It’s 5AM. You’ve lost count of how many hours you’ve been on the road, you just know you left Mesa last night. After changing time zones somewhere east of El Paso everything got blurry. There are two different energy drinks running through your system, making you both tired yet strangely awake at the same time. There are very few cars on the road in west Texas at this time, just you and the few trucks that are also coming off an overnight trip.
You know you won’t make it to your destination until 4PM today. You can’t even comprehend how many hours left to go, you just know you have to keep going. San Antonio or bust.
To be honest, I don’t remember much of our overnight drive from Mesa to San Antonio. I do remember finally reaching our Air BnB and feeling the ultimate satisfaction of finally showering after sitting in the same clothes, in the same car, for sixteen hours. The extreme exhaustion I felt all day abated, replaced by a feeling of excitement of exploring yet another city. I can’t be the only one who will finish such a long drive and be ready to go and explore, can I?
San Antonio, the second largest city in Texas, can be found in the south central part of the state. After visiting four different Texan cities (and all of West Texas) I can say without a doubt that it’s my favorite. I’ve been there before for my older brother’s graduation from Air Force basic training and I left with some pretty fond memories. I remember thinking the River Walk was one of the most magical places I had ever seen. The Alamo? Not so much. We did some museums and some shopping and ate some really good food. Naturally, I was really excited to go back as an adult.
Our first night, we decided to roam the River Walk and find some dinner. As usual, we were hungry for Mexican so we stopped to get some tacos and margaritas at Rita’s on the River. The margaritas were good and the food was decent but it also attracted various birds, which put a bit of a damper on the whole experience. We ate as quickly as we could and continued on our way, strolling along the River Walk.
We decided to head up to street level and followed the map to a couple points on interest, including Houston Street and the Alamo. A prime retail and theater area by the early 20th century, Houston Street still boasts many old and beautiful buildings, including the Majestic Theater and the Kress and Vogue Buildings. As the sun set, we followed Houston Street towards the Alamo, which was all lit up, seemingly waiting just for us.
The Alamo is the site of Texan Independence from Mexico. On February 23, 1836, Colonel William Barrett Travis entered the Alamo with two hundred men. Trying to protect the Alamo, he was under attack by Commander Santa Anna and the thousands of Mexican soldiers under his command. After almost two weeks, the siege ended on March 6 with the Travis and his defenders being slain and their bodies burned. This defeat was enough to unify Colonists to resist further oppression and use armed force to secure their permanent independence. I can see why as a young teenager I was not interested in this history! It was nice to go back and actually learn and appreciate the Alamo.
The next day, our only full day in the city, we chose to rent bikes from B-Cycle and head out towards the missions. We had big plans to visit all four missions in one day, but our ambitions were much bigger than our actual abilities. We were not prepared for the humidity and ended up calling it quits after two visits. The chain of missions along the San Antonio River form the largest concentration of Catholic missions in North America. They were an attempt by Spain to extend its dominion northward from New Spain, or current day Mexico.
Mission Concepción is the first mission you hit when you take the trail out of San Antonio. The church still looks almost the same as it did in the mid-1700s, only the geometric designs have faded from the facade of the building. It was the center of religious activities; missionaries worked hard to replace traditional Indian rituals with Christian beliefs. Conversions were recognized when Indians took sacraments, and while some of these conversions were temporary, most were successful.
Arguably the best known mission in Texas, Mission San José was founded in 1720 by Fray Anyonio Margil de Jesús. Known as the “Queen of the Missions”, San José was a major social center with unique church architecture and rich fields and pastures. This mission features massive stone walls that were used to defend the community inside the compound. Residents learned how to use firearms to fend off raids by Comanche and Apache. Walking into the compound, you really do get a feel of the way of life here. One of my favorite features is the Rose Window, which is a gorgeous window and a prime example of Spanish artisans’ skill level.
After biking back to our Air BnB and getting ready for dinner, we ate at Blue Star Brewing, located right on the San Antonio River. We enjoyed some really good beer and food and were able to relax and plan for the next day. Hopefully we would have enough time to not only work, but see the last two missions and find a treasure to take home in memory of this trip.
I’d like to say that this trip ended in a happily ever after fashion. That we were able to get everything done that we wanted. Unfortunately, our car had different ideas and what was supposed to be a quick, routine oil change turned into an hours-long ordeal where we ended up with new tires and a much lighter wallet. We didn’t have time to do anything else in San Antonio, and we left straight from the mechanic to head to Houston, our next stop.
I like to think that we didn’t get to everything because the Universe wants us to go back to San Antonio soon. I’d certainly go back, maybe at a less humid time of year, and stay for much longer. There’s so much history to explore and people to meet.If you have any recommendations for what we missed, let me know! I’m already starting my list now.