Roadside Photographs - St. Xavier Mission, Tucson, Arizona

The roadside photographs must continue, and an area that is best visited in the winter, spring, and fall is Tucson, Arizona. Flooded with snowbirds in the winter, people who move to the warmth during the cold months from the northern United States, Tucson sits in a fairly flat valley with the famous Saguaro National Parks on both sides. Sitting just west of Highway 10 is the very old St. Xavier Mission, the "White Dove of the Desert."


The current St. Xavier Mission was started in 1783 and was finished in 1797, although it was previously under construction as early as 1692.  Following Mexican independence in 1821, the mission belonged to Mexico until 1854 when it was part of the Gadsden Purchase.  It seems that the mission has always been a Franciscan edifice, and the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity still reside and teach there.  It remains a functioning religious building for the faithful of the area.  The building is constructed of low-fire clay brick, stone and lime mortar, and the "entire structure is roofed with masonry vaults, making it unique among Spanish Colonial buildings within the US borders." (

Ansel Adams made a photograph of this mission, from about the same location as you see here.  His does not have the palm tree in the middleground, nor does it have the cactus off to the left.  I took many different images on three separate occasions, all of which were around late afternoon, sunset, and then dusk.  Dusk is actually quite nice, as the mission glows white and pink in the light.  A small hill to the east of the mission also gives a nice vantage point and gives the mission some context of the surrounding buildings and desert valley.  Here, I shot with a Canon 5D Mark II and a 70-200 mm lens.  Overall, the light gives nice contrast around the dome and the shadows emerge, off-setting the great shape of this building.  The colors, of course, speak for themselves.  I was using a circular-polarizer filter, and was using it pretty heavily.  You may notice that the blues in the sky are very rich, a product of that harsh polarization.


Camera: Canon 5D Mark II
Lens: Canon 70-200 mm f/2.8 at 70 mm
Settings: ISO 100, f/8, 1/60th of a second
Other: Circular Polarizer filter

GETTING THERE:  Go south out of Tucson on Highway 19 and take Exit 92 and head west.  There is excellent signage, and you will soon see the church to the northwest.

WHERE TO EAT/STAY: There are all the usual motel/hotel options in Tucson, but food can be another story.  Search out the Mexican food, of course, but I enjoyed a particularly stylish and fresh restaurant call The Hub with a reasonable selection, great ambiance, and ice cream to die for.


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How I Got That Shot - Marc Muench

Ansel adamsArchitecture photographyArizonaCatholicChurchDesertFranciscansJoel addamsJune 2012Photography tipsPicturelineSt. xavierSunnyTucsonWarm places to photographWhite dove of the desert