Out here in the Sonoran Desert, the land of five seasons, Spring is a short event running from February through April. Usually our Spring features a gentle warming trend that signals the end of our admittedly short and mild Winter. This year was a bit different as we experienced multiple rapid temperature swings over the past few months. There were several times when one night’s low temperature surpassed the next day’s high! Not really sure if it was at all related to the El Niño currents in the Pacific Ocean though I do believe we owe our extra rainfall to the phenomenon.
The crazy weather may have kept us guessing but it certainly did not slow us down. February was a month filled with visitors. We have many reasons to love Spring in Tucson but one of our favorites is that Tucson hosts the Gem and Mineral Show every February which brings our good friend Brendan to town. The majority of Brendan’s time is occupied with rocks and rock geeks but he always finds time for a small adventure. This year, since we have a house again, we were finally able to return all his generous hospitality and host him. Our first houseguest! Good thing he is easygoing because our house was (and still is) a work in progress. We promised him that by next February we’ll have things whipped into shape.
The following weekend my Grandma Eileen, Aunt Paula, her boyfriend Harry and their constant companion Carlos Juan Diego the Chihuahua came over for the day. They hadn’t seen the property yet so we were really excited to show them around. After the grand tour we enjoyed a leisurely lunch on the patio since the weather cooperated so nicely. We also celebrated my Grandma’s 94th birthday–she makes getting old look easy. If I live that long I sure hope I am in that good of shape, both mentally and physically.
The next week we were treated to a visit by Lance’s Uncle Russell and Aunt Kathy from California. We didn’t get to spend much time with them during the day since work made demands but we did share a couple fun evenings together. It is always nice to get together with loved ones and catch up on each other’s lives and events. Though it had been warm and sunny during their visit, the day his Aunt and Uncle left town the bottom dropped out—several inches of fresh snow coated the mountaintops, rain soaked the lower elevations and it was awfully close to freezing at night. Coincidence? I think not!
As much as I appreciated all that wet weather I was a tiny bit peeved since my sister Desirée and I couldn’t tackle our planned Letterboxing adventure. We are both really enthusiastic Letterboxers—we love deciphering the clues and trekking around town to discover these hidden little artistic treasures. Plus it gives us a chance to share our lives and discuss the latest news. Though flooded washes kept us from our original route we braved the elements and sought out less soggy locations.
It was a great Letterboxing day even if we weren’t 100% successful: one box eluded our valiant efforts though we did stumble across some smoking paraphernalia (of the non-tobacco kind, which we promptly disposed of). If you knew my rather proper sister you’d understand why I found it so hilarious…
The first day of March we gathered with Lance’s family to celebrate the second birthday of the youngest member of the clan. It was a fun evening of games and good food with entertainment provided by the two silly boys. And by silly boys I don’t mean Lance and Jed—though they are often quite entertaining—I was referring to Andrew and Aiden.
Speaking of second occasions to celebrate—this March the University of Arizona hosted the second annual Tucson Festival of Books. The free, two-day festival describes itself as “a celebration of literacy, the literacy of the written word as well as the literacy of language through music, song, and the spoken word.” I had such a good time attending and volunteering at the event last year that I signed up to do it again this year.
Apparently I wasn’t the only one who loved it—it garnered the sixth position on the list of Top Ten U.S. Book Festivals! This year’s event was bigger and better with over 450 authors and presenters and close to 80,000 attendees. The weather was picture perfect and I think it safe to say that a good time was had by all. On top of all that, the festival raised over $200,000 for literacy programs!
The month seemed to pick up steam as it moved along—our waking hours were rather filled by the end of March. Not that it was all work. We did sneak out for a fun night of baseball with Lance’s family and as if that evening wasn’t filled with enough puns we attended a showing of The Cisco Kid. It was put on by the Gaslight Theatre—a Tucson favorite that is beloved for its farcical productions. This musical melodrama was full of double entendres and other shenanigans, and the best part? Audience participation was not only encouraged it was mandatory!
March turned out to be my month to dabble in the actors’ realm. Not only did I attend a fun theatrical performance with Lance but I worked behind the scenes during the filming of a documentary about Juan Bautista de Anza. That is one of the fun things about the environmental education group that I work with—they are involved in some incredibly interesting programs. I was only a gofer but I was on location from sun-up to sun-down and learned quite a bit.
The weekend of filming took place down south at the Hacienda Corona de Guevavi Bed and Breakfast near Arizona’s largest border town, Nogales. The location couldn’t have been more appropriate since the Hacienda’s 36 acres are a small remnant of the vast Guevavi Ranch once owned by Juan Bautista de Anza, Sr. The elder Anza established his spread in 1728 near the small Guevavi Mission which Father Eusebio Kino founded in 1691 along the Santa Cruz River. Anza’s hacienda had the distinction of being Arizona’s first livestock ranch. The men who share the Anza name left quite a mark on history, especially here in southern Arizona.
1736 was a monumental year on the Spanish frontier: Captain Juan Bautista de Anza’s wife, Maria Rosa Bezerra Nieto, gave birth to a son which was named after his father, and a huge ledge of silver was discovered near Nogales. It was Captain Anza’s job to certify the find and restore order to the community. In Anza’s official government correspondence he used the name of his deputy’s nearby ranch: Arizona. The name quickly became associated with the famous area and ultimately, our fair state.
In 1737 Captain Anza requested permission to explore an overland route to Alta California. On the frontier of Sonora correspondence was slow and life was treacherous, in 1740 Anza was ambushed and killed by a group of Apaches. To her credit, his wife Maria remained in the area, raising their children and running the three large Anza family ranches. After her death Maria was buried in front of the Guevavi Mission altar.
Anza Junior followed in his father’s footsteps, in 1752 he enlisted in the army. As his father had done Anza rose quickly through the ranks and became captain in 1760. A year later he married Ana María Pérez Serrano, the daughter of a wealthy mine owner. Like his father before him Anza requested permission to explore a possible route to Alta California. The King of Spain approved the expedition and on January 8, 1774 Anza and a small party left the presidio at Tubac. The hope was to connect Sonora and California by land. Anza’s years of exploration and building good relationships with some of the native populations served him well, his scouting party reached Monterey, California on April 19th. His trip a success, Anza returned to Tubac in late May. For his efforts Anza was promoted to lieutenant-colonel and charged with an important task: establish and colonize a harbor further north in Alta California to deter the advancing Russians.
After months of recruiting, training, and hard work Anza’s colonizing expedition left Tubac on October 23, 1775. It was rather slow going since the group consisted of just under 300 people (including women and children) and 1000 animals, but they finally reached Monterey in March 1776. Leaving the families to rest, Anza and his soldiers scouted the San Francisco Bay, searching for an ideal spot for the new presidio. Since Anza’s mission was finished he did not stay in California to establish San Francisco but returned to his duties in Sonora. A year later Anza was rewarded with the prestigious job of Governor of the Province of New Mexico. In the final chapter of his military career Anza was to return to southern Arizona. In late 1788 he was appointed commander of the Tucson Presidio, but he died before he could assume the role.
Indirectly responsible for the name of our state and directly responsible for California’s fourth most populous city the Anza family left quite a mark on this part of the country. When the Anza documentary is finished, some time next year, it will have quite a tale to tell. But, back to the hacienda. The Guevavi Ranch was homesteaded in 1915 and grew to become one of the largest in the area. In 1956 Ralph Wingfield, a well-known rancher, purchased the property and with the help of his business partner John Wayne he began enlarging his holdings. The ranch soon encompassed close to 100,000 acres! The ranch also became a retreat for John and some of his Hollywood friends: Elizabeth Taylor and Stewart Granger among others.
In 1988, almost 300 years after its founding, Wingfield donated the Guevavi Mission portion of his ranch to the Archaeological Conservancy which later passed it on to the Tumacácori National Historical Park. About the same time the massive ranch was parceled off with the Hacienda Corona, the heart of the ranch, becoming a bed and breakfast. It seemed sad that after 250 years the end had come to the Anza ranch but thankfully, the Anza name will not disappear from the area: my entire drive home I followed the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail Auto Route.
Aaahh, Spring—what a great season!
Photos: View our photographs from Spring in Tucson.
Notes: Read more about Anza’s expedition on our post Missions of the Santa Cruz Valley from February 2008.