Travel Log – Road Trip to Tubac and Tumacacori in Southern Arizona
Last February I took a road trip down south and when you live in Scottsdale, Arizona “down south” can only mean one thing……the Mexican Border. Not to say that there isn’t a lot of beautiful places between here and the border because there is! But I was focused on one thing and that was shooting more photos for my upcoming book entitled, “Southwestern Spirituality“. I was on the hunt for more powerful spiritual and sacred sites to add to my collection. On this particular trip I wanted to go to a few places that I had not been to in a long time, Tubac for it’s artsy qualities and Tumacacori for it’s historic and architectural qualities.
This quest of mine to photograph sacred, religious and spiritual sites around the Southwest has been going on for several years now. I am drawn to hauntingly beautiful old cemeteries, mission churches, ancient spiritual sites and any other “powerful” site that I seem to happen upon in my travels through Arizona and New Mexico. I was not sure exactly where this fascination came from then I realized that after years of looking at one of my favorite Ansel Adams photos on my living room wall that was where my inspiration came from. Not only do I have a very strong connection to New Mexico but of course being a photographer I am in awe of Ansel Adams stunning and powerful black & white photographs and “Moonrise over Hernandez, New Mexico” was the one that spoke to me. In the 1940’s when this dramatic photo was shot Hernandez was a hauntingly beautiful little village in Northern New Mexico with a rustic cemetery in the foreground and the moon rising up over the Sangre De Cristo Mountains. How could I not be inspired by such a powerful scene?
The feel and look of these religious and spiritual sites have such different feelings to me in each part of the Southwest. In New Mexico there is a very pronounced and heavy Spanish and Catholic feel very tightly woven with the Native American mysticism that is Northern New Mexico. In Arizona I find the same but with a heavy dose of Mexican influence with a dash of the Old West thrown in.
When I arrived in the artist community of Tubac, Arizona I looked at the colorful tourist map of the town and my eyes quickly fixed on the old cemetery that was at the end of town. It was late afternoon and the light was getting good so I jumped in my car and headed down the lonely road that lead to it. The cemetery had kind of a creepy feel to it as I entered the gates but a beautiful kind of creepy. I had never been to a cemetery where almost every inscription on the headstones was written in Spanish, but being only about 30 miles from the border of Mexico it wasn’t a surprise. I slowly wandered through this historical cemetery marveling at the craftsmanship that went not only into many of the iron fences that enclosed the burial sites but the metal crosses and crucifixes that were gently hung with love on the headstones. How so much time and attention had been paid to honoring the loved ones that had passed and making sure that they were cared for in the after life – where ever that might be. It was a humbling experience and I thanked the spirits as I left the cemetery for letting me wander among them.
Onto Nogales for the night and then my 1st stop in the morning would be at Tumacácori NHP. This National Historic Park protects three Spanish Colonial Mission ruins: Tumacácori, Guevavi, and Calabazas. These missions are among more than twenty established in the Pimería Alta by Father Kino and other Jesuits, and later expanded upon by Franciscan Missionaries.
It was a crisp and very sunny late winter morning when I arrived at Tumacacori and there was not a cloud in the sky. To most that would be perfect weather but to a photographer who was looking to add depth and mood to their photographs those aren’t the best conditions. But like I always say; “When Ma Nature gives you lemons you had better make the best lemonade that you can”. So that’s what I did. There is a nice visitor center with a great little gift shop where I purchased a beautiful little tin cutout of the mission, I was told by the Park Ranger that this artist had passed away not too long ago and that made the piece even more special to me. There are also some educational exhibits as well as old photographs of the site to give you informaiton about this historic place.
Of course the star of the show at Tumacacori is the beautiful and historic mission; San José de Tumacácori, it was established in January 1691. In this harsh environment, especially in the summer, it is hard to imagine how anyone decided to not only start a mission here that long ago but to settle here. As I was driving down from Scottsdale all I could notice was how I was entering a land of dust, thorns and all sorts of prickly things but that’s the desert of Southern Arizona. Not that Scottsdale is any different as far as dust and thorns but I am pretty sure we don’t have as many prickly and thorny things in my neighborhood. The photo opportunities here are endless, it is best to get there right when they open BEFORE the tour buses and crowds arrive, we all know how much fun it is to have to wait for people to get out of your frame. I was in my own happy little world as I pretty much had the place to myself for most of the morning, with the silence it was easy to get absorbed in “the place” and be able to work with no feelings that I hurry along or rush my shot so someone could walk through….this is the way that I work best, with no distractions and being totally present. I was like a kid in a candy store and loving the old adobe ruins, the church, the cemetery, the shadows, the clean adobe lines against the blue sky – even though some clouds would have been a nice touch.
When I got home I could hardly wait to start processing my photos. I process most of my photos using Photomatix HDR software and then importing them into Lightroom for some minor sharpening or color tweaks. I knew that the HDR process would help bring out the beautiful detail and texture that was ALL over Tumacacori. As some of you know I teach photographers how to apply Photomatix to thier own photographs in my private HDR classes. This past July I also launched my ONLINE HDR Class; in my “Turn your Photos into Fine Art” Online HDR Class . In this 43 minute online video class I show you the basics of how to get started applying these techniques to your photos too as well as some of the tips and tricks that I use to achieve the results that I get in my photos. As my “Thank You” to you for purchasing my class I will send you a coupon for a FREE 16×20 metal or canvas print from McKenna Pro Lab (a $65 value) – this “Thank You” gift expires on Sept 30th so don’t delay! Also when you purchase this class a personal access code to review the class for 14 days is emailed to you…so don’t delay, buy now and watch later.
My “Southwestern Spirituality” book should be available in November 2011 – watch for announcements here and on Facebook – happy shooting and happy HDR-ing!