Why and Hereford , Arizona

Louise Speaks: We wanted to make this trip down south worth while so we thought we’d visit every site that we had left to see in southern Arizona.  In order to do that, when leaving Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument we had to take a different ride home.  Our main destination was the Coronado National Monument (to be blogged about later), which is actually just East of Organ Pipe, but because of mountains we have to go north and then east in order to go south again.  About a 200 mile trip to go about 50 miles east.  Oh well, it’s why we call these trips adventures, right?

To get to the main highway we have to go thru a small town called Why?  Why is 30 miles from the Mexican border and 10 miles south of Ajo.  I’m sure Why got it’s name because people must ask, why are we stopping here?  We have found many strange named towns in Arizona like Nothing and Hope.  Who comes up with these names?  I was curious about the name so we had to stop and ask, but since no one seemed to know why, I had to look it up. Apparently the town derives its name from the fact that two major highways originally intersected in a Y Intersection. At the time of its naming, state law required all city names had  to have at least three letters, so the town’s founders named the town “Why” as opposed to simply calling it “Y.”  Later  the old Y-intersection was removed for traffic safety reasons and  two highways were built in a conventional intersection.

Why had a cute little store called the “Why Not” that sold snacks and gas.  They had tuned an old truck into a planter waterfall that was actually pretty cool.  There was a place to eat outside, but not sure if you’d want to since coyotes just roamed the area freely.  They seemed pretty friendly as they would just walk up to your car like a welcome committee.  We had to get out to pay for gas, and other people were walking around like no big deal.  I stayed in the car with Gracie (our travel dog) just in case the coyotes were more interested in furry friends instead of people.


There was quite a bit of business at this stop as it is the last stop before crossing into Rocky Point, a very popular destinations for Arizonans.  We just stopped for a few minutes and we were back on the road.  We had to go east, 160 miles before heading south again to the town of Hereford,



One of our reasons for stopping in Hereford was because of a restaurant rating we had seen on Facebook.  If it’s on Facebook it has to be true right? but we wanted to see for ourselves.  We found the Brite Spot Restaurant and it was a cute little place.  Definetly a hole in the wall kind of place in the middle of the desert.  Nothing else around but this steakhouse.  As soon as we walked in, she asked, “are you here because of Facebook”.  We laughed and said yes…guess they get that a lot.  If I lived here I guess I would eat here, but I don’t think I’d drive very far out of my way to get here.  It had a very western feel, so probably a great place to come for tourists.




We did have a quirky thing to find and it was just called “Miracle Valley”.  We couldn’t get to close and it did appear to be closed down, but it was massive!  The community of Miracle Valley was founded  in 1959 by evangelist A. A. Allen, who established the Miracle Valley Bible College on 1240 acres of land.  Since Allen’s death in 1970 the property has been purchased and/or occupied by a variety of organizations.  The property was foreclosed on in 2009, and a subsequent sale in 2011 to Miracle Valley Arizona Ministries fell through.  In 2014 the property was purchased by another group planning to restore the abandoned and derelict campus and re-establish a bible college.  Here it is 2017 and it still looks abandoned.  We were just able to park outside and take a few pictures.

There is something in Hereford that is definitely worth going to see.  From the main street thru town if you look up the mountain you will see a HUGE cross,  There is a windy road that takes you up to the the chapel of Our Lady of the Sierras.  It is definitely out of the way and you do have to go look for it, but once you find it, you will not regret the effort,  The Shrine consists of a 75 foot tall Cross , a statue depicting Our Lady, a chapel, Stations of the Cross and “Mary’s Knoll” at the foot of the hill which has the office as well as a prayer room.  The view from the top of the hill is breath taking.  The chapel itself is quaint and very inviting and is still a functional chapel.

The history of the Our Lady of the Sierras Shrine started in 1987 when Mr. and Mrs. Chouinard visited family members and decided to hike into Ash Canyon, Arizona.  There they found a for sale sign and later bought the 8 acre property in 1988.  This was to be the site for their retirement home which they built in 1991.  After they had finished their home they decided to erect a cross and Patricia Chouinard stated that she would like a statue of Mary next to it.  This appeared to be a relatively simple task that should be easy to accomplish.   However, this was just the start of problems that would take them 7 more years to resolve.  Many people would have given up the endeavor with all the opposition that they had mounted against their plan.  First the county permitting office told them that the structure could not be over 30 foot tall because of height restrictions in the codes, she wanted the cross to be 75 feet tall.   The only exception to this rule was if the structure was a monument.  By building a chapel as part of the complex, the cross would become a monument and meet the county code.  With the preliminary permit approval they commissioned the cross and statue to be built. These elements were to be fabricated from steel and fiberglass with a concrete covering.  Local opposition sprang up once the plans of the project became known. The ensuing litigation lasted 4 years and finally in March of 1998 the project was completed and in the fall of 1998 the Bishop dedicated the chapel.  In 2002 the 14 Stations of the Cross was completed.  In 2004 and 2005 the “Angel of Revelation” and the “Guardian of Children” were installed.  There is a waterfall that comes down behind the cross into a pond.  There is also a path that leads from there up the mountainside to a grotto that has a view of the San Pedro Valley below. But disaster struck in 2011, when a fire known as the “Monument Fire” started in Mexico and spread to the Shrine.  The fire, whipped by winds, destroyed or damaged 40 homes including the Chouinard home and the Shrine of Our Lady of the Sierras. Good news though is that today, all has been re-built and the shrine is open to every one.  The Chouinards did not rebuild their retirement home.

We spent quite a bit of time here, and it’s been a long day but this was definitely worth the stop and the time.

Holy Trinity Monastery, St. David, AZ

Louise Speaks:  After leaving Tucson we decided to see some places on our list of things to see.  St David, Arizona is a very small, rural town, and is home to the Holy Trinity Monastery.  Our main purpose for stopping was to see the huge Celtic Cross.  But once inside, there is so much more to see.  The cross is 70 feet high and can be seen from Hwy 80.  The cross appears to be guarded by two lions perched on a pedestal.  At the base of the cross is a sign designating it as the “Shrine of the true cross”.

Just past the Celtic Cross is the Meditation Garden.  There is a walking trail around a pond that has large colored fish swimming along the edge.  With the beauty of the large, tree lined pond, visitors attain a peace and solitude that is difficult to find in a busy world.  The Oriental garden has an oriental bridge and lovely flowers to lend its feeling of serenity.  We found a large Peacock sitting up in the tree, and no matter what we did we could not get the peacock to come out of the tree.  

The Lady of Guadalupe Chapel is the most prominent building on the  property.  Mass just happened to be ending as we approached the chapel.  The inside is simple but beautiful.  There is even an organist and the stations of the cross were very nicely done.  The enclosed court yard around the church is a gardener’s delight with the rose garden, flowers and plants of many varieties. The lovely fountain, surrounded by benches, gives the visitor an opportunity to just sit and soak in the peace.  Another rose garden is down in the plaza near the gazeboes and library.

In 1992, the Bureau of Land Management helped dedicate a 1.3 mile Bird Sanctuary trail that borders along the property and is on the other side of the Chapel.  In 1993 the monastery received the “Conservation Co-operator of the Year” award presented by San Pedro National Resource Conservation District. There are other critters roaming around the property and there were some very large trees.  While we were walking the trail, there were artists sitting around the lake painting.  The entire area is very serine.

On the 132 acres, there is not only the Lady of Guadalupe Chapel, living quarters, offices, library, museum, dining hall, Father Louis Hall, and conservatory, but guest houses for the retreats.   The grounds are simply beautiful.  The church seems to have an active following, although many leaving the church today were saying goodbye as they were heading home after spending the winder in St. David. 

In 2017 the Monastery had been ordered to close it’s doors after more than 40 years of serving their community.  However, from what I’m seeing today, the church at least, seems to have a loyal following.  They are still offering retreats and the gift shop and thrift shop are open daily for business.  We found a few things to buy as well, including baked goods.  The grounds are full of pecan trees, and the pecan provide a means of income. 

It would absolutely be a shame if the doors were to close permanently at the Holy Trinity Monastery.  There are so many possibilities here and you  can feel how special this place is the moment you get out of your car.  We stopped here for the cross, but left seeing so much more.  The Holy Trinity Monastery gets an A rating.  I love visiting churches, especially when the grounds surrounding the church are so beautiful and serenity just fills your heart.


Mission #1—Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala, San Diego, CA

Louise Speaks:  Thelma and I just can’t travel, we always have to have a project or something to complete.  In Patricia’s book “1000 Places To See Before You Die”, she has a listing called “The California Mission Trail”.  The Spanish Missions in California comprise of a series of 21 religious outposts; established by Catholic priests  of the Franciscan  order between 1769 and 1833, to expand Christianity  among the Native Americans.  The missions starting in San Diego going northwards to Sonoma, became what is today the  state of California.  There are more missions south of San Diego, but those are in Mexico so not part of the California Mission Trail.  These 21 missions are not in order from south to north, they are numbered by when they were established.  So as we go on the Mission Trail from south to north, you will see we are not seeing them in order.  The missions follow the coastal highway dubbed the “El Camino Real” which is Spanish for the “Royal Road”.  These missions are considered the most beautiful buildings in California and the most historical sites in the country.

Today we are visiting the first mission, and the one furthest south.  This makes number 5 for us out of the 21 missions to see.   This first mission marks the birthplace of Christianity in the west coast of the United States.   This remarkable and significant historical shrine provides an understanding and appreciation of the beginning of Catholicism in this corner of the world, so remote from the Mother Country of Spain and yet so similar.

Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala was founded on July 16, 1769 by Spanish friar Junipero Serra in an area long inhabited by the island.  The mission and the surrounding area were named for the Catholic didacus of Alcala,  a Spaniard more commonly known as San Diego.  The mission was the site of the first Christian burial in Alta California.  San Diego is also generally regarded as the site of the region’s first public execution, in 1778.   Father Luis Jayme, California’s first Christian martyr, lies entombed beneath the chancel  floor.  The current church is the fifth to stand on this location.  The Mission is also a National Historic Landmark.

Relatively, much is known about the native inhabitants in recent centuries, thanks in part to the efforts of the Spanish explorer Juan Cabrillo, who documented his observations of life in the coastal villages he encountered along the Southern California coast in October 1542.  Cabrillo, a  navigator in the service of Spain, is credited with the discovery of the San Diego Bay.   On the evening of September 28, 1542 the ships San Salvador and Victoria sailed into the harbor, whereupon Cabrillo christened it “San Miguel.” During that expedition a landing party went ashore and briefly interacted with a small group of natives.  Some sixty years later another Spanish explorer,  made landfall some ten miles from the present Mission site.  Tres Reyes dropped anchor on November 10, 1602, and the port was renamed “San Diego de Alcalá.”   It woulld be another 167 years before the Spanish returned to San Diego. Ever since the voyages of Christopher Columbus, the Kingdom of Spain  sought to establish missions to convert the land to Roman Catholicism to save souls, and in part, to facilitate colonization  of these lands.  However, it was not until 1741 when the territorial ambitions towards North America became known that King Philip V  felt such installations were necessary in Upper California.

In 1769,  General  Jose de Galvez  sent the expedition of Junipero Serra  to find missions in San Diego and Monterey,  thereby securing Spain’s claim to the Pacific Coast  harbors recommended by Cabrillo,.  Two groups traveled from Lower California on foot, while a pair of packet ships bearing supplies  traveled up the coast from the Baja California Peninsula.  Many members of the overland expeditions fell ill along the way, and a majority of the crews from both ships contracted scurvy during their voyages,  In all, over a hundred men, including the crew of a third ship, died.  Portolà and the “Sacred Expedition” continued on to Monterey Bay  on July 14,  and just two days later, on July 16, a cross was raised and Father Serra held the first Holy Mass, praying for the Pope  and the King of Spain and the Mission San Diego de Alcalá was officially founded.

The padres’ initial efforts to establish an outpost at the San Diego met with little success. The Mission was founded at a site overlooking the Bay, but the natives  resented the Spaniards’ intrusion, and the settlement was attacked within a month.  By the first few months of 1770, food had run low, no permanent buildings were erected, and there had yet to be a single conversion.  Four soldiers, eight  volunteers,  one servant, and six Christian  Indians from Lower California had died from scurvy  since the expedition’s arrival;  serious consideration was therefore given to abandoning the site and returning to the Baja settlements.  It was therefore determined that, if a supply ship did not arrive by March 19, Saint Joseph’s Day,  the expedition would be recalled.  Father Serra feared that if San Diego were abandoned,  centuries might come and go before the country would again be revisited.  Finally, just before sunset on the 19th,  the San Antonio entered the harbor.  The ship had been bound for Monterey to deliver supplies to the expedition waiting there, but had lost one of its anchors and was forced to make port in San Diego, where a spare anchor from the San Carlos could be retrieved.  With the settlement in San Diego now properly outfitted with supplies, the missionaries set about constructing permanent buildings and  in 1773 the site of California’s first Christian burial.   The Mission was relocated to its present location  in August 1774.  The lack of a dependable water supply, coupled with the proximity of the military personnel at the presidio led Father  Luis Jayme to seek permission to relocate the mission from its original site, to the valley some six miles upriver to the east, where it remains today.  Almost immediately there was a noticeable increase in the number of baptisms, which in 1775 totaled 431 compared to 274 for the preceding four years combined.

The baptistry is one of only two sections of the original Mission Basilica still standing from the original construction in the late 18th century.  The restoration project, which began in 2011, was made possible by generous donations.  The restoration project began with an artist painting the baptistry and incorporating the symbols of baptism  such as blue for water and a shell.  Next came the decision as to what to do with the font itself.  The original baptismal font associated with the Mission is a portable copper vessel with a floral, petal motif on the lid that is now in the museum.  When the Mission church was restored in the 1930’s, the baptistry did not have a font.  It was not until the 1970’s that the current baptismal font was added.  The font is a replica of the stone basin from the Church of St. Peter  in Petra, Mallorca, Spain.  The Petra font was where Father Junipero Serra was baptized in 1713.  The original font from Serra’s baptismal place has a copper top that would cover the stone basin.


The bells at mission San Diego de Alcala were vital and important to daily mission life.  There were five bells arranged in two rows of two bells and one row of one bell.  The bells were rung at important events of the day such as mealtimes, to call mission residents to work, during a birth of a child or death/funeral of a resident.  The bells were also used to signal the approach of a ship or other artical, and were also rung for  rituals.

Much happened in history over the next 150 years.  On August 9, 1834 Governor Figueroa issued his “Decree of Confiscation.”  The missions were offered for sale to citizens, who were unable to come up with the price, so all mission property was broken up into ranchos  and given to ex-military officers who had fought in the War of Independence against Spain.  On June 8, 1846 Mission San Diego de Alcalá was given to Santiago Arguello  by Governor Pio Pico for servcices rendered to the government.  After the United States annexed California,  the Mission was used by the military from 1846 to 1862.  In 1848, after the Mexican American War, the United States Army occupied the mission grounds until 1858.  The Army made numerous modifications on the mission grounds, including the conversion of the church into a two-story building, and the establishment of a military cemetery.    President Abraham Lincoln  signed a proclamation on May 23, 1862 that restored ownership of the Mission proper to the Roman Catholic Church.  Following the Army occupation, the mission fell into ruin, and remained abandoned until 1891 when Father Antonio Dominic Ubach and the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet moved the Saint Anthony’s Industrial School for Indian children from Old Town San Diego to the mission grounds.   In the 1880s Father Anthony Ubach  began to restore the old Mission buildings.  Father Ubach died in 1907 and restoration work ceased until 1931.  Upon Father Ubachs death, the school at the mission closed  and was moved to Banning, California.  Two dormitories were built for the students of Saint Anthony’s, one of which exists today as the Religious Education Center of Mission San Diego de Alcalá.   In 1941, the Mission once again became a parish  church and is still an active parish serving the Diocese of San Diego.  As most Catholics know, a church becomes a Basilica when the Pope conducts mass in the church.   In 1976, Pope Paul VI held mass here and designated the Mission church as a basilica.

The mission is kept alive through donations and proceeds from a small gift shop on site.  Many tourists, like us, visit the mission every day.  Every year the missions are  visited by thousands of fourth graders from throughout the state studying California history.  I know 4 of my grand children have visited at least one mission.  My daughter tried to arrange it so that as each child reached 4th grade they would visit a different mission.  Many of the missions are within miles of each other so it is very easy to visit more than one mission per day.  This journey has been very adventurous, and although the missions are so similar they are all different and unique in their own way.  I can’t wait to get on to the next one.