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John Tobin Park

I passed John Tobin Park, which is just an activity center on a small lot on the corner of Martin and Brazos Streets, on the day of the Women’s March.  I took a couple of pictures as I walked past and told Alex that this meant that I could cross this park off my list.

I may be returning to it, more or less, after all, as it turns out. Tobin Park backs up to Alazán Creek and there is now a greenway along the stretch of the creek north of this section. Will the greenway ever reach this part of the creek? There are no plans now, but who knows what will happen with the greenway project in the future?

Walker Ranch Historic Landmark Park

I live fairly close to Walker Ranch Historic Landmark Park. And before Alex was born, that area was even closer to where we lived. As a result, for most of Alex’s life, “the park” has meant Walker Ranch.

While I’m still not entirely certain what the “landmark” is (though perhaps the entire park is the landmark, since it si on the National Register of Historic Places?), I definitely can tell you at least some of what the word “historic” is for.

As the park is near the confluence of the Salado and Panther Springs Creeks, humans have lived there for literally millennia. When the Coahuiltecans were the main human inhabitants, they camped there, and once the Spaniards arrived, they began the occupation of that space on a full-time basis.

When Spain colonized the areas which are now Florida, Texas, and Mexico, the law of Spain was that all Spaniards were required to be Roman Catholics. So, in order to count the local indigenous peoples as Spaniards, they needed to be converted. To that end, Franciscan monks moved to what is now San Antonio in the 18th century to convert the local Coahuiltecan Native Americans and they founded five missions. Mission San Antonio de Valero (which is now The Alamo) was the first one founded.

Walker Ranch Park airplane

An airplane flies near the main loop trail at Walker Ranch Park, 2014.

Hundreds of people lived at the missions, and that required food. At first, the natives and Franciscans would raise cattle near the missions, but as the local civilians began to ranch themselves, the groups would come into conflict. The various missions, as a result, founded ranches that were farther out. You can still visit one of these missions, Rancho de las Cabras in Floresville, the ranch for Mission San Francisco de la Espada. The other ranches are now in what is San Antonio proper and, as a result, most of their structures the “context” is gone.

The ranch for Mission San Antonio de Valero (which they shared with Mission de Nuestra Senora de la Purisima Concepcion de Acuna and Mission San Juan Capistran0) was the Monte Galvan. I’m trying to find the exact boundaries, but what is clear is that Walker Ranch Park is within the area that was included in the ranch.

The “Walker Ranch” name comes from the Walker family, which ranched there in the early 20th century. The Walker Ranch is on the National Register of Historic Places (it was added in 1975).

Today, Walker Ranch Park has a playground, portable restroom facilities, a picnic pavilion and several walking/biking paths.  The main path is a paved loop path that goes around a field with a windmill (I don’t know if the windmill was put there by the Walker family or not). In spring, in years when the rain is pretty good, the loop trail is a fantastic place to see wildflowers, bluebonnets in particular. There is also another, unpaved, path that follows Panther Springs Creek, and Walker Ranch Park is also on the Salado Creek Greenway. The Greenway connects Walker Ranch Park to Phil Hardberger Park to the northwest and to McAllister Park to the southeast.

Walker Ranch Park is also a great place to go deer- and planespotting. There is a community of deer that live in the park and they are habituated enough to people that you can see them, but not so used to people that you can actually get anywhere near enough to hurt them. The planes are definitely not close enough that people can hurt them, as they’re overhead. The park is in the landing pattern for the airport, and so planes come overhead pretty frequently. And sometimes, when conditions are just right, and you are far enough in the trees, you can hear the whooshing sound of the wake turbulence. For some reason, we’ve only ever heard it when surrounded by trees and not when near the parking lot. I don’t think that the wake turbulence is blocked out by the noise from the cars, because I don’t even hear it when there are no cars.

Despite it being out of the way, I’ve been to Stone Oak Park twice. The first time was July of 2015 and it was just amazingly hot. It seemed like a nice park, though, so Alex and I returned in November of 2015 so that we could finish the rest of the main walking path.

It turns out that we saw most of the exciting stuff on that first trip.

Stone Oak Park has the usual things, bicycle trails, a playground, a picnic pavilion, portable restroom facilities, and so forth. The park also has a 2.7-mile walking trail marked by public artworks. I am trying to find the names of the artworks, but haven’t had much luck so far. Perhaps this will be my excuse to return.

Stone Oak Park Artwork

Artwork at Stone Oak Park, San Antonio, Texas 2015

Stone Oak Park is also home to two caves, known as Bear Cave and Cub Cave. Bear Cave got its name from the bones of a black bear that were found inside. Cub Cave got its name because whoever named the caves wanted to stick with the “bear” theme and Cub Cave is smaller than Bear Cave. Bear Cave is blocked off to keep people from climbing or falling in. As of my last visit, Cub Cave was still open.

Stone Oak Park was founded for one very practical reason — it is in a vulnerable area of the state known as the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone. In particular, the caves along the recharge zone are important  for cleaning the water as it enters the aquifer.  The aquifer is where San Antonio and its surrounding area gets its drinking water. The water drains into the aquifer in a region from just outside Loop 1604, stretching up past the western boundaries of New Braunfels and San Marcos, and way off to the west to around Brackettville (which is between Uvalde and the border with Mexico).  In the process of preserving this land, the city has preserved two of the most important caves for keeping our water clean.

As most of you likely know, there is a major demonstration for feminists (here defined as “people who think that women deserve to be treated like people”) in Washington, DC. You may also be aware that there are a number of “sister marches” being held in other cities (the official list is something like 673 marches with over 2 million expected marchers).

San Antonio is going to have a march today (as this posts, not as I’m writing it) and Alex and I are planning to attend the actual march itself, if not the rally part at the beginning or the planning part at the end. If we do make it, I’ll make a post updating y’all on what happened and what it felt like to participate in an event like this.

I’m categorizing this as “walking” as well as “2016 election” since the marchers will be walking nearly two miles just as the official marching part of the march. Getting there and then back to the bus stop will probably add quite a bit more.

A little later than I’d planned (I’d hoped to have this up 23.5 hours earlier than I actually ended up posting it), but I finally got out to take pictures of the lights here in the city. This year Alex and I went to the University of the Incarnate Word to take pictures, and I got a pretty good one of the Brackenridge Villa:

Brackenridge Villa, San Antonio

Brackenridge Villa, University of the Incarnate Word, San Antonio, Texas, 2016

Hopefully next year, we’ll have more energy and can take some Christmas pictures before the night of Christmas itself.

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.

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.

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.

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).

These are both fairly small parks, so I figured I’d put them together.

Fox Park is not particularly exciting, I’m disappointed to admit. The parks website says that there are walking paths and such, but Fox Park mostly functions as a trailhead for the Leon Creek Greenway. If you blink, you’ll miss the park entirely.

Gorrell Park is still small, but has more going for it. The full name of the park is Officer Edwynn J. Gorrell Park, and the park is named for a police officer who was killed in the line of duty in 1988.

Gilbert Barrera, The Letter

Gilbert Barrerra, The Letter, 2012. At least it looks like Barrera finished it in 2012, judging by his Facebook. I took the photo in 2016.

Gorrell Park has a playground, picnic tables, and a quarter-mile walking trail, which is an out-and-back trail, rather than a loop. There is also a statue which for a long time was wrapped up, apparently to deter vandals. I have never been able to find a name or attribution for the statue, but it is titled The Letter and the sculptor is Gilbert E. Barrera. It is a widow holding a dove, which represents not just the widows of fallen police officers but also anyone who has suffered the loss of a loved one.

I mentioned vandalism. I’m not sure if it’s specifically anti-police vandalism, since the park is named for a fallen officer as such, but there has been some vandalism in the park. I would blame the vandalism more on the park’s proximity to Tom C. Clark High School, which is right across the railroad tracks. Clark is one of the best high schools in the area, and not at all bad in the national rankings, but kids are kids, and I seem to recall a study saying that homes that are near schools face more vandalism, so I suspect the same may be true of parks near schools. If the vandalism makes you want to be cautious, make sure that other people are in the park when you visit, and don’t go alone.

It’s a lovely park, despite the vandalism and perhaps worth a visit.

I’m trying to remember how my ex-husband and I discovered Friedrich Wilderness Park. I do remember that we accidentally wandered into Raymond Russell Park the first time we looked for it (but didn’t get very far into Russell Park at all — I finally explored that one fully just this year). Friedrich Park ended up becoming one of our favorite parks, though, and we introduced both friends and family to it over the years.

Friedrich Wilderness Park 2015

Friedrich Wilderness Park, San Antonio, Texas 2015

The original land that made up the park was a bequest of Norma Friedrich Ward, who wanted it to be preserved as a natural area and named for her parents, Emilie and Albert Friedrich. Later, two men, Wilbur Mathews and Glen Martin, donated another 52 acres. Interestingly, though, despite its status as a natural area, Friedrich Wilderness Park is not untouched by human hands. I’m not talking about paved paths and the addition of bathrooms and a classroom. A stream passes through the park and where the stream intersects with the Main Loop Trail (and for a while out into the wilderness from there), the stream bed is concrete or cement or something like that. I’ve never been able to figure out how that stream bed got paved or why someone would pave the stream bed.

Friedrich Wilderness Park has eight miles of walking trails, most of which are not accessible to those in wheelchairs. Friedrich is where I first saw the path levels that are used in San Antonio. There is a loop path near the entrance that is level 1, but most of the other paths are level 3 or 4.

Friedrich Wilderness Park is also a nice place to go if you are a birdwatcher. It is one of the nesting sites for the Golden-Cheeked Warbler and the Black-Capped Vireo. Of course, other birds are seen there as well. Unfortunately for me, the Golden-Cheeked Warbler nests in “mountain cedar” (actually a type of juniper) trees, so the park is rife with them. Mountain cedar is a really bad asthma trigger for me, so I need to make sure I bring my rescue inhaler, particularly during the winter, which is when the trees release their pollen. Many people in San Antonio face a different, but related problem, which is more traditional “hay fever”-type allergies from mountain cedar pollen, so take any allergy medication before going.