The buses begin to unload at San Xavier del Bac at 7:45; both tourists and local school kids attending the mission school next door. With winter sunrise a mere half-hour earlier, there's not much time to capture Father Kino's remarkable church in the calm silence of morning reflection. Mass is at 6:30 a.m., and while suitably meditative, it is also dark, and it is poor form to flash the front of San Xavier with one's speedlight.
San Xavier has been photographed, conservatively, one billion times, and there is not a single facet that remains unsullied by fidgety Canon shleppers. Sometimes it's best just to wander away, like Kino himself might have done on mornings when he doubted both his God and his life's work--and I assume, like most of us, he had those days. Next to San Xavier is Grotto Hill, named after a replica of the grotto at Lourdes, carved into the volcanic rock. It is guarded b y a pair of lions, statuary, but lifelike in the wee moments before sunrise.
This is what I will photograph today. The resulting picture floats in space; it could be San Xavier, or some lonely mission outpost in Sonora, or maybe Spain itself. In Christianity the lion is a symbol of watchfulness, resurrection, and Christ himself. What is he watching for? Well, pesky location scouts, for one. These days, the mission does not allow filming or photo shoots for commercial purposes, although it has in the past.