Scottsdale, Arizona

The fair is tiny, but perfect, and M-girl delights in pressing the button that makes it come to life. Further down, dinosaurs roam among orange trees, and even further, a perfect Lego city has been settled around the railroad tracks. In yet another display, several Spidermen ride on top of a train, while another perches on the tunnel through which the same train passes.

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Tonto National Forest, Arizona

She runs along the path, and my heart races. The trail is beautiful, but it’s challenging. And if you’re not careful, you’ll end up rolling down a hill… into cacti. We remind her not to run, and she listens for a while, but the joy of the desert has got a hold of her, and she finds it hard to contain her happiness. Even with my heart in my throat,  I can’t help but feel my heart bursting with love for this little girl, whose joy is unmistakable as she skips down the trail at Tonto National Forest.

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Apache Junction, Arizona

They squeal in delight as they spot the castle, and run towards it, despite requests to “walk, please” from us. A whole castle inside a library—it’s too hard to contain the excitement. They explore the area fully, and K-girl is happy to explain who the elf on the wall is. She also spots the magic mirror on the wall, and G-boy doesn’t waste any time in going to explore the second storey.

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Horse Trails Boondock, Arizona

On our way to Tonto National Forest, we make a stop at a free camping location—Horse Trails Boondock in Arizona. There are a number of RVs and a couple of tents there, but there’s still plenty of room for us. It’s a nice place to stay for the night, but it’s sad that in the middle of a wilderness like this, you can’t see too many stars. The lights from Phoenix are too close.

This trips has been delightful, for the most part, but travelling isn’t always sunshine and roses. From the beach litterbugs, to scary campgrounds, to people who apparently don’t like children, we’ve had a few downers on the trip.

Pinterest Title Image. White and pink letters read: Hiking & Free Camping, Horse Trails Boondock, Arizona, www.marianamdougall.com. Background photo by Mariana Abeid-McDougall shows mountains in the distance, and several saguaro cactus in front of the mountain.

 

At the boondocking place, the children run up and down a small hill and squeal in delight. A man who had made a fire pit well away from the top of the small hill lets us know to keep the children away from it, because “he doesn’t want them to get hurt.” But it’s obvious from the way he says it, that he’s more afraid they’ll hurt it. Another guy blasts music well into the wee hours of the morning. In the same camping spot, a lady thinks it’s no big deal to dump her gray tank directly on the ground. Well, at least it was only the gray tank. Still. It’s behaviour like this that gets RVers banned from places. But all’s not sad.

 

mountain view from horse trails boondock trail. A mountain is on the left, with white clouds above on the right, and saguaro cati below.

 

We meet a lovely lady named Martha, who has been travelling full time with her dog and cat in a renovated, vintage travel trailer. We talk for a while, and she allows the children to pet and play with her little dog. Martha is a kind soul, and we feel comfortable enough with one another to say goodbye with a hug when we leave.

In the morning, we get to see the horses and mules leaving for the trails. Unfortunately, horse poop bags are a foreign concept to all these people, so when we go hiking, the trail is full of horse poop. We just watch where we step, and the gorgeous views make up for the inconvenience.

 

The view from the horse trail boondocks near Apache Juncion, Arizona. Cactus plants, greenery and a sand mountain can be seen in the forefront, and large mountains are seen in the background

 

The mountains are beautiful enough, but the sky puts on a gorgeous display, too.

 

Sky at horse trails boondock trail White clouds above vegetation outlines.

 

Hiking and dry camping overnight are free at Horse Trails Boondock, but as with everything that’s free, you’ll have good and bad people making use of the facilities. For us, the trail and a new friend made up for the unfortunate experience with the other campers. And, just like everything else in life, you can choose to concentrate on the bad things or the good ones. We’ll be looking at these photos and choosing to remember the amazing views from the trail.

Goldfield Ghost Town, Arizona

She stands behind the counter, and says hello to tourists as they come in. I always feel awkward coming in to artisan shops when I know I probably won’t buy anything, but Monika seems to enjoy watching people enjoy her art, whether or not they make a purchase.

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The day we stumbled on a mission

We arrive at the church 15 minutes before mass begins, and barely get a place to sit down. My knees gave out once already today, so I’m glad for the seat. Until we got here, we had no idea that this church is over 200 years old. 

Pinterest tile image. Pink and white letters read: "San Xavier del Bac Mission, A Catholic gem in Tohono O'odham Nation, Arizona. Background photo by Mariana ABeid-McDougall shows the chapel at San Xavier del Bac, and a cactus garden in front of it.

 

During this trip, each Sunday, we just look up a Catholic church close to where we happen to be that has ample parking and mass at a time we can get to. Today the church that fit all those requirements was San Xavier del Bac Mission. We didn’t do much reading about the church prior to driving here; we just came for mass. We got mass and a history lesson, too—plus gorgeous scenery all around.

 

San Xavier del Bac Mission façade. A white church with two towers.

 

At the risk of being criticized, I’ll confess that I’ve never been a fan of hugely ornate churches, and that I’m not a big fan of statuary, other than to admire it as art. Personally, I prefer the simple churches, where we concentrate on prayer rather than on lavish shows of material things. But there’s something to be said for the number of hours it took to construct a church like this and to create the art within its walls with the limited resources they had in the late 1700s.

 

San Xavier del Bac sanctuary. several statues and ornate details in gold under an archway.

 

San Xavier del Bac Mission church. A cross is etched into a wall and surrounded by paintings of saints.

 

We also should not forget that not all missions were welcome, and that most of them operated on stolen land. The history told at this particular mission seems to portray it as well received, and San Xavier del Bac sits within the Tohono O’odham Reservation near Tucson, Arizona, where some indigenous customs seem to have been preserved alongside the adoption of Catholicism. The village is well taken care of, and the people are friendly.

The church is active, and in addition to parishioners, many pilgrims visit it each year. Many claim they have received miracles here. After mass, we visit the museum, which tells the story of how the church was built, and the efforts made to preserve this historical building. There is no charge to walk through the museum, but donations are welcome in a box at the entrance.

 

Display at San Xavier del Bac mission museum. ladles made out of gourds, pottery vases, and a stone bench sit next to a wooden table. All items are handmade from the 1800s.

 

Antique bible at San Xavier del Bac mission. Large Bible handwritten in Latin.

 

Near the church, there is a hill and a grotto, and I brave climbing the hill after mass. With my knee braces on and my walking stick to help me, I make somewhat easy work of climbing without a path to guide me. Many people come up here to place candles and pray for miracles. Unfortunately, the wind knocks down the candles, so the rocks are littered with glass. If you do come and decide to climb, watch where you place your feet and your hands.

 

A woman looks at a cross on a hill. She is leaning on a wooden walking stick.

 

I’ve found this place peaceful and enjoyed walking through here, so we return again on a different day, after spending time at Saguaro National Park.

When we return to the mission, I go into the church to pray the rosary. First I walk through the church and take in the details. It’s a little easier to notice more this time, because Dan has the kids back at the RV.

After walking through, I sit in one of the pews, with my walking stick beside me. My knees are really sore today and have given out a number of times, even though I have my braces on. I need my walking stick for support. But now that I’m sitting down, I’m fine, and I start to pray. After a while, a dog meanders into the building. There are many dogs on the reservation, and they walk about freely, looking like strays, but they have collars on. This dog comes into my pew and places his head on my lap. He’s obviously waiting for me to pet him, so I do. When I stop, he places his head on my lap again, and I pet him again. He leaves a while later.

 

garden at San Xavier del Bac Mission, Arizona. Trees and a fountain can be seen, with an arched wall at the back.

 

When I’m done in the church, I ask someone outside who the dog belongs to. He says he belongs to the village, and everyone looks after him. I’m not sure, but it seems that strays might walk into the mission, and the people who live here just adopt them. We also meet a friendly cat later.

The church is impressive, the museum is interesting, and there are lovely items in the gift shop. But the most impressive part of this place, to me, is the natural beauty surrounding the human-made buildings.

 

Mountains anda blue sky with some clouds. View from San Xavier del Bac mission hill.

 

Mountains anda blue sky with some clouds, viewed in between a rock wall with two short towers on each side. View from San Xavier del Bac mission hill.

 

After enjoying our visit, we try some Indian Frybread, which was quite delicious. I tried a savoury one with beans and cheese, and a sweet one with cinnamon sugar. They were both delicious, and I think I’d like to try making some when I return home. They’re definitely a treat food to be enjoyed sparingly, but they sure are good.

We had two very pleasant visits to San Xavier del Bac, and we highly recommend making the trip here, whether you’re a history buff, Catholic pilgrim, a lover of mountains, or just someone who enjoys learning more about the places you visit.