Wright & Western Wonders

We made a day trip from Tulsa to Bartlesville combining a hardy dose of Frank Lloyd Wright and an afternoon of Western heritage at Woolaroc, the former ranch retreat of oilman Frank Phillips circa 1925.

Price Tower 66 Price Tower in downtown Bartlesville holds the distinction of being the only realized skyscraper designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Commissioned by Harold C. Price, the 19-story structure opened in 1956. Today the building hosts offices, The Inn at Price Tower, Copper Bar and the Price Tower Art Center.

From Bartlesville we drove westward to the Osage Hills. Although the multitude of trees stand bare the last week of official winter we easily imagine the beauty of the area in leafy green or the colors of autumn. Woolaroc – the name derived from the words: woods, lakes, rocks – encompasses 3,600 acres. Visitors discover a diverse hidden gem featuring wildlife preserve, museum celebrating the American West, Phillip’s historic lodge home, petting barn, mountain man camp, picnic sites and walking trails.

*Additional Bartlesville HighlightsWoolaroc Bison

*Recommended Eateries

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White Dove of the Desert

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Renovated and unveiled San Xavier del Bac Mission glistens in the Sonora Desert, south of Tucson. For the first time in years no scaffolding obscured the front or west tower of the famed, "White Dove of the Desert."

On our previous visits the mission was undergoing major work to preserve the historic gem. I got very excited when I learned that a portion of the work was complete and the scaffolding removed. Plans were for work on the east tower to start in mid-March, restoration projected to take three years. We would have a chance to see the entire front facade unblemished by construction.

A nearly cloudless sky was all the enticement we needed to head to the mission in the late afternoon. Activity around the popular destination was winding up for the day. No buses waiting for camera-toting passengers idled in the parking lot. Only a couple of Tohono O’odham families were still packing up from their food booths. There would be no fry bread or Indian tacos for us this visit.

san-xavier-del-bac-doors-nBuilt from 1783 – 1797, the church frequently is proclaimed to be the finest example of mission architecture in the United States. Records reveal little about the architect and artisans responsible for the original construction. Influences of Moorish, Byzantine and Late Mexican Renaissance architecture blend to create the strikingly unique edifice. We can only surmise why the east tower was never completed.

The Tohono O’odham people lived in the settlement of Bac ("place were the water appears") long before Father Kino, the Jesuit missionary and explorer, arrived in 1692. By the time the present church was built the Franciscans were in charge of the mission. Still today San Xavier del Bac serves the Tohono O’odham as a parish church within the Diocese of Tucson. Services are open to all and the church is open every day of the year.

san-xavier-del-bac-west-tower1The building has a long history of respectful care followed by neglect and restoration. For three decades in the 1800s priests were sent home to Spain. Parishioners safeguarded church furnishings in their homes but the building fell into disuse.

The latest restoration began with the interior in 1992, a six-year project. Once the elaborate detail of the ornate interior was completed work begun on the exterior to stabilize the walls and domes. Viewing the newly completed west tower we see the successful use of a mud plaster "recipe" used by the Tohono O’odham peoples. When baked in the Arizona sun, the coating gives a bright white finish and resists the affects of the harsh desert climate.

A museum details history of the mission and preservation work. I’m fascinated with the video showing the intricate skills required by conservators. The knowledge, patience and attention to detail are to be admired.

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As we take photos we can’t help but compare the two towers; eroded plaster, gaping holes and faded paint of the east tower increases appreciation of the flawless renovated west tower. We can imagine how magnificent it will be when all is complete.

san-xavier-del-bac-interior1We sometimes hear the gasps of wonder as visitors step into the church for the first time. Every surface seems to resonate with color: altars, statuary, arches, retablos, frescoes, carvings. Some have called this the "Sistine Chapel of North America." It’s quite a compilation of baroque and folk art. Whether one says a prayer and lights a candle or sits quietly observing the features this is a time to pause and contemplate.

Our visit ends as the setting sun brushes the walls with flecks of gold.

When You Go: San Xavier del Bac Mission is approximately 12 miles south of Tucson, exit 92 from I-19. The church is open daily 8am-5pm, museum open 8am-4:30pm. A gift shop is open 8am-5pm every day except Easter Sunday and Christmas. Admission is free, donations gratefully accepted. Please remember this is a place of worship, be respectful.

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Find It!

San Xavier del Bac Mission
San Xavier del Bac Mission

Night Lights on the Desert

flw-sun-on-logoFrank Lloyd Wright created Taliesin West as the winter home for his school of architecture. The campus sits on the flank of the McDowell Mountains overlooking Scottsdale, Arizona. Protected acres of pristine Sonoran desert surrounds the Wright designed buildings as suburbia creeps ever closer. Visitors from around the world come to tour Taliesin West and learn more about Wright’s design philosophy.

On past visits we’ve taken the 90-minute Insights and the 3-hour Behind the Scenes Tours, each time learning about, perhaps, the best known of 20th-century American architects. This time we made reservations for the Night Lights on the Desert Tour.flw-sculpture-in-sun1

Beginning just before sunset, the two-hour tour includes everything on the daytime Insights Tour plus a stop for refreshments. On most evenings participants are also treated to colorful sunsets followed by star-studded skies and the lights of Scottsdale/Phoenix in the valley below.

Before the tour begins Bob scurries to catch photos as the late afternoon sun warm buildings, sculpture and landscape. As our guide gives background on Wright and Taliesin West we keep eyes focused westward, not to be rude but to watch the kaleidoscope of changing colors – from pinks, violets and lemon yellow to bronze, burnt orange and deep purple.

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When the color show fades we visit Wright’s private office and the living room. Labeled the Garden Room by Wright, this was the social center for family, guests, associates and students. We sit in Wright-designed furniture while the guide tells us about construction methods and materials. This evening we are guests in the Wright home, perhaps his dynamic spirit hovers there with us.

flw-sun-on-studio1After stopping in the bedroom wing the group partakes of tea, lemonade and cookies in an alcove outside of the dining room. Wind prohibits the fire-breathing dragon from staying lit but an outdoor corner fireplace nips the slight chill in the air. The tour concludes with visits to the Kiva, Cabaret Theater and Music Pavilion.

Although there is some duplication, each tour we’ve taken has offered new information and insights. Every guide has been extremely well versed with an obvious dedication to accuracy, however, you do get a slightly different view as the guide’s own interest, knowledge and background come through. We plan to take the Desert Shelter Tour the next time we’re in Scottsdale

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When You Go: Taliesin West offers the Insights and Panorama Tours Daily except Easter, Thanksgiving Christmas and New Years. Other tours are available either seasonally or on particular days of the week. The website gives tour details and rates. Reservations taken by phone at 480-860-2700 Ext. 494. Tours often fill to capacity, especially those not given daily, reservations are strongly advised.