parks

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Beyond Reasonable Doubt, by Veronique Greenwood, photographs by Max Aguilera-Hellweg

This article talks about the latest developments in forensic science. One of the techniques covered is what’s called genetic phenotyping, where they can now take a DNA sample and pull out hair, eye, and skin color and, often traits like whether the source of the sample had freckles. They can even sometimes get a general idea of the shape of the person’s face.

Of course, the hair thing might not be foolproof, as (totally aside from the existence of hair dyes), people do lose their hair sometimes and hair does eventually gray. In fact, I knew two young men in my youth who lost their hair at very young ages. It’s likely that there might be some kind of genetic component to the hair loss, but statistically speaking, in their teens or 20s the reconstructions would probably have shown them with full heads of hair.

We also talk about some of the mistakes made through older versions of forensic science, including Kirk Odom, whose hair was supposedly “microscopically indistinguishable” from a hair found at the crime scene. Turns out that the scientists never examined the hair under a microscope and that even if they had, <a href=https://archives.fbi.gov/archives/about-us/lab/forensic-science-communications/fsc/july2000/deedric1.htm>it looks to me like they can determine things like the species of the source of the hair and, if human, the race of the source of the hair, but it is not possible to narrow it down to an individual.</a>

The photograph of the photographer, by the way, was created by DNA phenotyping. There’s an interactive feature on the website where you can compare that image to actual photographs of actual photographers to see if you can figure out which was is Max.

The Battle for Virunga, by Robert Draper, photographs by Brent Stirton

Well, it’s been a while since we’ve had some unrest in Africa, so I guess we’re due. And since we’re talking about parks in the magazine this year, this article is a “twofer,” part of the Power of Parks series and about unrest in Africa.

Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the oldest national park in Africa. It is also part of some kind of turf war between at least two militias. The Battle for Virunga covers some of this recent history and discusses some of the things that the (at the moment) current director, Emmanuel de Merode, is doing to improve the park. One of these things is that they are building hydroelectric power plants in the park, hoping that the electricity being produced will (a) cover the park’s expenses into the future and (b) give potential entrepreneurs the chance to begin to develop businesses in the region that will give the children of the area something to aspire to besides joining a militia.

The last time I looked at the official list of parks, I thought that O.P. Schnabel Park was listed under “O” and that I’d skipped it, but apparently it’s under “S” and so it’s up next.

Schnabel Park was founded in 1964 with the name “Bandera Road Park,” which is certainly descriptive, but not very exciting. In 1977, they renamed the park in honor of O.P. Schnabel, founder of the Beautify San Antonio Association. Do you know how hard I had to dig to find even that little bit on Schnabel? Honestly. I searched Google for his name and the first three pages or so were all articles on the park. I tried putting a “-park” in there and, apparently due to a bug, still listed the park. So frustrating. I even tried Find a Grave to no avail. Apparently, wherever his grave is hasn’t been indexed yet. Finally, I got the “-park” to work and you know what I found? Lots of listings on the OP Schnabel apartments. Picture me resting my elbows on my keyboard tray and putting my face in my hands here. So, then I tried again with “-park -apartment” and finally got, like two things on the man, both of which were writeups for the Beautify San Antonio Association archives. I’ll take what I can get at this point.

Schnabel Park Deer

Deer at OP Schnabel Park, San Antonio, Texas

As you might expect from the prevalence of the park in the Google results, Schnabel Park is one of the best parks in the city. The park has two picnic pavilions, a kitchen, sports fields (baseball, basketball, soccer), at least two playgrounds, restrooms, a swimming pool and at least 4.5 miles of hiking trails. Schnabel Park also has a trail head for the Leon Creek Greenway and is home to the Braundera YMCA. I also know some people who go rock-climbing there as well, though I’m not sure if that’s an officially sanctioned activity.

Alex and I have seen a decent amount of wildlife in the park on our visits, including a buck who walked across the path right in front of us (see image).  We have also seen several military aircraft fly overhead including, on one memorable occasion, a C-5 Galaxy. We also have attempted to access the Leon Creek Greenway from the park a few times, and the trailhead is quite a ways from the actual greenway, so we usually give up before getting to the greenway.

Looks like we’ll be returning to 1988 on or around December 2, because this brings me to the end of our 2016 travels.

Having discovered previously that the hotel breakfast was somewhat less exciting than one could hope, Alex and I skipped it and instead checked out of our hotel, leaving our suitcases behind the front desk. Then we started off for Lincoln Park. Now, as I have told you before, my folks and I didn’t spend much time in Lincoln Park in the past, and I had hoped to spend some time exploring the park. We had two things counting against us however. 1. We had plans to meet with Alex’s uncle (my former brother-in-law) for lunch so we had to get to the park, do whatever exploring we needed to do, and get back to the uncle’s work by 1:00 and 2. It was really bleeding hot out there that day. You’d think that nearly a quarter of a century in South Texas would make me immune to the heat, but if anything, I think it’s made me more sensitive.

Alex and I had been eyeing the Water Taxi service for our entire trip, and this was our chance. We caught the Water Taxi at 2 North Riverside Plaza and took it all the way to the Michigan Avenue Bridge. I got pictures of some of the more famous buildings of Chicago — Marina Towers, the Merchandise Mart, 333 Wacker Drive and so on from the river level. Once we were on street level, we took a bus to Lincoln Park. I had kind of hoped to stop at the Water Tower on our way up, but apparently if you are using cash you can’t get the transfer on the bus.

Once we got to Lincoln Park, we headed directly for the zoo. I put a few dollars in the “support the zoo” donation jar and we got to exploring. Fortunately I had been to Lincoln Park Zoo in the previous 15 years or so, so I at least knew about the Park Place Cafe food court. Because that was one of our first stops. We got some veggies and pop (and I think we bought a pastry of some sort?) and fortified ourselves for the walk.

We explored pretty much all of the zoo, but it was getting late and I had one more stop that I wanted to make before heading to lunch.  Back in 2014, when Alex and I went to Italy, we went to the beach in Santa Severa and I took a picture of my feet in the Mediterranean. I followed that up with my feet in the Great Salt Lake, and so, of course, I needed to get a picture of my feet in Lake Michigan (even though I’ve swum in Lake Michigan a bunch of times, I felt that I needed that picture for a sense of completion). So Alex and I hiked out to the lake and I got my picture. Then we walked back to the bus stop and took the bus to a couple of blocks north of his uncle’s work.

Lincoln Park Lake Chicago

The lake outside Cafe Brauer, Lincoln Park Zoo, Chicago, looking south towards downtown, 2016

We had a very nice (if a bit brief) lunch with his uncle, and then Alex and I headed back north on Michigan Avenue. I really, really wanted Alex to see the Water Tower, as it is such an important landmark for the city. As we walked, I pointed out some of the more interesting buildings (including Chicago Place, which was a mall for about 20 years but is currently being converted into office space).

After we visited the Water Tower, we walked back down Michigan Avenue until just after we crossed the Michigan Avenue Bridge and hiked back along the new-ish Riverwalk of the river. When I was growing up, all there was along the river were steep cliffs of concrete. I really enjoyed the landscaping and construction along the Riverwalk and hope that this ends up being a real boon to the city.

Then we walked back to our hotel, picked up our suitcases, and headed off to the subway station to begin our trip back to Texas.

Phil Hardberger Park is one of the crown jewels, if not the crown jewel, of the San Antonio Parks and Recreation system. The city purchased the family farm of the Voelcker family and have turned the site into a natural and historic landmark. Hardberger Park is 311 acres and has 19th century buildings on the site.

Hardberger Park is unusual in that it is actually two separate parks, to all appearances. The eastern part of the park has an entrance on Blanco Road and seems (to me at least) to be the more heavily visited of the parks. The eastern side has, in addition to the usual walking paths and playground, the picnic pavilion and the larger of the two dog parks. The western half of the park has an entrance on Northwest Military Highway and has, in addition to the usual walking paths and playground, the Phil Hardberger Urban Ecology Center.

The west side also has an art installation, “Golden Age” by Anne Wallace, which uses reflective metal to simulate the appearance of a wildfire on the prairie area behind the Urban Ecology Center. Personally, I think that Wallace miscalculated the height of the grasses in the prairie, her explanation of the work reads, in part, “As Hardberger Park’s restored grassland matures, the gold will appear to hover just above the prairie, using the sun and wind to bounce light off the tops of the grasses,” except that by now, the gold is buried within the grasses for most of the year. I wonder if it’s too late to raise the poles holding the circles up another three to six inches . . .

Geology Trail, Hardberger Park, San Antonio

The Geology Trail, Phil Hardberger Park, San Antonio, Texas

Alex and I have explored the eastern side of the park pretty thoroughly. If you are in San Antonio and are starved for some greenery, there is a lovely corner of the Geology Trail that is really vibrant in the springtime. We have spent more time but done less exploring on the western part of the park, because there are a lot more paths over there. Somehow, since Hardberger is one of the closest parks to my home, we only go there when we’re out of ideas on where to go, and since between the heat and the fact that there just aren’t many people out there, we tend to do just a short walk and then hop across the street to pick up groceries (as I write this, the western entrance is across the street from the Alon Market HEB supermarket; I make no promises that the supermarket will be there whenever you’re reading this).

I mentioned earlier that there are two halves of the park with separate entrances on different streets. The halves of the park are separated by Wurzbach Parkway, a four-lane highway with a 50 mile per hour speed limit. So it’s cross-able, but it can be something of an adventure getting from one side to the other. The plan is to add a bridge joining the two halves. And the bridges that are on the Howard W. Peak Greenway System are very nice, and would serve for the purpose of getting visitors safely across. That’s not the plan, however. The plan is for a $25 million bridge that would be 150 feet wide and have enough native greenery on it that animals wanting to cross from one side to the other will be encouraged to use it rather than risk crossing the road as well. At the moment, it looks like voters will be voting on a bond to raise $15 million of this money in May 2017. Will the bond pass? After the November 2016 elections, who knows? Will the Hardberger Park Conservancy be able to come up with their share of $10 million? I don’t know that either. If I ever do find out, I’ll let you know.

Update: 3:10 p.m. Actually you can no longer cross Wurzbach Parkway. They’ve put up a Jersey barrier. Unfortunately, this is not a barrier made of jersey material (which would be easy to move aside and get through) but is, in fact, a 3.5-foot-high cement wall. As a result, the only way from one side to the other is to drive until when (if?) they build that bridge.

We got up early and hit the complimentary breakfast, which was lackluster. The “scrambled eggs” tasted like those cholesterol-free artificial eggs, judging by the overwhelming onion flavor that they had. I’m not a big fan of onions, so that was disappointing.

Then we hit the road. Our first stop was the Harold Washington Library, which I, personally, love. Yeah, I can see the disenchantment with the big verdigris structures on top, but I love the rest of the red granite exterior and the inside is lovely. I also have a sentimental connection to the building. They were putting the finishing touches on it during my time working in the Loop and I walked past the construction site nearly daily. My folks and I also went on one of the official tours when the library officially opened, but I don’t recall ever visiting the winter garden on the top floor. So, Alex and I took the escalators all the way up and then all the way back down again. I have to admit that I slipped my shoes off in the winter garden because they were just the tiniest bit squeaky and the silence up there made the squeakiness really loud.

After we left the Harold Washington Library, we continued eastward on Van Buren and into Grant Park. We passed the statue of Lincoln and then headed for Buckingham Fountain. From there, we went on to the Field Museum of Natural History.

While in the Field Museum, we visited all of my favorite exhibits: Ancient Egypt, the gemstone and jade halls, the taxidermied Lions of Tsavo, and, of course, the dinosaurs. They have modified that section of the museum since the last time I was there, focusing on the eras in which the different animals on display went extinct. They also have the old Charles R. Knight paintings in the same rooms with their respective eras. I love those old paintings, even though they’re a bit out of date by today’s scientific standards. Isn’t it interesting that two of the artists whose work I’ve loved since I was a child — Monet and Knight — both had visual impairments? I have always been extremely nearsighted, so perhaps something about their work feels sort of “homey” or something. We also found that the meteorites, which had been removed from display for decades, if I recall correctly, were back on display. It was lovely seeing them again.

We headed from there to the Adler Planetarium (writeup to follow someday). I hadn’t been to the planetarium in years. Since the last time I was there, they added a whole glassed-in section, and, I think, at least one sublevel. So Alex and I spent quite a bit of time there. We were constrained by time and finances, so we had to pick just one show to see, which ended up being in just a regular auditorium, rather than being in the big dome. I have promised Alex that we’ll do another planetarium sometime soon so that we can get the dome show in.

After that we went to the Shedd Aquarium (which I also have yet to write up). We got the most basic admission, which only lets you in to see the fish and other animals on the main level. But that ended up being enough. I also love the building itself. The attention to detail in the doorways and things makes just walking around the building an enjoyable experience.

I had planned to take Alex to Aurelio’s Pizza* in Homewood. While we were looking up train schedules, I stumbled across the information that there is (or perhaps was, for those of you reading this in the future) an Aurelio’s in the South Loop, almost on the doorstep of the Museum Campus. As it was around 5:00 by then, we sat down for a while before heading off for pizza. I got some pictures of the museums without crowds around them while we enjoyed the early evening.

I had hoped to make it to the park on Northerly Island (which used to be the Meigs Field airport), but, again, it was 5:00 by this time and we were exhausted.

We had our pizza and then headed back towards our hotel. On the way up Michigan Avenue, I happened to notice the Rosenberg Fountain, which may be the oldest piece of public art in Grant Park (I’m not sure if the fountain or the Art Institute lions are older). So I made Alex stop so that I could take pictures. One thing led to another and we ended up walking back north through the park while I took pictures of the art.

Then we hiked back to our hotel and got some rest for what would turn out to be a record-setting day of walking on our third day in Chicago.

*I hardly ever mention the names of businesses in these writeups, but I figured that this would be far more complicated if I tried to talk around the name of the restaurant rather than just naming it outright.

Ideally, this would be where I would write up Mud Creek Park, but when Alex and I visited Mud Creek Park, it was closed because, as one would actually expect, given the name, Mud Creek Park floods pretty badly when it rains, and it had rained recently when we went up there. So instead on that day we returned to McAllister Park.

So let’s go on to Panther Springs Park. Panther Springs Park is kind of an odd one to try to reach. It looks, on the map, like you should be able to access it from Blanco, possibly from the parking lot to the Mays Family YMCA. I actually swear that Google Maps said that there was a way in there at one point.  But you can’t get there that way.  You actually have to go up through a residential area (fortunately not through the actual neighborhood, but the street passes one housing development after the other) to get there.

Sotol Duet at the entrance to Panther Springs Park, San Antonio

Jon Isherwood, “Sotol Duet,” 2015

Once Alex and I were in the parking lot, we had to find the way into the park. Alex and I were walking through the parking lot when a man came up and asked where the entrance to the park was. We confessed that it was our first time there, too.  So we continued towards the end of the parking lot. I needed to take a picture of Isherwood’s “Sotol Duet” on the way in, so I headed that direction and the man found the entrance before we did.

Basically, Panther Springs Park is a three-mile walking trail and a dog park. There isn’t much in the way of a playground or anything of that nature. We didn’t end up walking that much of the trail because it was still pretty warm out and the humidity was something to be believed. So we walked (and met a man and is son and their dog who were herding a baby snake from the path), returned to our car, and went home.

I like to leave for our destination as early as possible when I travel. When driving, that generally means leaving the night before the trip, particularly if the trip will take us up the Interstate 35 corridor. Interstate 35 is kind of a nightmare at the best of times, and morning rush hour is not the best of times. It’s nice to leave San Antonio at around 10:30 p.m., though. By the time you’re through Dallas, it’s just about sunrise and you’re on your way to Texarkana.

For flying, this generally means a flight sometime between 5:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. For this trip, we ended up with a 6:30 a.m. flight, which, with picking up our luggage and riding on the Blue Line subway, had us in the Loop by 11:00. We emerged from the tunnel beneath Daley Plaza and walked to our hotel to check in. As luck would have it, our room was ready by then, so we dropped off our bags and headed out for the day.

Our first stop was the department store formerly known as Marshall Field’s. We admired the Tiffany ceiling and then went down to the food court in the basement. They seem to have remodeled since my last visit, but the food was excellent. I got roasted chicken with green beans and rice. Alex got just the chicken and a smoothie.  He helped me finish the rice.

I then dragged Alex up to the 7th floor, where we peeked in at the Walnut Room and then looked down one of the atria to the first floor. We left the department store and then walked to the Chicago Cultural Center.

The Chicago Cultural Center is the original building for the Chicago Public Library. After the Great Chicago Fire, the citizens of London donated thousands of books to the city. The city government, understanding that this gift deserved a suitable building, built a five-story building, with mosaics and what is one of the largest Tiffany domes in the world, to house the collection.

Tiffany Dome, Chicago Cultural Center

The dome of the Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago, Illinois

We actually entered through the “wrong” side of the building (on Randolph Street), which is the side that the Grand Army of the Republic rotunda is on. The Grand Army of the Republic was an organization for veterans of the Union Army during the Civil War. The entrance isn’t quite as grand as the Washington Street side and the dome (by Healy and Millet) is lovely, but less impressive than the dome on the library side.

We explored some of the art exhibits in the center, including Paul Catanese’s Visible from Space.

After we left the Cultural Center, we went to Millennium Park and stood in the mist from the Crown Fountain (which seems to be showing its age a bit) and admired the Bean (more formally known as the Cloud Gate). We then walked from there to the Art Institute of Chicago, where we wandered around for a while. I made sure we caught most of the really notable works including A Sunday on the Island of La Grande Jatte, Nighthawks, At the Moulin Rouge, and America Windows. American Gothic was in a for-pay exhibit but was put near a glass window so that we could see it from the outside of the exhibit. We also went into the recreation of the trading room from the Chicago Stock Exchange building and then after we left the museum went around to the back to admire the arch that once stood over the door of the exchange.

We returned to our hotel room and ordered a pizza. Alex fell asleep literally while eating, so I ate most of the pizza myself. Then, while he was still asleep, I went out onto the street in front of our hotel and checked out some of the places I remembered visiting from my days working in the Loop. One of the restaurants I used to visit is now a falafel place. I also caught a Magmar and a Jynx while I was out there.

After that, it was too dark outside for me to feel perfectly comfortable walking around by myself, so I went back to the room myself to get some rest for our next, even more exhausting, day.

When we left Chicago, I was wondering if I got any decent pictures of Lincoln Park. As it turned out, the only pictures of the park that weren’t of the zoo that I got, as it turned out, were one picture of the Couch mausoleum that I took from a moving bus (so it’s not the best picture ever), a few pictures of the Albert Caldwell Lily Pool, and a couple of pictures of the beach just a little south of where Lake Shore Drive would intersect with Belden Avenue if Belden Avenue went through. Which it doesn’t.

Anyway, I haven’t found anything that I liked well enough to showcase in my post on Lincoln Park, so on to the zoo. I have 47 pictures from the zoo, so I’m sure that I can find something that I can work with there.

Lincoln Park Zoo began, for all intents and purposes, with two swans in 1868. In 1874, a bear cub joined the swans, and the zoo was underway. I’m not sure when exactly the “there are two swans and a bear cub in Lincoln Park” gave way to a formal “Lincoln Park Zoo,” but the first zoo director, Cyrus DeVry, was hired in 1888, so it’s likely to have been somewhere in that period.

Over time, the zoo grew, with the addition of new buildings and species. Today, there are over 1,000 specimens of over 200 species in the zoo.

Lincoln Park Zoo Entrance Animals

The animals above the entrance to Lincoln Park Zoo

At the moment (and for the foreseeable future), Lincoln Park Zoo is free to the public. I don’t normally talk about admissions fees because that’s not “evergreen.” Someday the admissions cost will go up which means that one of two things would have to happen.  One, I would have to track the cost of admission to absolutely everything that I’ll ever write about that has an admission fee (the Art Institute of Chicago, the San Antonio Zoo, the Empire State Building,  the Ruins of Pompeii) and then keep those pages updated. Two, I would have to resign myself to having out-of-date information on my page. And, honestly, this is what would be more likely to happen.

I’m making an exception to the above rule in this case because not having an admission charge is highly unusual. There are 142 accredited zoos in the United States and of those, from what I can tell, fewer than ten have no admission fee. In the case of Lincoln Park Zoo, the money to run the zoo is largely covered by the fee for parking in the lots near the zoo and the sale of food and souvenirs. They take donations as well, and I threw a few dollars in that bucket while I was there. Any shortfall beyond that is covered by the city. The parking lot, by the way, is not a “throw a quarter in the meter” type parking. It costs roughly the same as any private parking lot in a big city. Therefore it’s more cost-effective to drive if you have several people in the car with you. On this visit, we didn’t drive; we didn’t have a car available to us. We took the bus.

As one would imagine from the location, Lincoln Park Zoo is a lovely, parklike zoo, with lots of greenery. It’s a nice place to do some walking and watch the people and the animals.  There is food available at the zoo, the most prominent of which (at least it’s the only one that stood out to me) is the food court at the Park Place Café. This food court has been there since Alex was maybe three, so it’s likely to turn out to be a long-term fixture at the zoo.

As to the animals, well, there are animals at the zoo. I think that the western lowland gorillas made the biggest impression on me. This is at least in part to the fact that a silverback was leaning up against the join between two windows when we were there, allowing me to get several really lovely pictures of him. Of course, gorillas and Lincoln Park Zoo have had a long association. In 1930, the zoo acquired a gorilla named Bushman. Bushman lived for another 21 years at the zoo, and during my childhood, most of the adults in my life had fond memories of him. He was taxidermied and is on display at the Field Museum of Natural History.

The drive back to Salt Lake City from Jensen took a bit longer than Google Maps said it would. This was at least partly due to the fact that I was so over the seats in that car.

Once we arrived back in Salt Lake City, I had three goals: 1. to see the state capitol building (and, at one point, I could have crossed a moon tree off my list, but it is dead now); 2. to see City Creek, which was the water source for the early city (and still supplies water to the city today); and 3. to make it back to the airport in a timely manner.

And I achieved all three.

The trip to the capitol building took us up State Street (which makes sense), which eventually becomes one very lane going uphill. It was near the end of the work day (around 4:30 or so), so I figured that most traffic would be headed away from the capitol. I’m not sure why so many cars were headed towards the building at this time of day, but the road was very congested. This was not my favorite part of our trip, and made me wish we had had a little more time and energy on our first day in Salt Lake City to hike up the hill to the capitol. The view of the capitol building once you emerge from this narrow street is very impressive, I’ll give it that.

Once you reach the capitol, you find a street, with the understandable name of “Capitol Street” that makes a circuit around the building. Due to the congestion we didn’t even attempt to make a left and instead just took a right turn. Along the eastern side of the capitol is a very small parking area, so we parked and I got out to take pictures. There was no time to go inside the building.

It was so late at this point, that I despaired of being able to see City Creek until I looked at my phone and noticed that the creek went right past the spot where we were parked. The parking area is at the very edge of City Creek Canyon. So Alex stayed by the car and I took the winding path down into what turned out to be Memory Grove Gardens.

At first, I have to admit that I thought that Memory Grove Gardens looked like a cemetery. I was unaware of the name of this plot of land at this point, but  even the name sounds kind of cemetery-like. The path ended at a replica of the Liberty Bell. As I looked around a saw several marble monuments that looked more than vaguely like graves to my eyes.

City Creek, Memory Grove Gardens Park, Salt Lake City

City Creek, Memory Grove Gardens Park, Salt Lake City, 2017

I spent quite a bit of my childhood visiting a great-aunt and great-uncle who lived down the street from a cemetery, so I’m no stranger to spending time in cemeteries. I thought it might be disrespectful to take pictures, though. Then I noticed some people walking dogs and decided that if it’s okay to walk dogs, it’s probably okay to take pictures there.

I think I saw some kind of sign indicating that this was a park at this point. I’m trying to remember (it was two and a half months ago and the Google Maps car has apparently not been along Canyon Road down there yet). I think the sign indicated where the off-leash area for dogs stops. So I got some pictures of the park, the creek, and the walls of the canyon and went back up to the car. I had been down there for a while, and Alex was about to come down after me.

We got back in the car and filled our gas tank at a very small gas station down the street from the Temple and then headed back to the airport. And even with the late start and everything we still got there in time to recharge our phones before we got on the plane (I also caught a Ponyta at the gate).

Like Fox Park, Leon Vista Park is another park that more or less is just a trail head for the Leon Creek Greenway. It is a very nice trail head for the Leon Creek Greenway (and leads to an area that is probably my favorite section of the greenway so far), but that’s basically all it is.

McAllister Park on the other hand, is a very different animal.

At what I estimate to be over a thousand acres, McAllister Park gives the impression of being larger on the inside than it is on the outside. The park is bounded by five pretty busy streets, and while driving on most of them, you would never guess that a park of that size lurks back there. The first time we went to McAllister Park, I parked my car by one of the playgrounds and Alex and I walked. And walked. And walked.We had no idea how much park was there until we explored. And after two more visits, we still haven’t seen all of it. There is one part of the park that heads off to the northwest and I have never been able to find that path at all.

Raccoon footprints McAllister Park, 2014

Usually my pictures are all, “look at this vista,” “look at this architecture,” “look at this historic site.” So here’s “look at these raccoon footprints.” Because raccoon footprints. McAllister Park, 2014

My most recent visit was an attempt to continue the Salado Creek Greenway. I had followed the greenway from Walker Ranch Historic Landmark Park to U.S. 281, but no farther. There is a nice parking lot for the trailhead in McAllister Park. This parking lot also serves the dog park which is in that corner of the park. Then you walk for nearly 3/4 of a mile (1.2 km) before you even get to the greenway. Now that we’re aware of that, we need to set aside more time than we had that day to try it again. We will make it someday, though.  Or maybe I’ll attempt it myself on a day off now that Alex is back in school and the weather is cooling off.

With four picnic pavilions, a dog park, two playgrounds, sports fields, and more than 17 miles of hiking and/or biking trails, McAllister Park is not what you’d call a quiet place to contemplate nature in solitude. If you are the kind of person who likes to people-watch, or who just feels safer with potential witnesses around, McAllister may be your kind of park.

McAllister is a park, so some of the paths are paved and level, and thus wheelchair accessible. Some paths are less so and accessible by wheelchair users with great upper-body strength. And some are just dirt paths and only accessible to people traveling on foot (and not even them, sometimes, when it’s been raining).