Located in the Santa Cruz River Valley of southern Arizona, Tumacácori National Historical Park is a 360-acre park commemorating several historic Spanish mission communities throughout Santa Cruz County. Prior to the arrival of Europeans in the continental United States, the Tumacácori area was the home of the Tohono and Akimel O'odham indigenous people, descendants of the Sobaipuri people.
The history of Spanish mission activity in the Santa Cruz River Valley dates back to 1691, when Eusebio Francisco Kino established two Jesuit missions, Mission San Cayetano de Tumacácori and Mission Los Santos Ángeles de Guevavi. The first Tumacácori mission, San Cayetano, was resettled on the Santa Cruz River’s west bank in 1751, following a battle between the Jesuits and a force of Akimel O'odham who attacked the settlement. Throughout the next century and a half, the Jesuit community became the leading social and economic force in the region, operating the original two missions along with a third mission, Mission San Cayetano de Calabazas, which opened in 1756. The advent of the Mexican wars for independence in the early 19th century began to precipitate the decline of the missions, however, which were finally abandoned following a series of Apache raids and a difficult winter in 1848.
The mission sites became part of the state of Arizona after the United States’ Gadsen Purchase in 1854. In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt declared the Tumacácori site part of a National Monument and restoration efforts on the buildings began to bring them up to condition for public touring. The Tumacácori mission site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1966, and in 1990, the National Monument was converted into a National Historical Park, encompassing all three historic missions.
Today, Mission San José de Tumacácori is open to the public as a living history museum inside the Historical Park. Visitors may explore the mission’s remains, including its grounds, as part of self-guided tours. The central building of the mission is its church building, which features a blend of Egyptian, Roman, and Moorish architecture, including a three-story bell tower that was never completed by its builders. The interior of the church building includes a preserved nave, choir loft, baptistry, sanctuary, and sacristy, which opens out onto a convento courtyard. Outside on the mission’s grounds, visitors may explore the facility’s cemetery, storehouse, and the ruins of its convento, along with its gardens and orchard. A replica of a melhok ki, a traditional O'odham dwelling, is featured on the grounds, as well as a lime kiln used for making plaster and a compuerta that served as part of the mission’s water system. A statue of Father Kino is on display at the facility, along with a model of the mission as it existed during its religious use.
The park’s other two missions, the Guevavi and Calabazas missions, are not open to the general public for touring but may be explored via special appointment with park staff. A Visitor Center and Museum facility, opened in 1937, stands at the entrance to the park, serving as an orientation center and featuring exhibits related to the history and culture of the three missions. Murals painted by Herbert A. Collins detail important historical events of the missions, such as a large smallpox outbreak that claimed more indigenous lives than all of the area’s battles combined. Preserved wooden statues of saints from the church are displayed, along with lifelike models of the mission’s priests. A bookstore at the Center sells locally-made products and texts related to Tumacácori history, and a 15-minute orientation video is available for viewing via an interactive display.
Ongoing Programs and Education
Several themed field trip experiences are offered for pre-K through high school students, focusing on topics related to the history, architecture, and culture of Tumacácori. An hourlong River Walk tour experience is also offered for visitors of all ages as part of small group tours. Young visitors can participate in a self-guided Junior Ranger program, which leads participants through scavenger hunt activities throughout the park. Several Junior Ranger Days are also scheduled throughout the year, including a Mud Rangers program for middle school students that allows participants to earn community service hours.
Daily cultural demonstrations are presented on site by a variety of local and indigenous chefs, artists, and crafters. A number of special events are hosted at the park throughout the year, including a Harvest Party, a Día de los Muertos celebration, and the annual La Fiesta de Tumacácori, showcasing the culture of the area’s indigenous people.
1891 I-19 Frontage Rd, Tumacacori, AZ 85640, Phone: 520-377-5060