Baroque in Arizona – Mission San Xavier Del Bac

If you’ve ever driven across the vast deserts of Arizona you know it holds many treasures, however few compare to the stunning Mission San Xavier del Bac. The mission is the oldest intact European structure in Arizona and claims to be ‘the best example of Spanish Colonial architecture in the US’.  Affectionately called the ‘White Dove of the Desert” this Baroque designed mission was built in the late 1700’s by Franciscans to spread Christianity to the Native Americans (actually the mission was founded in 1692, but the church you see today came nearly 100 years later).




The Mission San Xavier del Bac is located 10 miles south of Tucson, Arizona (basically in the middle of nowhere) however in terms of architecture it’s worlds apart. It has a rich history starting in New Spain (Mexico), to a close call with Cooke’s Mormon battalion, an 1887 Earthquake, a 1939 Lightning strike, to the 1989 emergency restoration…if only these walls could talk.

Still today the Mission San Xavier del Bac is used for weddings, funerals, Mass and Communion service which makes this a truly unique destination within the National Park Service. Due to US law the church cannot receive funding from the government because they are still practicing religion within the walls. One might think funding would be a problem in such a remote area, however it seems the community and the visitors really step up to the plate when it comes to donations (we dropped in $10 for our visit).



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Step inside the walls and you’re greeted with haunting statuary, amazing murals and curious hardware that’s reminiscent of a Harry Potter movie.


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Make time to hike up ‘Grotto Hill’ for a unique perspective of the mission and a beautiful shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary.



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While we wondered around taking in the visual history I couldn’t stop thinking about how unique this place is, and in my mind I took it one step further: The Mission San Xavier del Bac is equally as interesting as the great Vatican City.  Yes, I understand this is a bold statement but when I break it down I still agree with myself:
• There are no lines to enter and once inside there are not thousands of people wondering the halls
• There are no entry fees or parking fees, just an optional donation box
• There are free guided docent tours should you want to delve deeper into the history
• You can go beyond the walls of this mission and hike up the nearby hill for peaceful views
• If you’ve seen enough the exit is close by so you don’t have to feel like a walking zombie trying to make your way through a maze of never ending treasures

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Please know my photos do not do this place justice. If I had my way, and the time, I would have come back and captured photographs with a tripod and I would have waited for a night shot as I’m positive the building would have been stunning with the desert stars as a backdrop. Should you find yourself in the Tucson area you must make time to visit this little known American treasure. If you want to learn more about the mission visit their website

If you’ve stumbled across the San Xavier del Bac deep in the Arizona Desert please share your experience below (or even better if you’ve seen the sister church in Caborca, Sonora Mexico), we’d love to hear your thoughts. If you haven’t heard of the mission I hope this sparks your interest as it is a wonderful destination for exploration. Happy Travels.

Famous for my "how-not-to" videos, and typically the man behind the camera, sometimes I’m forced to be here in the “spotlight”. When you see my face you’re probably reading something more technical than adventurous, but either way I do my best to tell it like it is and infuse my opinions into the commentary…after all this is a blog and not MSN.

Comments (20)

  • Katleen Cummings

    There yesterday for the second time in 22yrs. My only request is that Ibwas in the company of those whe didn’t want to spend as much time as I would have liked. I bought prayer cards and post cards and proceeded to leave them on a bench. Peaceful historic mission. If I ever get back here I’ll go again. What is the Madonna in the Purple dress? Thanks

  • We are staying in Phoenix and I want to take the kids down to Seguaro NP. Looks like this has just been added to the list! Thanks for sharing, the mission looks amazing!

  • Denise

    So great to hear you saw this place! Some facts I remember:
    The cat and mouse on the two scrolls on the face of the building (your 2nd photo) signal the end of the world if they touch, one of the statues has a dagger in his chest (Saint Fidelis), and it was built in the shape of a cross! If the walls could talk!! When I was little, we would go there on Sunday to have the delicious “Fry bread” made by the local tribe women at the base of the hill with the cross. So good!! Thanks for taking us all with you!! It was nice to remember!

  • Incredible detail in each wall. They sure knew how to create a wall of art back then, Now days the builders are all about getting it done in a certain time frame.
    Its funny how we can ‘”see” a picture through our eyes better/different then the camera takes. Sometimes my breath is taken away by our scenery, yet when I go to look at the photos online after wards the moment is not really captured.
    Mind you the one where the ceiling looks like something from Harry Potter sure is incredible.

  • Dave

    I am a regular reader and loyal follower of your amazing adventures. The pictures in this newsletter are among the best you have ever shared. It is amazing to sit here at my desk during lunch and find myself transported through your superb photography. Thank you!

  • mary van

    I do love visiting old churches. Do you remember all of the cathedrals we visited when we where in Denmark? This one is beautiful.

  • Beautiful pictures, I love Spain….er, er, I mean Arizona. It’s always refreshing to see beautiful buildings in the States. But I’m a little concerned, is Jason ok? It is a church — right? Is he allowed? 🙂 (kidding folks)

  • Pete

    Hi Guys,
    Just found your blog. Loving it. How did you start out doing this? My wife just got laid off. We are thinking about changing it up. Have had a string of bad luck and have wanderlust. Did you set out with new vehicles or slightly used? I can transfer with my employer all over the U.S. we are thinking about part time rving for now. Thanks

    • Pete, we sold our cars (along with everything else) before hitting the road as they were not towable 4 wheels down. We purchased the smart car because it is towable and 40mpg and still love it…although not the car for everyone (it is very small but we like it because its so small). RV’ing is a great way to see the country and still make money working. Part timing at first is a great idea! This will let you see if it’s something you want to do full time or not. We love the lifestyle, so of course we say GO FOR IT!

  • Ken Cousino

    The mission is very cool. I have been there a couple of times. Your pictures are great. It is so cool to see the same place through someone else’s eyes. Thanks for sharing all of your adventures. We start ours in 31 days. YEA!!!
    Oh, did you get the solar upgrade done?

    • Ken, we did get the solar upgrade and so far its a sunny day and I have been runing every electricity sucking device I have trying to test the limits…so far I haven’t even come close! It’s amazing what solar can do! We will have a post about it soon.

  • Pat

    One after another, all beautiful photos
    I have been there, but as a kid and I don’t remember very much.

    • A magical place for sure, we didn’t know what to expect but we were happily surprised.

  • Love that place. I could go back again and again.

  • Yvonne

    I really enjoyed your photos of this beautiful area. Thanks so much for sharing. Really enjoy reading your posts and adventures.


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