May 2, 2017

San Antonio Riverwalk and Mission Trail (Apr. 2017, TX)

San Antonio, TX
April 28-30, 2017
Weather: 80 degrees F, but very intense sun!
I haven't written, nor really been outside much since the last 3 months of pregnancy and after the birth of our daughter. We had been nesting and relaxing in anticipation, and enjoying close time with our baby girl since December. In fact, without looking, I think this is the first web writing I've done since September or October. Because I haven't been out much, I wanted to take advantage of San Antonio's outdoors during a recent trip I did for work. To remedy my nature drought, I chose to explore the famed Riverwalk and the Mission Trail, which is a National Historic Park area. I was not disappointed, and thankfully the excursion motivated me to set an outdoorsing schedule for the rest of the spring and upcoming summer and fall.

I wasn't initially expecting San Antonio to have many outdoorsing options within the immediate vicinity of downtown, which is where I'd be largely limited during my stay. I knew I'd get some historic lessons at The Alamo and other sites, but was pleasantly surprised when I discovered the Mission Trail and that San Antonio had a bike sharing service for only $12 a day.

My exploring started at The Alamo and the downtown portion of the Riverwalk on the first day. It expanded to the missions and the Mission Trail on my final day in town. The conference also coincided with the annual Festival San Antonio, bringing thousands into the city to hunt for festival medals, attend parades, and celebrate with a special brand of excitement and dedication that could power you through 100 degree heat and humidity... I tip my hat to those who stayed outside on the 100-degree day.

Despite all the early-trip heat, a storm came through and cooled down the temps on my last day in town. This made the bike and hike much more enjoyable (and plausible). I'm not used to 100 degrees in April.

Below are the reports of my exploring, along with some pretty photos from along the way.

The Alamo and its gardens

I really didn't know what to expect about The Alamo. I've only read about Santa Ana's attack on the fortress, as every good American has. I have also always wanted to find the basement after seeing Pee Wee's Big Adventure as a kid. When my colleague and I first arrived the evening I flew in, the sunset provided a nice illuminating layer over the face of the mission, setting up for a nice photo op.

The Alamo at sunset

Hand-laid stone walls surrounded only the current property, which are not the original walls of the fort. Inspection of the current walls had me scratching my head at the inability of Santa Ana to easily take the stronghold. However, I was informed that the original site extended more than two city blocks and was surrounded by a tall wall with guardposts.



I returned the next morning to visit the gardens, which I did not expect to find the previous day. A beautiful, large cactus was blooming right next to the Mission building.




A beautiful, old oak tree sprawled its many arms across the property. Hefty iron braces kept its limbs from breaking. Its freshly grown leaves canopied the courtyard and gifted us with some valuable shade.



The Riverwalk

I spent a lot of time eating at the downtown Riverwalk loop. It is a wonderful mix of trees, vines, flowers, and water life.


The Riverwalk is characterized by beautiful stonework with a low walkway. Green surrounds visitors in every direction, as businesses, restaurants, rushing water features, and river path all intertwine to create a Hanging Gardens of Babylon in Texas.




Interestingly, most of the path is without rails. I would like to see the annual falling-in statistics, especially during the largely-no-open-container-enforcement Fiesta San Antonio.



Alongside the restaurants and tourist footprints, ducks call the Riverwalk home as well. I am convinced these ducks are less wild and more frequent patrons of the restaurants. On more than one occasion, I was joined by a duck at dinner or lunch.


This weekend also provided me with the first glimpses of duck babies for the year. What's great is that they minded their own business and lived life as if thousands of people weren't around.



I even spotted a heron alongside the walkway, minding its own business and finding a meal in a small side pool.


Great stone bridges that look like something out of elvish towns in The Lord of The Rings and connect visitors to the various sides of the river.



River taxis ferry large groups of people coupled with an oral interpretation of the river's history and residents.


The Mission Trail and The Missions NHP

On my final day in town, I explored the Mission Trail and the adjacent old Spanish Missions. Four Missions (five, if you count The Alamo) spur off from the Mission Trail. Built in the 1700s by Franciscan Monks, the Missions served to spread Spanish Catholicism to the Indians in the Texas region. Excluding The Alamo, the four missions are still functioning churches with regular masses each week.

The Mission Trail largely follows along the San Antonio River. It appears it was recently reconstructed with brand new concrete, making it a very pleasurable bike ride.

I walked from the downtown Riverwalk area to a portion of the Riverwalk that goes south. For a while, the Riverwalk remains pedestrian-only. This gave me an opportunity to have a nice shaded hike as I got outside of the downtown area. Once past the bustle of restaurants (and a majority of the tourists), the path calmed and provided a nice cool hike out of downtown.




After about a mile or two at the Blue Star District, bicycles are allowed. A San Antonio Bikeshare station was at the Blue Star District, at which I checked out a bike for $12 for the day (with hourly re-docks, and unfortunately no Divvy reciprocation).

As soon as the wider bike path began, the landscape opened up dramatically. Green wilds housed a number of birds and insects, all making a song as you ride by. Many local residents seem to enjoy this path as well, as I was greeted by many on the trail.




Multiple small bridges cross the San Antonio River, giving you beautiful mid-bridge vistas.



Shelters also dot the trailside, giving some luxurious shade and seating along the expansive riverside.


The benefit of being out of the urban center is that wildflowers and prairie plants have a chance to thrive. It isn't entirely visible in long-angle photos, but blues, oranges, reds, pinks, purples, whites, and yellows painted the trailside with a palette of color.


wildflower shoulders and riverwalk bridges

One of the flowers that caught my attention the most was this fiery daisy-looking bloom, which I had yet to identify as of writing this. But 1) it was numerous, and 2) it was beautiful.

wildflowers on the trail

I came up to my first junction a few miles down the trail, Mission Concepción. When I arrived, mass was currently in session, so I did not go in and disrupt.

Mission Concepcion

This gorgeous old building is full of history. I was able to walk around and capture a few looks of the not-quite-ancient stonework.

Mission Concepcion

Mission Concepcion

Mission Concepcion

Palms are also sprinkled around the property, reminding you that you're approaching the equator.

Sunny palm

My second stop was an additional couple miles down the Mission Trail from Concepción, the Mission San José and San Antonio Missions National Historic Park Visitor Center.

Mission San Jose

I arrived to the NHP Visitor Center to get stamps in my National Park passport book and to get an adventure patch for my blanket. I was happy to see a small museum that interpreted the history of the four missions and the trail.

National Park stamps of the missions

Just outside of the visitor center, Mission San José's outer walls opened to allow visitors into its historic grounds. Battlements and guardposts remain embedded in the old walls, a reminder of the amount of fighting that coincided with charity and peacemaking...

Mission San Jose

Mission San Jose guardpost

Mission San Jose interior walls

Inside the walls of San José, foundation ruins of old buildings litter the great field of grass. A few trees provide some shade, but the most prominent feature is the Mission itself, another gorgeous old church.

Mission San Jose ruins

Mission San Jose

Mission San Jose

The church itself is composed of two main parts, both equally awe inspiring.

Mission San Jose

Mission San Jose

Mission San Jose

I decided to not see the other two missions as it was approaching lunchtime and wanted to meet with my friends. I still needed to ride back into the downtown area, so I grabbed a bikeshare bike and started pedaling against strong headwinds back to the center of the Riverwalk.

On my return trip, the looks toward downtown were just as good, but provided different looks that were quite pleasureable for a viewseeker like me.




1 comment:

  1. The flowers are Indian blanket (Gaillardia pulchella), also known as firewheel.