Saguaro National Park & San Xavier Mission
Odometer (Legend): 518,342
Odometer (ILX): 24,218
Over the last few weeks, I’ve made a list of 20 “bucket list” destinations I’d like to visit in 2013. As of January 1st, I’d already crossed one of those off the list. On Tuesday’s road trip, I went to a national park dedicated solely to cacti, traveled the only interstate in the country that’s marked with metric signposts, and stepped inside a historic church that was over 215 years old. Quite the successful day!
Saguaro National Park is so-named for the Saguaro cactus. These cacti can grow as high as 70 feet and live 175 years or more. They dot the landscape in many parts of Arizona, but they are most concentrated in the area which in 1994 was designated as a national park. Saguaro NP is unique in that its total 91,000 acres are split up in two separate “districts” – one which lies east of Tucson, and one to the west. For my New Year’s Day visit, I traveled to the east district, also known as the Rincon Mountain District. It was about a 300-mile round trip drive in the ILX.
Departing Scottsdale on a chilly morning. It’s a rare sight to see frost on the cars around here!
When I arrived in Tucson and fought construction on Houghton Road, I was perplexed by the wording on these signs. Could the placement have been done differently to make the message more clear? As it’s currently written, I feel like I’m being asked to share “The Road Drive” with care.
Saguaro’s east district welcomed me and my friend Josh. He’s lived in the Tucson area for 10 years and this was his first time entering the park.
The entrance station was busy with holiday visitors like ourselves. The only day of the year that this park closes is Christmas Day. The fee was $10 and is good for a week in case I decide to go back for a closer look.
There’s an 8-mile one-way scenic loop that Josh and I took. It’s a curvy one-lane road that would be a ton of fun to drive if the speed limits weren’t so crazily low.
That’s right. FIVE miles per hour. They really want you crawling around these corners! We did see quite a few walkers and bicyclists for safety’s sake, the speed limit is probably a good idea.
A few pictures were taken as photo opportunities presented themselves.
This saguaro in particular is probably pushing 200 years old. They’re a highly protected species. In other parts of the state, I’ve seen these cacti “braced” / propped up by wooden boards if the land / root system is disrupted.
This picture of me standing next to that same cactus gives a sense of the size of these monsters.
Josh and I took the opportunity to park the ILX in one of the scenic turnouts and do a little bit of hiking. The weather was great and the air very clear.
Josh and I stopped by his friend Fred’s house to see an immaculate 2000 Honda Civic coupe with the cleanest (wire-tucked) engine bay I’ve ever laid eyes on.
I headed toward Tucson again but this time veered south from I-10 west onto I-19 south. This interstate is the 4th shortest freeway in the country, at only 63 miles in length. Better said, it’s 101 kilometers in length. And motorists better familiarize themselves with kilometer calculations because this is the only freeway in the country that’s currently signed in metric units of measurement.
This notice at the north end of I-19 advises drivers that they’ll need to pay attention to the distances in kilometers, not miles.
Shortly thereafter, Irvington Road comes up 1 kilometer away. Interestingly enough, the speed limits on I-19 are still in miles per hour, not kilometers per hour.
The reason why this interstate was set up with metric signs is that at the time of construction in 1972, it was thought that this effort would push toward the metric system and that perhaps this would be the first of many freeways in the U.S. to begin using metric distances. Such did not end up being the case, yet I-19 retains its existing signs. Talks have taken place regarding changing the entire freeway to “miles” but business owners have pushed back (they’d have to update their directions) so there has been little traction with that initiative.
Here we go – arriving at the San Xavier Mission for my next destination.
What lies ahead of my Acura ILX in this picture is a 216-year-old “White Dove of the Desert,” also known as Mission San Xavier del Bac.
This is a Spanish Catholic mission located about 10 miles south of Tucson. Though the site was founded in 1692, the building seen here was constructed over the 14-year span of time from 1783 to 1797. Considering its age, I’m surprised just how few restoration efforts have taken place!
Entrance was free of charge. I would have liked to visit the gift shop, but it was closed for the holiday.
Exterior is covered in a traditional mud plaster that was refinished within the last couple of decades. The artwork is pretty ornate as seen here.
The grounds are surrounded by cactus gardens.
Inside, there are multiple chapels. The decoration here is supposedly very similar to what it would have looked like when the mission was new.
View of the ceiling.
Looks like they’ve still got quite a bit of Christmas decor up.
It was a humbling experience to be in this place that is sacred to so many. I saw people paying their religious respects quietly.
To the east, there was a hill with a cross on top that people were climbing up.
Some background on the site, from a placard near the south (main) entrance.
I wonder if these wooden doors are original?
The mission was designated a historic landmark 50 years ago in 1963 by the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service.
Hope you enjoyed the drive!
For any who might find it of interest: Acura ILX sales performance reached an all-time high, with 2485 units selling in December 2012. It’s awesome to see the momentum picking up as we go into 2013. Lastly, did anyone else see this immaculate 1994 Legend L Sedan 5-speed on craigslist in Oregon? It’s rare to see a Legend in this kind of condition nowadays. Somebody scoop this baby up, please! $3,200 for 175k miles.
It inspired me to make vacuum tracks in the carpet of my own Legend: