The Contreras fire threatening Kitt Peak last month brought to mind a spring visit of mine to the National Observatory.
From downtown Tucson get onto Interstate 10, heading “east” toward El Paso. East in quotations as the road only turns east after the fork for Interstate 19, headed south past San Xavier del Bac mission and Nogales at the Mexican border. A few miles down I19, well before the mission, a turnoff for Arizona route 86, a road you’ll follow the better part of 36 miles, passing the Tucson Mountains on the right. Most days, the Mayall Telescope of Kitt Peak shines bright white ahead, as it did the right after dawn on Wednesday, April 20, 2005.
At some point R86 enters the 4,453.307 square mile extent Tohono O’odham Nation Reservation, you pass the town Three Points where Arizona route 286 heads south to Sasabe and the Mexican border. The next turn south is the Kitt Peak access road, Arizona route 386. On that Wednesday I was so early the gate to the peak was locked, so I pulled off the road and waited. It is a lonely place on the route for migrants from Mexico. I wandered off the road, into a wash (dry, sandy stream bed), to relieve myself, where junk from migrants was scattered around. Back in the car a helicopter approached with a black SUV. A big guy got out, walking by into the wash: the border patrol.
Here is a photograph from that day of Baboquivari Peak taken from Kitt Peak’
Baboquivari Peak is the most sacred place to the Tohono O’odham people. It is the center of the Tohono O’odham cosmology and the home of the creator, I’itoi. According to tribal legend, he resides in a cave below the base of the mountain. This mountain is regarded by the O’odham nation as the navel of the world – a place where the earth opened, and the people emerged after the great flood. Baboquivari Peak is also sometimes referred to as I’Itoi Mountain. In the native O’odham language, it is referred to as Waw Kiwulik, meaning “narrow about the middle”. The O’odham people believe that he watches over their people to this day. — Wikipedia
Baboquivari Peak was mentioned in the journals of Jesuit missionary Padre Kino, who made many expeditions into this region of the Sonoran Desert, beginning in 1699, establishing Spanish Missions in the area. — Wikipedia
Kitt Peak is in the sacred precinct of Baboquivari, the land just below the peak is the “Gardens of the Sacred Tohono O’odham Spirit I’itoi.” The month of my visit, the O’odham nation brought legal suit against Kitt Peak to halt construction of new telescopes in the garden. The issue was settled out of court.
About the header photograph: From the bottom clockwise. Birds by Anmelia Juan of Geawuk (Kitt Peak 1972) – I purchased this from the Kitt Peak gift shop during my first visit; Turtle by Olvera and Simon Valenquela (Saguaro National Monument 2005); Stars by Simon Valenzuela for his daughter Pasquala Valenquela 16th Birthday (2018). Simon is of the Pascua Yaqui tribe who Learned basketmaking from his wife’s family.