The Sublime & The Terrifying (Arizona) 13-Jan-2022

Today we were headed north for more hiking near Scottsdale. But before departing Green Valley, we visited two sites that address the idea of protection but from radically different directions.

San Xavier del Bac Mission

The bright white towers of the mission church at San Xavier del Bac are clearly visible from Interstate-19 south of Tucson. We have driven past them many, many times on our various journeys through southern Arizona. Today was our opportunity to pay the mission a long deferred visit.

San Xavier was founded as a Catholic mission by Father Eusebio Kino in 1692. Construction of the current church began in 1783 and was completed in 1797. Today the mission is an active Roman Catholic Parish in the Diocese of Tucson set within the Tohono O’odaham Nation ministering to Native Americans and the local community. It is a National Historic Landmark. The fact that this 225-year old structure is still standing, despite earthquakes, lightning strikes, and natural wear, is due to seemingly perpetual maintenance and restoration. Although the east tower was undergoing restoration during our visit, the church was open to visitors.

The front of the church – with renovation in progress
View of the altar
Altar close-up
Vaulted ceiling detail
The red stripes are rain gutters
The west tower
The sun also rises
Decorative ironwork

The mission seems to have successfully navigated the often fraught relations between the various peoples – both indigenous and introduced – of the Southwest and is today a treasured part of the local community. We can only hope that it is a source of comfort in these trying times.

Titan Missile Museum

Not far south of San Xavier del Bac, is Complex 571-7, a Titan II ballistic missile site, one of 54 such sites that were on alert across the United States between 1963 and 1987. Unlike many Cold War relics, this site, thanks to some prescient planning, was preserved (except for strategic arms limitation requirements) essentially intact. We took the tour and it felt like the alert crew had just left.

The primary purpose of these 54 Titan IIs, each armed with a 9 megaton nuclear weapon, and capable of being launched in 58 seconds, was to credibly convince the “other guy” not to shoot first. Or ever for that matter. Failing that, Complex 571-7 and its brethren were to assure there would be no winners. As twisted as it sounds, this doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) has thus far worked and there is considerable comfort in that.

The launch complex keeps a pretty low profile above ground
At the blast door leading to the Launch Control Center
Launch Control Center
The LovedOne transits the cableway between the Launch Control Center and the Missile Silo
An inert Titan II missile in the Silo
Looking down into the Silo
Inside view of the Stage I motor
Inside view of the Stage II motor
Looking toward Mount Wrightson from inside the perimeter

The liquid-fueled Titan II was eventually retired because keeping it ready 24/7 was a difficult and complex task. The nearly catastrophic Damascus Incident helped move along its demise. Titans were replaced by the Minuteman III, of which there are 400 currently operational on the Great Plains. MAD goes on…


4 thoughts on “The Sublime & The Terrifying (Arizona) 13-Jan-2022

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  1. Well, decades of drive-bys preceded our finally paying the mission a visit. It’s a smaller version of some of the cathedrals you’ll find in Veracruz and Mexico City – amazing that it’s lasted 200+ years! We were there early – just after the mission opened – but I suspect fresh tortillas are still available there (or nearby) later in the day. 😋


  2. Wow! This really took me back. While I never went to that missile museum, I went to San Xavier del Bac Mission back in either 3rd or 4th grade (this was decades ago). I didn’t remember much of the mission but I remember exploring the grounds and the fresh corn tortillas they had served us hot with butter and salt when we went.


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