The Missions of San Antonio

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Church at Mission San Jose
Torch of Friendship

Torch of Friendship

Besides the River Walk, there are several other touristy things to do while in San Antonio.  We were lucky to be able to take two tours – a personal one with Susan and Bob of Travel-Bug, and a paid one by Alamo Tours.  Our opinion – unless you are lucky enough to be friends with Susan and Bob, you’re better off skipping the professional tour and seeing San Antonio on your own.  As with many other paid tours, we were rushed and did not spend nearly enough time at some of the stops we made with Alamo Tours.  Most attractions are very well labeled, so a tour guide is not needed so much as just having plenty of time to read and learn on your own.

Travel Bug

Steve with our tour guides

In downtown San Antonio you will see this orange structure, the city’s landmark. The “Torch of Friendship” was given to San Antonio by the Mexican Consulate as a sign of friendship and to represent the roots many Texans share with Mexico.

We toured the five missions of San Antonio ; The Alamo (1718), San Jose (1720), San Juan (1731), Concepcion (1731), and Espada (1731).  These five missions flourished along the San Antonio River in the early 18th century, obviously aided by the plentiful supply of water.  They became the largest concentration of Catholic missions in North America.  The missions were far more than just churches; they were communities.  Each was a fortified village with its own church, farm and ranch as illustrated below:

Mission San Jose

A typical mission configuration

Originally named Misión San Antonio de Valero, the Alamo served as home to missionaries and their Indian converts for nearly seventy years.   A Texas shrine since the war for Texas independence, the Alamo today is a visitor’s center and museum of early Texas artifacts.  Admission is free and photography is not allowed inside the hallowed shrine.  The shrine and the legend behind it have made their mark as a symbol of heroism, courage and sacrifice for the 189 Texan defenders who fell to the Mexicans on March 6, 1836.  This is a tour stop that we wished had allowed us much more time to read through the narratives of the Battle of the Alamo.

Shrine at the Alamo

In front of the Shrine of the Alamo

On the southern side of town we visited Mission San Jose, known as the Queen of Missions because of its rich facade of the domed church.  It provided the strongest garrison against raids from Indians.  The mission is also an example of a completely restored mission renowned for exquisite stone carvings.

Exquisite Stone Carvings

Stone Carvings

Indian families lived in these rooms built inside the exterior walls of the compound.

Indian Quarters

Indian Quarters along the periphery of the missions

The church that remained at Mission Concepcion was established in 1731.  It’s the oldest unrestored stone church in the US and stands as it was completed in 1755.

Mission Concepcion

At Mission Concepcion, all that remains of the mission is the church.

Inside are original frescos of religious symbols and architectural designs.

Mission Espada features a very attractive chapel, along with an unusual door and stone entrance archway.  Inside this church we noticed some markers and devices which detect structural movement along cracks in the walls.

Mission Espada

Our tour also took us to the Japanese Sunken Gardens, a unique old stone quarry known for its beautiful foliage.  At this time only the Mountain Laurels were beginning to bloom.

The Buckhorn Museum houses artifacts from Texas history, along with world record wildlife exhibits – over 520 different species.  This place is very interesting, and should not be missed if you are in the area.  It’s sort of a hodge-podge of unique museums put together, with an excellent historic saloon downstairs.  The tour didn’t give us enough time to really check out the saloon or to enjoy one of their local brews.  We could have spent a lot more time here, too!

Within the same building, the Texas Ranger Museum is where authentic artifacts from the rangers are displayed and the dynamic history of the most famous law enforcement agency is explained.

Lastly, a happy hour (ok, a few hours) of food and games with our new friends Susan and Bob was in order.  Then, on the morning we departed I met briefly with another blogger, Debbie of the Great Escape from NJ.  She had just arrived at the RV park.  The chance of meeting fellow bloggers at the Travelers World Resort is good, due to the park’s popularity and accessibility to transportation and the River Walk.  Although the spaces are a bit tight and we heard the trains quite often, we’d still return here for future visits to San Antonio.

Travel Bug

A night of food and games

The River Walk – San Antonio, Texas

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San Antonio RiverwalkWhen Susan of Travel Bug knew we were heading east and would pass thru Texas, she recommended the River Walk in San Antonio.  What’s more interesting is that they were staying at the park where we planned to live during our stay.  Yet another blogger to meet in person! When we arrived there our new friends, Susan and Bob, graciously gave us a mini-tour around the missions and other areas of which I will talk more in my next post.  We also enjoyed a nice dinner and games with them before we moved on.

Travel Bug Susan

Steve with our tour guides
Susan and Bob

For now lets talk about the San Antonio River Walk – aka Paseo del Rio, the jewel of San Antonio, Texas.

So where does all the water in this river come from?  We learned that the  San Antonio River rises in a cluster of springs and the headwaters of the spring known as the Blue Hole is located on the campus of the University of the Incarnate Word.  The surrounding creeks empty into the river just below its head, and other springs continue to join as the river flows through the city and empties into the Guadalupe River.

The network of walkways and bridges, known as the  San Antonio River Walk, is one of San Antonio’s principal attractions.  The River Walk has been extended, and the whole network is now a 15-mile masterpiece that weaves the city’s past and future together.  Starting north of the city at Brackenridge Park (San Antonio’s Central Park), it continues south all the way to the four preserved 18th century Spanish colonial missions south of downtown.

San Antonio Riverwalk

The San Antonio River Walk

The  downtown reach is 20 feet below street level and meanders through beautifully landscaped paths lined with numerous shops, bars, restaurants and museums.  We walked the  stone pathways connecting these attractions with a blend of historic and modern architecture that resonates the depth of this centuries-old metropolis.  We noticed the intricate network of bridges, walkways and old staircases.

Restaurants along the Rio

Restaurants along the Rio

Reading Historical markersalong the pathways.

Reading Historical markers along the pathways.

New bridges...

New bridges…

San Antonio River Walk

…and old bridges

River Boat Taxi on the Rio

River Boats/ Taxis/Cruises  also provide informative tours

We stayed at the Travelers World RV Resort, which is located smack in the middle of the River Walk.  It provides easy access to the path for walking or biking in either direction.  One day we walked from the RV Park all the way to downtown, a moderate effort of 11 miles roundtrip – with a refreshing beer stop along the way at Blue Star Brewery.

San Antonio River Walk

Steve found his avenue along the river walk

San Antonio River Walk

Rest stop with one of the Flood Locks in the background

Lone Star Beer in the distance

Lone Star Brewery (closed) in the distance

Flood management is also critical along the river since a disastrous flood hit in 1921.  We saw several impressive flood control structures and learned there is an underground “bypass tunnel” several miles long which aids in flood control.

San Antonio River Flood Control

San Antonio River flood Control Tunnel

On another day we biked the southern end of the riverwalk to one of the Missions.

Finally, my blog would be incomplete without mentioning the wild animals which were abundant along the path in both directions.

Next up: The Missions of San Antonio