One’s destination is never a place, but always a new way of seeing things.
Sunday, January 27 through Wednesday, January 30, 2019 San Antonio, Texas: Kit and I are excited about finally getting to more thoroughly explore this iconic South Texas city. The last time we spent any appreciable time here was in 1976 when hauling our 1967 fifteen-foot Excel travel trailer with our three children on a cross country camping adventure.
That was fun, and a real family bonding adventure…five humans in a small trailer with an ice box, no bathroom, and gas lamps for interior lighting. This stop finds us living in relative luxury!
Spent four full days here and was able to see quite a lot of the main attractions of this beautiful city. We were also fortunate to have some dear RV’ing friends, who spend the winter in a park about 50 miles to the north, come down and join us for some of our excursions.
Rey and Darlene have Texas roots even though Rey was born and raised in Topsham, Maine.
They know this area very well having spent many years living and working here. One place they led us to is the historic Mexican Marketplace which was full of colorful shops selling authentic Mexican crafts. Since we visited on a Sunday, the place was hopping, and the plaza performance stage featured live acts such as this Mexican Folkdance troupe.
The matriarch of the family-based group was this delightful Senora.
Margaret Arriaga is an eighty-two-year-old cancer survivor and obviously lives life to the fullest…she was actively involved in the groups dancing and proved to be the delight of the hundreds of happy onlookers that enjoyed the performance.
At one point the performers came into the audience and selected folks to dance with. This cute young dancer was a fast learner and quickly kept step with the professional.
Being San Antonio, there is no shortage of fine restaurants that specialize in authentic TexMex…one that Rey and Darlene’s favorites is La Margarita.
Where we enjoyed a fine meal…
…while being serenaded with mariachi music and enjoying authentic dishes such as these Puffy Tacos.
What a meal!
After lunch, a walk down San Antonio’s Riverwalk was in order. This major downtown arts, shopping and dining area was created along the San Antonio River in the mid 1930’s by the Works Project Administration. Due to seasonal flooding of the area, dams and gates were built to prevent river water from flooding the increasing number of riverside business and to protect the basements of the burgeoning cities commercial high-rise buildings.
This created a stable canal and a pleasant artery to walk about the downtown area.
A great way to see the 2.5 mile stretch of river is by boat.
An eight-dollar ticket allowed one to smoothly motor down the river under electric power provided by Tesla…
…and view the downtown district from a unique perspective. Traveling under automobile bridges…
…as well as pedestrian walkways.
What a pleasant and relaxing way to see this part of the historic city!
Speaking of history, the famed Alamo is located within the city limits of San Antonio.
The Alamo was built in 1718 by Spanish Missionaries from Mexico for the Catholic Church. Their mission (no pun intended) was to convert the native population to Christianity and teach them modern ways of the Anglo world. Apparently, the way of life for the native Apaches and Comanches over their documented 10,000 years of existence, did not set well with the newly arrived Europeans. As hunters and gatherers, these native populations were perplexed by farming…why, they wondered, would one want to bury good food in the ground and keep it moist with scarce and good tasting water!?!?
During this time, Texas…as well as a large part of the American Southwest, belonged to Mexico under Spanish rule.
Wouldn’t our country be a lot different today had Mexico payed for a border wall during this period in history? Kit and I would have grown up in San Diego, Mexico!
Abandoned by the missionaries seventy years later The Alamo was used for various purposes, including a rooming house, a garrison, and a grocery store. However, it’s thick stone walls and many fortified building’s, made it a prime fortress…first the Spanish, then the Mexicans, used The Alamo as a military outpost. Following Mexico’s War of Independence with Spain, US citizens from the north moved into the area in increasing numbers and soon began their own War of Independence against the Mexican government seizing the Alamo, and control of the colonial village of San Antonio, from the small and ill prepared contingent of the Mexican Army.
Their victory was short lived however, as within three months a reinforced company of the Mexican Army, numbering 6,000 soldiers, under command of General Santa Anna laid siege to The Alamo and attacked the defenders. The Alamo patriots, numbering a mere 200-armed volunteers, held out for 13 days until they all fell under General Santa Anna’s “take no prisoners” command order.
Amongst those lost in battle were Colonel James Bowie and frontiersman Davy Crockett. The latter was born on a mountain top in Tennessee, greenest state in the land of the free, raised in the woods so’s he knew every tree, killed him a bear when he was only three. OK…if you’re a child of the 1950’s you’ll spend the better part of the day getting rid of that earworm!
The Mexican Army only occupied The Alamo for a few months when 800 Texas loyalist shouting, “Remember the Alamo”, defeated Santa Anna’s force of 1,500 men during the Battle of San Jacinto. They then drove the Mexican Army south from the newly established Republic of Texas, which is basically the border line between the US and Mexico we see today, and the Texans once again occupied The Alamo.
Admission to The Alamo is free, but photography inside is prohibited, which I found odd until one of the rangers explained that many of the artifacts were on loan from private collectors…including the musician Phil Collins. Yep, even though a British citizen, he has an intense interest in the American history and, according to legend, believes that in a former life he was a patriot fighting at the Alamo.
Exterior shots are allowed however in the expansive courtyard…
…and on this day, a local history group had set up displays…
… depicting life in the 1700’s. Period correct reenactors were in authentic regalia…
…including this field doctor who described the primitive health care of the day.
A very nice living history lesson of American history during a pivotal time.
Stepping out of the Alamo grounds brought you suddenly back into the 21st century.
With the commercial high-rise buildings looming over the diminutive Spanish mission of The Alamo.
A great day in a great city with great friends…thanks folks for sharing the day with us!
Since we so enjoyed touring The Alamo, and since we have explored many other Spanish Missions in California, Kit and I took a day to seek out the other four missions arrayed along the San Antonio River…all of which are managed by the National Park Service and have been designated World Heritage Sites.
Starting from the most southern, we stopped at Mission San Francisco de la Espada.
Dropping into the visitors center we met a very pleasant ranger by the name of Tatum.
Yep, her mom loved the movie Paper Moon! We were her only visitors, so Miss Tatum spent a good deal of time describing life in the 15th century and explaining the Spanish mission system.
This first mission in colonial San Antonio was built in 1690 in response to the discovery of a nearby French settlement encroaching from Louisiana.
The mission chapel, as were all the missions of the time, was protected by sturdy walls with small pueblos built along the inside perimeter for the missionaries and the converted native people to live.
This Catholic Church is active to this day and open to the public when services are not being held.
It has become a tradition for Kit and I to light votive candles in honor of our departed relatives…
…and this stop was no exception.
The next mission north was Mission San Juan Capistrano.
This mission complex was more isolated and was frequently attacked by Apaches, so a squad of Spanish soldiers were housed within its walls to help protect the missionaries and the converted natives.
Mission San Juan is also an active church…however its chapel is much smaller than the others.
Next along the Mission Trail is Mission San Jose y San Miguel Aguayo.
This was the only mission that featured a ranger guided tour, which Kit and I took advantage of…
…what a delightful and very knowledgeable young lady!
The largest and most complete mission of the five, Mission San Jose had the capacity to house 350 native peoples in rooms built into the perimeter walls.
The platform above the massive double doors in the photo above once held cannons for protection against marauding natives.
This chapels windows and entryways were adorned with highly detailed limestone carvings…
…and the interior was larger and more ornate than the other chapels as well.
An unusual feature was the use of electric votive candles.
Where upon making a donation, one could push a button to illuminate the candle. A bit odd…of all the missions Kit and I have toured, this was the first one that did not allow candles burning.
This place is huge, and far more architecturally decorative than the surrounding missions.
Although much of the fresco paint had sloughed off, there were a few remaining square feet that remained.
When built, the exterior walls of many Spanish missions were plastered and decorated in brightly colored designs to attract the attention of the region’s native populations.
Boy, if walls could talk, this place could really tell a story of life in the era of Spanish Missions.
The last stop on our trek was at Mission Conception.
The current church building was completed in 1755 and is the oldest unrestored stone church in the United States.
It also boasts of the longest continuous active congregation of any Catholic Church in the nation.
In addition, Mission Concepcion is famous for an annual celestial phenomenon known as a Double Illumination. When built the chapel was oriented west to east and windows were strategically placed to capture light from the setting sun.
Unbeknown to the architects of the day however was that on one day in August, the sun would be at a precise position to focus a shaft of sunlight on the face of the Virgin Mary painting behind the alter…and simultaneously focus a beam of sunlight through a dome window on the floor of the chapel in front of the alter and at the precise intersection of the cross shaped floor.
Photo from the Web
This once a year awe inspiring moment draws the faithful and curious to the small mission by the hundreds.
Kit and I thoroughly enjoyed touring the remaining San Antonio missions and talking to the rangers and volunteer docents. At one of the mission’s parish gift shop were some freshly made fruit empanadas which we brought back for desert.
Returning to the camper, we enjoyed a fine meal and a glass of wine, as the sun set on our final day in Old San Antonio.
Kit’s Bit’s: We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to San Antonio! I had wanted to return there ever since we’d visited with the kids back in 1976. Fortunately, we had perfect weather. And, it was fun touring with Rey & Darlene. They have seen most places in this area but were kind enough to accompany us and keep us from getting lost. Nice to have an authentic Mexican meal, too!
Chuck’s son and daughter-in-law lived in San Antonio in 2007 so we chose to get married there. A beautiful city indeed! We stayed our wedding night in a lovely high rise hotel which looked down upon The Alamo. I hope you plan to experience Austin! My daughter has friends who live there and she says it’s a really fun city to visit, especially the music scene there.
Hi, great to hear from you, and thanks for the comment. Kit’s sister and her husband lived in Kyle, Texas during the early years of our adventure travel and we spent considerable time exploring Austin…truly an amazing city, as is San Antonio. Hope you folks are enjoying living in Southern Arizona!
Hi Bill and Kit.
It is best when you go into an area with friends that all ready know the area and how to get around. That is the way we got to see Glacier National Park. Our friends have a house in Kalispell and spend a lot of time visiting different attractions in the area. When we visit, we get to see the best places.
Hi, Folks…hope all is well with you. We miss traveling to the left coast but are enjoying exploring areas in the Southeast, and you’re so right, connecting with locals to see the hidden gems of an area is the way to go!
I loved seeing San Antonio through your eyes and seeing all those incredibly beautiful missions…and all the history behind them… You really need to compile that book Bill. You are truly gifted. I thoroughly enjoyed “walking” along with you and Kit on this tour of those historical missions and downtown San Antonio!!! Another place on my list I need to visit!!! Thank you so much!
OK now, your begining to make me blush! But thanks once again for the kind words concerning our travel writings. Our only regret is that this nomadic lifestyle takes us away from our beloved Maine and our family and friends, such as you!
Hi Bill & Kit,
Thanks for the historical tour we took in Feb 2016 with Bud & Mona Miller (Bud & Stan served together in VP-23 and several other commands). Bud & Mona live on the North side of SA and kept sending us notes at the end of 2018 that is was about time for us to revisit them…..which we did on Jan 24-31. However we visited other sites this trip and did not go downtown OR we may have run into you guys during your revisit! What a coincidence to have come so close but did not see you! Our next trip is Feb 20 to Mar 7 to see Mark & family in Paris….your truck & trailer don’t have water wings do they? Continue to include us on the rest of your wonderful stopovers….see you in the Spring.
Best, Stan & Jane
Hi, great to hear from you! What a coincidence we were in such close proximity while visiting the San Antonio area…it truly is a small world! Have a great trip overseas!
My dad had a 15 foot 1967 camper very similar to your first one. We used it here at the bay for extra bunk space for hunters during duck season.
A treasure trove of history in San Antonio, the missions and especially the Alamo was of great interest, in that there were so many brave men that gave their lives defending it against superior numbers. I recently completed reading a book on the second world war battle at Omaha Beach in Normandy titled “The Dead and those about To Die” by John C McManus. the book contains some of the most vivid displays of heroism of all the European conflicts. Some of the descriptions of sheer courage actually brought tears to my eyes!
Pretty nasty weather here the past few days, 9 inches of wet snow and today 2/15 it’s pouring one minute and the next snowing like the devil.
I noticed that the trees are still pretty bare there and many were dressed in jackets!
Thanks for a great history lesson!!
Thanks for the nice comments and for sharing your family history with old travel trailers…they certainly do not make them like they used to!
It was so good to “revisit” all of the places we enjoyed in San Antonio in our trip 10 (I think) years ago. We visited the River Walk, Mexican Market, Alamo, the other missions, and celebrated our anniversary at a restaurant on the River Walk. Can’t remember the name of it now.
Our next trip to the area we explored a neat town called Gruen ( I think I spelled it right) and also went to a drive thru animal park (like Lion Country Safari) and some caverns.
Glad you had such great guides and glad to see Bill and Rey know what shirt pockets are for. Keep on having fun and sharing with us.
Hi folks, great to hear from you. We did visit Gruene, just haven’t written it up yet…next issue. Take care, looking forward to reconnecting when we can all be in the same state!
Love your pics, the missions, the river walk, so beautiful and thanks for all the history. Love my armchair traveling with you guys. Enjoy and stay safe!
Hi, great to hear from you…hope all is well…think spring!
Did a tour of Navy Recuiting duty in San Antonio back in the early 90’s. Love this city!
I agree, must have been fertile recruiting grounds…cities away from the Navy towns tend to be. I recruited in central Vermont and lots of folks wanted to join.
Thanks for the magical history tour inspiration. I have been to scores of National Parks on several continents, but none in Texas (which some people believe is its own continent). I need to make it my mission to visit those National Park missions in former Mexico (aka Texas) before another border war moves the proposed wall again.
You’re certainly welcome, glad you enjoy reading my rambling narratives. Texas is unique…so vast that it’s larger than many countries. And very diverse…geographically, culturally, ecologically and politically. Not my favorite place but well worth a visit to the more interesting corners of the state.