San Xavier del Bac: White Dove of the Desert

One glance, and you know why it’s known as the White Dove of the Desert.

Mission San Xavier del Bac, sometimes called "the Sistine Chapel of the United States" and the "White Dove of the Desert," is considered the finest example of Spanish colonial architecture in the country. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Mission San Xavier del Bac, sometimes called “the Sistine Chapel of the United States” and the “White Dove of the Desert,” is considered the finest example of Spanish colonial architecture in the country. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just imagine, in the late 1600s a stranger on horseback has entered a village. Many of the people gather to see this stranger who is dressed in a dark, flowing robe and large brimmed hat. The people of the village greet the stranger and welcome him.

These people are the Tohono O’odham and the village is Wa:k. The stranger is Jesuit missionary and explorer Eusebio Kino.

A National Historic Landmark, San Xavier Mission was founded as a Catholic mission when Father Eusebio Kino first came to the O’odham village of Wa:k (which he transcribed as “Bac”) in 1692.

The mission church of San Xavier del Bac, the oldest intact European structure in Arizona, is a stunning example of Mexican baroque architecture. The Baroque architecture style features playful dramatic elements such as theatrical curtain displays, faux doors, marbling, and overall sense of balance.

After Charles III expelled the Jesuits from Spain and all its holdings in 1767, Franciscans took over the mission in Wa:k.

The current church dates from the late 1700s, when Southern Arizona was part of New Spain. Construction began in 1783 and was completed in 1797. Franciscan missionary Fr. Juan Bautista Velderrain began construction on the present structure using money borrowed from a Sonoran rancher. He hired an architect, Ignacio Gaona, and a large workforce of O’odham to create the present church.

Today that structure is the east wing of the mission, next to the east bell tower.

The walls of the Mission's Byzantine-influenced interior are ablaze with frescoes, a religious gallery of work painted directly on its walls by missionaries two centuries ago. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The walls of the Mission’s Byzantine-influenced interior are ablaze with frescoes, a religious gallery of work painted directly on its walls by missionaries two centuries ago. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1783, Father Juan Bautista Velderrain began construction of the present church, which is made of clay brick, stone, and lime-based mortar.

Father Juan Bautista Llorens took over after Velderrain’s death in 1790 and oversaw much of the interior decoration. Among the exquisite murals and statuary — many made in Mexico and painstakingly transported to the church — you’ll see several recurring motifs, including the Franciscan cord and seashells, St. James’ symbol of pilgrimage.

The church’s interior is filled with marvelous original statuary and mural paintings. It is a place where visitors can truly step back in time and enter an authentic 18th Century space.

Although the friars ran out of money before they could finish one bell tower and decorate one of the largest rooms in the church, the mission opened for services in 1797. The elaborate Mexican baroque exterior and vividly painted interior had the desired effect—to draw native people into the fold.

Following Mexican independence in 1821, San Xavier became part of Mexico. The last resident Franciscan of the 19th Century departed in 1837. With the Gadsden Purchase of 1854, the Mission joined the United States. In 1859 San Xavier became part of the Diocese of Santa Fe. In 1866 Tucson became an incipient diocese and regular services were held at the Mission once again. Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet opened a school at the Mission in 1872.

The Franciscans returned to the Mission in 1913. Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity now teach at the school and reside in the convent.

One glance, and you know why it's known as the White Dove of the Desert
One glance, and you know why it’s known as the White Dove of the Desert. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although the church was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1963 and is open to the public, its primary purpose is to minister to the religious needs of its parishioners.

Restoration of the west tower was recently completed. Work on the east tower and the front facade will proceed as funding allows.

Details

San Xavier del Bac

Location: 9 miles south of downtown Tucson just off of I-19; take exit 92 (San Xavier Road) and follow signs to the Mission

Address: 1950 W. San Xavier Road, Tucson, AZ 85746-7409

Hours: Open 7:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. daily, with occasional closures for special services; Sunday mass at 7:00 a.m., 10:00 a.m., and 11:30 p.m.

Admission: Free. Donations are appreciated.

Phone: (520) 294-2624

Website: www.sanxaviermission.org

Worth Pondering…

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.

—Arthur Ashe

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I Dream of Galveston: The Strand & Texas Seaport Museum

Today we conclude the series on our favorite Galveston attractions.

Strand Historic District

Entrance to tThe Strand Historic District. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Entrance to tThe Strand Historic District. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston’s Strand was the city’s primary commercial area during the second half of the 19th century, when its star was bright and full of great promise. A thriving, energetic, and prosperous district, the Strand developed alongside the shipping channel and port that helped make the city the largest metropolis in the state.

Remaining buildings, many of them restored in recent years, display the range of architectural styles popular during the Victorian period. Notable buildings include Hendley Row, adjoining buildings constructed from 1858 to 1859, now the oldest commercial buildings in Galveston; the 1870 J. S. Brown Hardware Company Building, at one time the largest hardware firm south of the Mason Dixon line; the Rosenburg Building which housed the largest dry goods store in Texas in the 1870s; and the 1884 W. L. Moody Building, built by cotton broker, banker and state legislator Colonel W. L. Moody.

Features that give the Strand its unique charm include the high curbs, the overhanging canopies that were meant to shade the streets, and the horse drawn carriages that pass slowly in the streets.

The Strand Historic District, a National Historic Landmark, is roughly bounded by Avenue A, 20th Street, the alley between avenues C and D, and the railroad depot. The Galveston’s Strand neighborhood was never revived after the devastation of the 1900 hurricane, but it was part of a restoration project in the 1970s.

Today, it remains a popular downtown retail center featuring art galleries and studios, specialty shops, restaurants, pubs, delicatessens, and historical exhibits within a 36-block area. The Strand is also the center of Mardi Gras celebrations, Dickens on the Strand festivities.

The Strand remains a popular downtown retail center featuring art galleries and studios, specialty shops, restaurants, pubs, delicatessens, and historical exhibits within a 36-block area. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Strand remains a popular downtown retail center featuring art galleries and studios, specialty shops, restaurants, pubs, delicatessens, and historical exhibits within a 36-block area. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In this part of town are the Galveston County Historical Museum, the Mardi Gras Museum, the Railroad Museum, and the Grand  1894 Opera House.

The Strand, once the Wall Street of the Southwest, is one of the finest concentrations of 19th-century iron-front commercial buildings in the United States.

Website: thestrand.com

Texas Seaport Museum and 1877 Tall Ship Elissa

Indeed, the restoration of this graceful barque of 1877 (Elissa) is reckoned by many to be the finest restoration of an active sailing ship extant.

—Peter Stanford, President, National Maritime Historical Society

The Texas Seaport Museum tells the story of a rich legacy of seaborne commerce and immigration.

The museum holds two floors of exhibits, historic photos, and displays. First-floor exhibits show some of the people who worked on Galveston during the 19th century, when it was a busy seaport. In addition to sailors and ship owners, there were 13- and 14-year-old apprentices training to become officers in the merchant service.

On the second floor, an exhibit highlights Galveston’s importance as a port of entry for immigrants during the 19th and 20th centuries. The city was once known as “the Ellis Island of the West.”

The Texas Seaport Museum compiled a computerized list of immigrants to Galveston for the period 1846 through 1948. Visitors can use computer terminals in the exhibition area to view the list. The database includes the names of passengers and other information retrieved from ships’ passenger manifests. The names of more than 133,000 passengers are entered.

Elissa is a three-masted, iron-hulled sailing ship built in 1877 in Aberdeen, Scotland by Alexander Hall & Company. She sailed with a crew of about a dozen, hauled up to 430 tons of cargo in its belly, and carried nineteen sails covering over one-quarter of an acre in surface area. The 134-year-old tall ship, which after 32 years as centerpiece of the Texas Seaport Museum, has drawn tens of thousands of passengers who simply want to walk the decks.

Share the adventure of the high seas at the Texas Seaport Museum, home of the celebrated 1877 tall ship Elissa, a floating National Historic Landmark. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Share the adventure of the high seas at the Texas Seaport Museum, home of the celebrated 1877 tall ship Elissa, a floating National Historic Landmark. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tall ships are classified by the configuration of their sailing rig. In Elissa’s case, she is a ‘barque’ because she carries square and fore-and-aft sails on her fore and mainmasts, but only fore-and-aft sails on her mizzenmast. From her stern to the tip of her jibboom she measures 205 feet. Her height is 99 feet, nine inches at the main mast and she displaces about 620 tons at her current ballast.

At the end of its working career, it sat for years, minus its sailing rig, in a Greek scrap yard.

Marine archaeologist Peter Throckmorton saw it in 1961 and identified it as an old sailing ship. Plans were put into motion to try to save it. Eventually the Galveston Historical Foundation bought it for $40,000. Its hull, made of riveted iron, had to be patched with steel to make it seaworthy enough to be towed from Greece to Galveston, where it was restored.

Old pictures, plans, and documents were consulted during the five-year restoration, which cost about $4 million. Much had to be re-created, but most of the hull and framework are original.

Informational plaques aboard ship identify various features and give their history.

Admission includes self-guided tours of the Texas Seaport Museum and Elissa, a theater presentation, and access to the Galveston Immigration Database.

Admission: $8

Location: Pier 21, Number 8, Harborside Drive

Information: (409) 763-1877

Please Note: This is the eighth in a series of stories on favorite Galveston attractions

Texas Spoken Friendly

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

Worth Pondering…
Galveston, oh Galveston, I still hear your sea winds blowin’
I still see her dark eyes glowin’
She was 21 when I left Galveston.
—Glen Campbell

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Wildfires Rage across Texas

The Texas wildfire news continues to be horrific and heartbreaking. Bastrop State Park, known for its famous Lost Pines habitat, historic CCC structures, and the endangered Houston toad, is the latest state park to be struck by wildfire. Just 100 acres of the park’s 6,000-acreage have survived.

A relaxing day at Buesher State Park last winter. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nearby Buescher State Park is also closed during the wildfire emergency but remains unharmed as we go to press.

This year, some of Texas’ biggest, hottest wildfires in memory have consumed over 3.6 million acres so far, causing devastating hardship and loss for humans and habitat.

Recovery will take a long time for people and habitat. Wild lands recovery depends on a lot of things, but most importantly rain.

Visiting a state park that has burned earlier this year offers a chance to observe wildfire recovery first hand, such as Possum Kingdom State Park where only 200 of the park’s 1500 lakeside acres were saved from wildfire. Over the next months, you can watch nature’s remarkable response begin to show.

Wildfires Consuming Bastrop State Park

In this week’s news release, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) incident commander Robert Crossman indicated that all but about 100 acres of the 6,000-acre park have been blackened by fire, but firefighters have so far been able to save most of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)-constructed structures on the park, with two possible exceptions—two CCC observation structures believed to have been damaged.

“We still have critical fire behavior threatening the CCC cabins,” Crossman said. He said firefighters, assisted by newly arrived federal firefighters, dealt with two flare-ups at the park overnight, one at midnight and the other at 5 a.m. today (Tuesday, September 6).

Bastrop State Park entrance burning. (Credit: Alan Fisher, © TPWD)

Firefighters are using heavy equipment, much of it provided by donors who responded to a TPWD call for assistance, and water trucks to build fire breaks and saturate the ground around the historic structures.

“The outpouring of support from these companies has been nothing short of extraordinary,” said Carter Smith, TPWD executive director. “Without hesitation, they sent over heavy equipment, machinery, and operators, and water tanks to aid our firefighters on site. These resources have been indispensible.”

TPWD has about 75-plus personnel responding to wildfires in the Bastrop area, including state park firefighters, parks police, and game wardens.

The fire has damaged the regional state park headquarters on State Highway 71, about four miles from the park. In addition, several TPWD employees lost their homes in Bastrop County. Some TPWD vehicles and other equipment were also destroyed.

State parks officials are still planning to make an all-out effort to save historic structures in the park, many of which were constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

“Much of Bastrop State Park has been burned and our firefighters have once again shown their mettle with incredible effort to save the historic district of this National Historic Landmark,” said State Parks Director Brent Leisure, whose home and that of Buescher State Park superintendent Cullen Sartor were among those destroyed by the fire. “Countless homes have been saved. Despite the outstanding effort, this fire has outstripped our capabilities to protect all things.”

Bastrop fire. (Credit: Alan Fisher, © TPWD)

While Bastrop State Park and nearby Buescher State Park are closed, all other area parks remain open, including nearby Palmetto State Park and Monument Hill State Historic Site.

Park officials are also concerned about threats to the endangered Houston toad. The 124,000-acre Lost Pines area of Bastrop County, which includes the state park, is home to the largest known population of the small, reclusive amphibians in the U.S.

Leisure said the toad has already been stressed by the ongoing drought and loss of habitat caused by wildfires will likely impact the toad further.

21.5 Percent Cut in 2012 Budget

In other state park news, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission recently approved a 2012 budget that reflects a 21.5 percent cut in TPWD funding over the next two years. The agency is trying to limit impacts on the public involving state parks, fisheries, and wildlife, and leaders say there are ways the public can help.

The 2012 operating and capital budget approved August 25 by the commission totals $332.31 million, down from $423.2 million in 2011 and $468.8 million in 2010.

Related

Worth Pondering…
No matter how far we may wander, Texas lingers with us, coloring our perceptions of the world.

—Elmer Kelto

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Good News from Texas State Parks: Bastrop and Buescher

State parks are a big part of what makes Texas a great state to tour in your recreational vehicle. From the wetlands and beaches of the Gulf Coast to hill country swimming holes to the breathtaking beauty of Big Bend, state parks are a vital part of Texas. State parks are great places to hike, bike, camp, fish, boat, canoe, bird watch, photograph, and swim.

Bastrop State Park

Camping in the "lost pines" at Bastrop State Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At Bastrop State Park, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) has budgeted over $3.3 million dollars to replace deteriorating galvanized plumbing in six of the historic cabins, replacement of electrical systems in the recreation hall and general improvements at the golf pro shop, all structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) more than 60 years ago.

Bastrop is one of 31 state parks in Texas that was constructed by the CCC and one of only five recognized as a National Historic Landmark.

Bastrop State Park is 5,926 total acres; approximately 30 miles southeast of Austin in Bastrop County. The park was acquired by deeds from the city of Bastrop and private owners from 1933 to 1935; the park opened in 1937.

The park is home to the famous “Lost Pines,” an isolated timbered region of loblolly pine and hardwoods. This 70-square-mile forest of loblolly pines is the state’s most westerly stand of these trees. These woods are called “lost” because they’re separated from the main mass of East Texas loblolly pines by about 100 miles.

Some portions of Bastrop State Park are currently closed for construction. Six of the park’s 13 rustic cabins and roughly 10 of the park’s 78 campsites are being retrofitted.

Additional construction to include re-paving of all roadways and re-roofing of all cabins and refectory will cause closures during 2011.

In addition, the park’s iconic dining hall, built by the CCC of native sandstone and timber, will undergo a modernization of its outdated electrical system.

Bastrop and Buesher state parks are connected by Park Road 1. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wireless internet access (Wi-Fi) is available is available in some areas of the park for visitors to use. Please check with the park for details.

Buescher State Park

Just down the road, Buescher State Park’s popular recreation hall, also built by the CCC, is undergoing $913,000 in renovations, including the stabilization of the structure and the expansion of the restrooms. It is currently closed for construction.

The four screen shelters of Buescher State Park are adjacent to the Recreation Hall and may be affected by the construction, causing closures to these facilities.

Friends of the Lost Pines State Parks

The Friends of the Lost Pines State Parks assists in the promotion, interpretation, and operation of Bastrop and Buescher State Parks. As a fund raising and service group, the goal of the friends is to help in the overall operation of the park through sponsoring events, helping fund projects and raising the awareness of Bastrop and Buescher State Parks as an asset to the community and surrounding areas.

Details

Bastrop State Park

 

Enjoy a relaxing day at Buesher State Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elevation:374-600 feet

Entrance fee: $4/person

Camping fees: Campsites with water, $12; campsites with water and electric, $20; campsites with electric, water, and sewer, $20

Directions: 1 mile east of Bastrop on Texas 21, also accessible from the east on Texas 71 or by way of Buescher State Park along Park Road 1

Address: PO Box 518, Bastrop, TX 78602-0518
Contact: (512) 321-2101

Buescher State Parks

Elevation: 324 feet

Entrance fee: $4/person

Camping fees: Campsites with water, $12; campsites with water and electric, $15-17

Directions: 2 miles northwest of Smithville on State Highway 71 to FM 153, then north on 153 for .5 mile to enter Park Road 1

Address: PO Box 75, Smithville TX 78957-0075
Contact: (512) 237-2241

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…
Texas is a state of the mind.

Texas is an obsession.

Above all,

Texas is a nation in every sense of the word.

—John Steinbeck

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