Although Tim and I had driven to San Antonio several times while staying at Buckhorn Lake Resort, our visits were for shopping or running to the airport. We had decided that commuting through rush hour traffic to visit the city highlights would feel too much like work. So, after leaving Buckhorn we planned to move to an RV park inside the city. Even with a GPS, driving through construction zones on multiple interstate highways was a challenge, and we were relieved to finally arrive at the San Antonio KOA.
It was a beautiful day when we settled into our site, and we enjoyed an afternoon outdoors. The next few days, however, were cold, rainy and windy, so we huddled inside the RV and extended our stay so we could do our touring on pretty days. We used the yucky days to take care of an oil change for the Subaru, as well as other necessary errands.
When we awoke to a beautiful morning, we made our way to San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, an amazing collection of missions built along the San Antonio River in the 1700s. The missions, established by Spain in an attempt to push its empire northward from present-day Mexico, form the largest concentration of Catholic missions in North America.
While touring the four missions that comprise the park, we learned the difference between the Texas and California missions that we had visited several years ago. The Texas missions were established not only to spread the Catholic faith, but also to make Spanish citizens of the Indians in an effort to colonize this portion of Texas. The mission communities were located just three miles apart and provided to the Indians a sanctuary from their enemies. It was interesting to discover that the Indians came to live in the missions by choice, not force or persuasion.
Mission Concepción is the best preserved of the four missions. A very helpful volunteer told us about the original murals for which this mission is known. Although the church looks much as it did in the mid-1700s, it was somewhat surprising to find out that the weathered stone walls were once decorated with colorful geometric designs.
|Interior of Mission Conception|
|Imagine the Church Painted in Colorful Geometric Designs|
Mission San José is the most well-known of the missions and has been called the “Queen of the Missions.” The park’s visitor center is located here, and ranger-led tours are offered on a regular basis. We were able to participate in one of the tours and came away with a much better understanding of the mission community, where more than 300 residents lived and worked. Thanks to the reconstruction efforts of the Civilian Conservation Corps, as well as a multi-million dollar restoration in 2011, Mission San José gives the most realistic look into what the original complex must have looked like. The architecture of the complex is magnificent, especially the elaborately carved entranceway to the church.
|Mission San Jose|
|A Beautiful Entrance to the Church|
|The Mission Resembled a Small City|
The rural setting of Mission San Juan Capistrano lends itself to interpreting the agricultural heritage of the mission communities. San Juan was known for its fertile farmlands, and this self-sustaining community supplied goods to the surrounding regions.
|Mission San Juan Capistrano|
Mission Espada is the southernmost mission in the park, and it was here that we fully understood the role of these churches as the heart of their small communities. The churches are active parishes, and mission descendants continue to worship here. We arrived at Mission Espada to find a wedding about to start. Although we were unable to visit the interior of the church, it was very special to watch the bridesmaids as they lined up outside the church. After a long wait the beautiful bride finally emerged from her pickup truck and proudly walked through the door of this historic site.
|"Here Comes the Bride" at Mission Espada|
|Broken Arch Over the Entrance to the Church|
Our final stop on the mission trail was the Espada Aqueduct. The success of the agricultural operations at the missions depended on acequias, or gravity flow ditch systems. Dams and aqueducts along the San Antonio River ensured the flow of water into the system, and the Espada Dam still performs its original function. Water is carried by the Espada Aqueduct, the oldest Spanish aqueduct in the United States. Amazing!
On another lovely day, we drove downtown to explore the San Antonio River Walk, the city’s signature attraction. What a wonderful resource for the city! Although Tim and I had both visited the River Walk many years ago, we were even more impressed this time. For a new experience, we took a barge ride which offered a different perspective of the bridges and surrounding buildings. We stayed for lunch and enjoyed great barbeque while watching the activity along the river.
|Enjoying the San Antonio River Walk|
|Scenes of the River Walk|
Tim and I decided that we couldn’t leave San Antonio without visiting the Alamo. Although the Alamo was one of the original missions, it is known primarily for its role in Texas independence. The Alamo is a beautiful building, but I was not too impressed with the exhibits inside the original church. I can appreciate historic firearm displays, but why did they decide to feature this exhibit inside the church? To me it was very odd. The Alamo is definitely a shrine in the true sense of the word, and visiting seems to be an almost religious experience for Texans. Although I would love to make a return visit to the San Antonio missions, one visit to the Alamo was enough for me.
|"Remember the Alamo"|
After two months, Tim and I finally left the Texas Hill Country on January 27 and began to make our way west. We really enjoyed our time there, but it was time to move on. Tim and I split up as we left San Antonio. I made a detour back to Kerrville to pick up our mail at Buckhorn Lake Resort, and he drove directly to Amistad National Recreation Area. Located right on the Rio Grande and the United States-Mexico border, Amistad is best known for its water sports and fishing opportunities. We camped at the park, where we overlooked the reservoir.
|Fishing Boat at Sunset at Amistad National Recreation Area|
The next morning we stopped at the visitor center where we watched the movie and learned about the rock art that is a significant resource at Amistad. Unfortunately, the rock art can only be visited by boat, so we missed seeing the sites in person. We then left Amistad to begin our long drive across west Texas, a very desolate area indeed. A border patrol stop and a short break at the Pecos River High Bridge helped to break up the long (for us) journey.
|Pecos River High Bridge|