Tailings #6 at the San Manuel mine shows how BHP the owners of the mine has smoothed out the stepped tailing and added a foot of dirt on top which will eventually has seedlings planted in it, Friday February 17, 2006, in Tucson, Ariz. BHP is shutting down the mine by tearing down buildings and preparing to bring down the 500+ foot smoke stacks that have been a part of the San Manuel landscape for years. 

James S. Wood / Arizona Daily Star

From the earliest days of Europeans in our region up to the present, there are three major themes that have profoundly affected our history.

The first of these is the importance of the military. We wouldn’t know as much as we do about Kino’s explorations were it not that his military escort, Leiutenant Manje, wrote a journal. Tucson and Tubac both had their origins in Spanish presidios. Coming closer, Fort Lowell reminds us of the importance of military protection during the Apache Wars. Today, we have Fort Huachuca and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, both of which are important contributors to our local economy. And don’t forget out Titan Missile Site near Green Valley. The weapons, the uniforms, even the potential enemy have all changed, but the military remains an important part of our little world.

Next comes mineral extraction. Our state’s name comes from a fabulous strike of free silver just south of the present International Border. Mining and prospecting was going on during the Mexican and colonial periods. Our surrounding mountains are covered with prospect holes and abandoned mines — many of which pose a real danger to the thoughtless explorer. A drive to Green Valley yields evidence of massive open-pit mining starting in the 1950s and 60s and continuing to the present. And for proof that mining remains important right now, read the papers!

Finally comes over-optimistic representation of natural resources. Hoping to get help for his mission projects, Kino reported that every crop that grew in the Mediterranean would grow in Sonora. He was right: for proof, just visit the historic gardens at Tucson’s Birthplace and Tumacacori. However, he neglected to mention that between the river valleys where the crops would grow were miles of desert.

Later on, a lot of money was made in the late 19th century by misrepresenting the potential of mining claims to prospective Eastern investors. The old cliché of loading a shotgun with bits og gold and shooting it into the face of the mine must have paid off more than once. And for a contemporary version, just look at all those roads on the hills to the west of I-19 near Rio Rico. No water, no pavement, no electricity disfigured these potential “investment properties,” but they did sell.

So there are three of the major themes of this region, themes whose results can be seen on the land today. Not all of them pretty, but they’re an indelible part of our desert land. (Those interested in my third them should read Landscapes of Fraud: Mission Tumacácori, the Baca Float, and the Betrayal of the O’dham, by Thomas Sherdan. Tucson: UA Press, 2006.