The Mission, the Mine and the Wildlife Museum


We visited Mission San Xavier del Bac, also called the White Dove of the Desert, and heard the story of  Jesuit priest, Father Kino.   He began the mission in 1692 and served for 33 years.   After the Jesuits had a  falling out with the government of Spain, Franciscan priests  arrived and oversaw the  mission.   It was they who began building the mission church  that still stands.   San Xavier mission faced neglect with Mexican independence but continued.    After the Gadsden Purchase brought the area into the United States, restorative efforts were made without any government involvement.


A duplicate of this statue of Father Kino is one of two supplied by Arizona for Statuary Hall in the Capital Building in DC. The second is of Senator Barry Goldwater.

Father Eusebio Kino, Jesuit priest, was the man who started it all.  As a young man in Italy, the future Father Kino suffered a life threatening illness and vowed that, if he lived, he would become a priest. He did live and studied for years in preparation. He was deemed gifted in mathematics and cartography and dearly wanted to serve in China. However, he followed the wishes of the Jesuit priesthood and went to New Spain.

Arriving in 1671 he served the Pima Indians, teaching them a new faith and new farming techniques. He also advocated for them when they were abused as laborers in silver mines by the ruling Spanish.   Mission San Xavier del Bac  was one of 24 he established in the area.

Over the years, Father Kino explored and charted much of what is now northern Mexico and southern Arizona and southern California. He explored Baja California numerous times, determining that it was a peninsula – not an island.

The current mission building was begun in 1783 and has a varied history including earthquakes, lightning, and neglect. Some features, such as the right tower have never been completed. There were a number of restoration attempts over the years, including one that used concrete and was quite damaging as those repaired sections  retained water more than the natural material. The current effort involves artisans from around the world and proceeds when money is available.

The art and statues (56) inside, and the work done to restore them, are impressive. An interesting feature is that the priests incorporated European and native symbols and peoples to make the transition to Christianity easier for the natives.

Currently, the Mission is on the National Historic Register and sits on the Tohono O’odham San Xavier Indian Reservation. There is an associated mission school and Mass is celebrated on a regular basis.P1030706We took a tour of the Asarco Mission Mining Site – so named because it is within 10-15 miles of the San Xavier Mission, but the mining emphasis has shifted from silver to copper.  It is a 2 mile by 2.5 mile open pit mine. Blasting is utilized to diminish solid mass into boulders or rocks of less than five feet in diameter.


The very large trucks hold 320 tons of rock when carrying a full load to the mill.



Tires for these large vehicles cost $80,000 and last 4-5 months.

This truck with its 170 ton payload and bulldozer scoop were retired in the 1970’s. Today’s vehicles and tools are so much bigger and more powerful.

Due to an unknown gas leak, we did not get to visit the mill but learned that the rock is broken up and ground repeatedly until it is a copper powder. Somewhere in the process the powder is soaked with various chemicals in large vats . Eventually the process forms copper sheets that are 99.99 % pure. From boulder to sheet takes 28-30 days.

There are a few other by-products of the mining process that are acquired and sold, but copper is the main emphasis. Asarco estimates there are 15 years left of active copper mining in this pit.

The future? Our tour guide suggested three probabilities. First, there is a layer of granite under the copper that may entice another company to purchase the site. Second, it may become a very large sand and gravel pit. Or third, if the area is retired, it is required that the land be returned to its natural state. Asarco once operated five open pit mines in the area. Two that are on the Tohono O’odham Reservation have been successfully restored.

In the meantime there is a 225 acre (170 football fields) Solar Farm on mine land in the buffer zone between the pit and their neighbors. It is able to provide power for half of the homes in the neighboring town of Sahuarita, population just short of 27,000.

It was an interesting outing , if somewhat sad. The desert around Tucson is beautiful and it was stunning to see such a very large scar cut into the landscape. Yet, copper is used in so many things in our world and 640 people work 24/7, 365 (366) days a year in the mine…. I would just like to go back in 16 years and see that the restoration really is in process.

Another interesting, and somewhat sad, outing we took was to the International Wildlife Museum.

It is the educational outreach and the international headquarters for the Sierra Club. Four hundred insects, mammals and birds from around the world are displayed in dioramas and exhibits. Cousins Lynn and Marilyn – have you seen this place?


Going in, I knew very little about taxidermy. In the museum exhibit, I learned that only the hide/fur/covering of an animal is used in its final presentation and that the inner structure is built and formed by the taxidermist. Randy said he already knew that but I had always thought the skeleton was preserved and used. Learning is growing!

The animals are beautiful and some are more than 100 years old. The museum states that no animals were killed specifically for the museum and were “donated by various government agencies, wildlife rehabilitation centers, captive breeding programs, zoos and individuals.”

As people who don’t hunt,  we had some mixed feelings about the museum. However, the animals were very beautiful and superbly displayed and maintained. We left impressed.

About Serene

Former full time RVers, transitioned to homeowners and travelers. We've still got a map to finish! Home is the Phoenix area desert and a small cabin in the White Mountains of Arizona.
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2 Responses to The Mission, the Mine and the Wildlife Museum

  1. Marilyn says:

    No – haven’t been to this wildlife museum. Lynn would especially enjoy the taxidermy. You’ve really done some interesting things in Arizona!

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