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Spanish and Mexican frontier

Where to experience the Spanish and Mexican frontier
Learn more about the Spanish and Mexican frontier
Local Preservation Success Stories

Where to experience the Spanish and Mexican frontier

Throughout the year, a variety of events celebrate Spanish Colonial and Mexican period traditions in the Santa Cruz Valley. Summertime celebrations include the Día de San Juan and the Fíesta de San Agustín, two Saint’s Day festivals with roots extending back to the Spanish-era Tucson Presidio. Local residents gather for these two events and listen to singers, watch folklorico dancers and processions, and enjoy Mexican food.

Tucson's Birthday Celebration, the anniversary of the founding of the Tucson Presidio, is celebrated at an annual flag raising, attended by local residents dressed in historic costumes.

  Photo courtesy of Murray Bolesta/
Photo courtesy of Murray Bolesta and

Historic attire is required for attendance at annual traditional Latin masses held at churches in Tubac and Tumacácori during the Anza Days Cultural Celebration and at Christmas, respectively. 

Toward the end of the year the Nacimiento, a miniature Christmas scene, is presented at the Casa Cordova within the Tucson Museum of Art Complex.

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Check out our Heritage Experiences map to see where else you can experience Spanish and Mexican frontier in the Santa Cruz Valley.

Spanish and Mexican frontier
A number of the presidio fortresses, missions, and ranches occupied between the 1680s and 1854 are still preserved in the Santa Cruz Valley, and many are open to the public. The missions of Tumacácori and Guevavi were established by Father Eusebio Francisco Kino in 1691, and the visita of Calabazas was constructed in the 1750s. All three are part of Tumacácori National Historical Park.

The Tubac Presidio State Historic Park commemorates the presidio established there in 1752, and includes an innovative underground archaeology display.

San Xavier del Bac was a Native American village where Father Kino established a mission in 1700. Construction of the existing church, which still serves parishioners of the Tohono O'odham Nation, began in the 1780s and was apparently completed in 1797.

Recent efforts to restore the church have focused on cleaning the interior, exposing many paintings hidden beneath several centuries of smoke and dirt. Ongoing work on the exterior of the church includes the replacement of concrete stucco with a re-creation of the original lime-and-cactus-juice stucco, which prevents water from becoming trapped in the walls of the structure.


This actively used church, widely considered to be the finest example of Spanish colonial architecture in the United States, is open to the public.

The planned Tucson Origins Heritage Park will re-create portions of the San Agustín Mission and the Presidio of Tucson.

The Juan Bautista de Anza National Historical Trail commemorates the route followed by Anza, a Spanish officer, who led an expedition of 198 settlers and 1,000 head of livestock from Sonora to found a presidio and mission at San Francisco Bay in 1775. The route traversed the Santa Cruz Valley, and the final staging area was the Tubac presidio. The expedition opened an overland route connecting Sonora and Alta California, whose missions and presidios were previously isolated. The National Park Service is working with local governments and volunteer groups in Arizona and California to develop the trail as an auto route linking sites related to Spanish colonial history, with portions of the trail developed for hikers, horseback riders, mountain bikers, and bird watchers.

No other existing or planned National Heritage Area is located on the United States - Mexico border or has a Spanish colonial theme. Although the area along the Santa Cruz River from Nogales northward has been a part of the United States for 150 years, the influences of Spain and Mexico remain strong. Communities are increasingly looking back and celebrating their Hispanic cultural heritage. Annual events, such as the traditional Christmas Mass at Tumacácori National Historical Park, recall celebrations that took place 100 and even 200 years ago. Sonoran-style cuisine which combines Spanish, Mexican, and local Native American influences, is available in many restaurants throughout the region. Local Spanish and Mexican heritage sites are receiving increased visitation as people seek out a greater understanding of the unique history along the Santa Cruz River. Currently no other National Heritage Area celebrates the contribution that the Spain and Mexico made in what is now the United States.

Read about the Spanish and Mexican Frontier theme in the feasibility study.

Local Preservation Success Stories
The reconstruction of the Presidio San Agustín del Tucson was completed in 2007 and is an excellent preservation success story for the Spanish and Mexican Frontier theme.  Read more! 


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