Called the White Dove of the Desert, Mission San Xavier del Bac is a blindingly white adobe building that rises from a sere, brown landscape. Considered the finest example of mission architecture in the Southwest, the beautiful church was built between 1783 and 1797, incorporating Moorish, Byzantine, and Mexican Renaissance architectural styles. The church, however, was never actually completed, which becomes apparent only when the two bell towers are compared—one is topped with a dome, while the other has none.

Colorful murals cover the interior walls, and behind the altar are elaborate decorations. To the left of the main altar, in a glass sarcophagus, stands a statue of St. Francis Xavier, the mission’s patron saint. A visit to San Xavier’s little museum, alongside the chapel, provides a bit of historical perspective; you can also explore more of the mission, such as the farm fields and station of the cross beyond the walls. To the east of the church, atop a small hill, you’ll find not only an interesting view of the church, but also a replica of the famous grotto in Lourdes, France. There are often food stalls selling fry bread in the parking lot in front of the church.

Be aware that San Xavier is still an active Roman Catholic church, serving the San Xavier Indian Reservation, with frequent services; behave accordingly. Sunday masses are held at 7am, 10am, and 11:30am. Docents are always on hand to answer questions. To get here, take I-19 south 9 miles to exit 92 and turn right.