The dazzling white towers of this mission rise from the dusty desert floor 8 miles south of Tucson – a mesmerizing structure that brings an otherworldly glow to the scrubby landscape surrounding it. Nicknamed 'White Dove of the Desert,' the original mission was founded by Jesuit missionary Father Eusebio Kino in 1700, but was mostly destroyed in the Pima uprising of 1751.
Its successor was gracefully rebuilt in the late 1700s in a harmonious blend of Moorish, Byzantine and Mexican Renaissance styles. Carefully restored in the 1990s with the help of experts from the Vatican and still religiously active, it's one of the best-preserved and most beautiful Spanish missions in the country.
The extraordinary splendor behind its thick walls begs for a closer look. Your eyes are instantly drawn to the wall-sized carved, painted and gilded retable behind the altar, which tells the story of creation in dizzying detail. In the left transept the faithful line up to caress and pray to a reclining wooden figure of St Francis, the mission's patron saint. Metal votive pins shaped like body parts have been affixed to his blanket, offered in the hope of healing.
A small museum explains the history of the mission and its construction. Free 45-minute docent tours (four to six per day, Monday to Saturday) add helpful context. Visit the website for daily tour times. American Indians sell frybread, jewelry and crafts in the parking lot.
From I-19, take exit 92.