In January 2010, Jon and I took a trip down to Tucson, Arizona for 4 days. Anyone who lives in the northwest understands that winters here get dreary, and at some point, it becomes necessary to save oneself and escape to someplace sunny and dry. We flew down on a Saturday, and got to Mesa as the sun was beginning to set. We got our rental car quickly because we didn’t have to wait for checked bags, and were soon on the road headed south to Tucson.
My parents had gotten us a GPS for Christmas the month before, and we brought it along, thinking this would be a great time to try it out and get a lot of use out of it. The GPS came with two cords, one to plug into the car, and one to plug into the computer to download new maps. Of course, I only brought the one to plug into the car, and of course, I brought the wrong one…. Oops. Live and learn, and never forget how to read an actual, paper road map. Luckily, I had brought one along. Our GPS had enough battery life to get us to Tucson, but then we had to rely on those good old map reading skills that we were taught in school. Wait – we didn’t learn that in school? Where did we learn how to read road maps?
On the way, we ate dinner in a chain restaurant that I had never heard of called Mimi’s Cafe. It has a New Orleans Jazz theme, and it was actually pretty good. We enjoyed ourselves, and the wait there was 10 times shorter than the Olive Garden. And it was a good thing we stopped when we did, because if I had gotten much hungrier, hostages could have been taken. So, after my tummy was full and my nerves were soothed, we continued our trek down I-10 to the Comfort Inn.
Our Comfort Inn was just a couple of miles outside of downtown Tucson, and conveniently located to the things that we wanted to see and do. The one drawback was that there wasn’t much in the way of food right near there. The hotel had a continental breakfast, so we had one meal out of the way each day. But they did have a clean comfortable room with cable, and that night after settling down, we discovered Pawn Stars. If you haven’t heard of Pawn Stars, it is the guilty pleasure for anyone who likes antique stores, history, estate sales, or Antiques Roadshow, combined with the absurb reality of people in Las Vegas pawning their treasures to get gambling money (they never say that’s why they want the money, but I’m convinced that 90% of them will head right into the casino with their cash). Jon and I were transfixed. When we got home, we discovered that my mom already knew all about Pawn Stars, and she didn’t tell us! Oh well, I guess we only get so much with basic cable – the world continues without us.
The next morning, fresh faced from watching Pawn Stars early into the morning, we got up and decided to head down to Tubac. Tubac is a artist community, i.e. tourist trap about 30 minutes north of the Mexican border. It is a sleepy little village with art galleries and shops galore, and a couple of restaurants. If you don’t want to do any shopping, this is probably not the place for you. We poked around there for awhile, marveling at all the handmade furniture, oriental carpets, and beautiful paintings that we can’t afford. We did buy a little matching pottery spoonrest and sponge holder to take home with us. There is a furniture maker there who uses burled wood and wood with various knots and imperfections, and then fills the knots with crushed turquoise and seals it in. The result is a table with streaks of turquoise running randomly across the top or side of the piece. It is absolutely beautiful, and one day, maybe I will have one. We had lunch in a Mexican cantina restaurant called Old Tubac Inn, with the best salsa. The food was good, and went well with a cold Corona. It would have gone a little better with the beer if the restaurant hadn’t been quite so cold though.
After lunch we headed over to see El Presidio de San Ignacio Tubac, which is now a state park and historic site. Tubac has a long and colorful history – it was first settled by non-natives in 1691, by Jesuit missionary Father Francisco Eusebio Kino, who set about building farms and missions and converting the natives. By 1751, the Pima Indians were tired of being dominated and revolted, destroying the Tubac settlement in the process. When they were defeated in 1752, the Presidio de San Ignacio de Tubac was built and garrisoned with 50 troops, to prevent further revolt. Captain Juan Bautista de Anza II was stationed here from 1760 until 1776, and during this period, he led two overland expeditions to California, the second of which resulted in the founding of San Francisco.
The mission was moved to Tucson in 1776, and it fell into ghost town status until the Spaniards reactivated it in 1787. It was a stop on the route of the overland ‘49ers, who lured away most of the residents. When the US finally purchased the area in 1853, Tubac was a ghost town again. A mining company was established in 1856, bringing new life to the area, but only until it busted in 1860. Tubac was seized by Confederate troops during the Civil War, but only until the Union got it back a few months later. Apache Indians periodically raided the site from the 1750’s all the way through the 1860’s so there was never much peace and quiet in Tubac. Geronimo finally surrendered in 1866.
The current town site was established in 1882, and seems to have been a sleepy village ever since. The artist community was created in 1948, when artist Dale Nichols formed the Artist’s School. The Presidio site became a state park in 1959. Who knew a tiny little artist town could have seen so much? The site is a mix of ruins and buildings that have been preserved from the 18th and 19th centuries. It is certainly worth a visit, and we even watched the cheesy video at the museum (they really need to update it).
After touring the museum and the grounds at El Presidio de San Ignacio Tubac, there wasn’t really anything else to do in Tubac, so we headed towards home. We knew that there were wineries in the area, so we decided to take a detour on the way home through Sonoita. We didn’t have the whole afternoon, but we gave it a go and found Kief-Joshua Winery. Arizona’s wineries use mostly grapes from California, because the plantings in Arizona are relatively new. I imagine that as the industry grows, they will begin to use more Arizona-grown grapes. Kief-Joshua is an elaborate house, with slate floors and a large tasting room that look like it was accommodate a fairly large special event. That said, the tasting bar itself wasn’t very big, and curved around in a way that made it tough to fit more than about 4 people.
The server was a young guy who seemed to know quite a bit about their wines, and we started off with a Chenin Blanc that I wish I could get in Washington. It was nice, crisp and fruity, perfect for a hot summer day spent in the sun. I still remember it fondly, and hey, if any of you are going to be in Elgin, Arizona anytime soon, could you pick me up a bottle? The rest of their wines were ok, but nothing to write home about. They have a neat logo on their glasses of a gnarled old grapevine though.
We only had time for one more winery, and it was open until 6, so the guy at Kief-Joshua suggested we head over to Wilhelm Family Vineyards. The winemaker served us herself and it was obvious she took great pride in her wines. The atmosphere in the tasting room was friendly and comfortable, and we talked to a Hispanic woman who told us that the way to make a great guacamole is to add feta cheese. She’s right, it does give it that something different (we should do that again sometime soon.) Jon and I both liked Wilhelm’s Zinfandel. She also had an herbed wine concoction called Gluhwein, a German traditional drink, where you added a mix to wine. It was pretty good, but I wasn’t sure we would ever drink our wine like that. Before we left, she signed our bottle of Zinfandel for us (unfortunately, it was a felt tip marker, and it got a bit smudgy). So, we headed back towards our home away from home with a couple bottles of wine to drink over the next few days of our trip.
And with that, we headed home to enjoy our wine.