ancient Hohokam people made irrigation dams, and the Civilian Conservation corps built bridges and cut hiking trails. Trams run daily with multiple stops including one at the trailhead of a hike to Seven Falls located on N. Sabino Canyon Road. A free tour of the grounds and Gallery of De Grazia compound near Sabino Canyon was a nice stop at the De Grazia Gallery, home of the Morenci native Ted DeGrazia.Patagonia State Parkbass where one could find whitetail deer,doves, hummingbirds and great blue herons in the rolling southeastern hills, offered camping ,picnic areas, restrooms, showers, boat ramps, marina and a lakeside market. Nearby is Kartchner Caverns, the Arizona Sonoran Desert Museum and Mt. Lemon which were places where we could explore the native plants and animals ,stargaze as well as camp overnight.