san_antonio

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We’re home from Chicago, so I will probably resurrect my Northern Illinois Destinations topic soon. I’m not entirely sure how many of the places we went I haven’t covered yet, but I got a lot of pictures of places that I have written. And I mean a lot, a lot, like over 600 total pictures. So I will probably start with a post sharing the pictures that I will eventually go back and insert into those posts. Then we’ll start tackling places that I haven’t covered. I probably will also do a post on some of my favorite buildings that are not really places to go for an activity, but things to see.

Next up alphabetically is Denman Estate Park, but we’ve already covered that one. So onwards and upwards to Eisenhower Park.

Eisenhower is a lovely park built on one of the foothills of the Texas Hill Country. I went there once with the now-ex when Alex was little, but I had a terrible asthma attack at the top of the hill and was afraid to go back after that. I was sure that everyone around me could hear the wheezing, it was so bad.

Now that I’m taking asthma maintenance medication (whoever came up with the combination of inhaled steroids and long-acting beta agonists really needs to be canonized), I can visit Eisenhower Park whenever I want.

The land which is now Eisenhower Park was originally part of Camp Bullis Military Training Reservation. Camp Bullis is still there, yards/feet/inches away from the park, depending on where you are standing at the time. Former General and US President Dwight D. Eisenhower was, for a time, stationed at Fort Sam Houston (locally called “Fort Sam”) here. In fact, he met his wife, Mamie, in San Antonio.

Sometime around 1972, the United States Army decided that they needed to reduce the size of Camp Bullis by more than 1,000 acres. They transferred ownership of this land to Bexar County and to the city of San Antonio. In 1988, the city turned their 320-acre share into a public park.

Eisenhower Park House 2016

The house in Eisenhower Park, San Antonio, Texas, 2016

Eisenhower Park has picnic facilities, a playground, a house that I think was moved here from somewhere else, and, of course, five miles of hiking trails. Interestingly, no one has put the origin of the house on their website, so when I next go to the park (more on that later), I’ll make a note of it. I thought I got a picture of the sign explaining it but I can’t find one now.

The trails are, for the most part, unaccessible by wheelchair users. There is one paved path that goes pretty much right straight up the hill, but it’s pretty steep.  I guess if the wheelchair user in question has really good upper-body strength or a fairly powerful motorized wheelchair you might be able to make it but I really wouldn’t recommend it.

At the top of the hill is a (not at all handicap accessible) observation platform. You can see downtown San Antonio from the platform, but it’s pretty small. Alex and I had tentative plans to go up to Eisenhower Park the Sunday before we left for Chicago, but it never happened. Alex is going to his dad’s for a few days later this week, so I may make the trip myself. I’m going up there because of the view of the city. I’m trying to figure out how to get good pictures of the moon with my cell phone camera and I read something that said that you can use a telescope or binoculars to bring the moon into sharper relief so I’m going to experiment with taking pictures with a telescope (or binoculars) from the top of the platform. The moon is farther away than downtown San Antonio is, but if I can make downtown look bigger from there, it might be worth experimenting with it on the moon.

Alex and I went to Comanche Lookout Park a couple of years ago when I was first playing around with the idea of starting a travel blog. San Antonio has such a wealth of parks and I thought that it was a real shame that I never really got out of the Brackenridge/Walker Ranch/Hardberger/Eisenhower/Denman Estate rut that I was in. So I started to research parks and discovered that Comanche Lookout has both geographical and historical interest.

The geographical interest is that Comanche Lookout Park is the fourth-highest point in Bexar County. And since Bexar County is pretty hilly, that means something. The elevation of Comanche Lookout Park is 1,340 feet.  That’s nearly 400 feet higher than the very highest point in Cook County.

As to history, the local Native American nations, the Apache and, later Comanche, used the hill as, well, a lookout post, just as the name implies. Later, the Camino Real de los Tejas (not to be confused with the Californian Camino Real), which connected Mexico City to Laredo, San Antonio, and Nacogdoches, Texas went past the hill. That part of the road is known as Nacogdoches Road today. In the 1920s, a man named Edward H. Coppock bought the land that includes Comanche Lookout and he began work on a castle at the top of the hill. He never finished his castle before his death. A later owner razed all but the foundations and the completed tower at the top of the hill. The property was passed from owner to owner for nearly 50 years. The City of San Antonio purchased the parcel in 1994 and converted it into a public park.

Comanche Lookout Park tower, 2014

The tower at Comanche Lookout Park, 2014

Comanche Lookout Park has 4.55 miles of walking trails and one of those outdoor fitness systems. You know, the “do pullups on this bar,” “hold this bar and do pushups” things. There is a city library on the corner of Nacogdoches and Judson Roads. And, of course, there is the tower (see image), which is surrounded by a fence.

I seem to recall that a large number of the trails are paved, but the path to the top of the hill might be a level 3, and thus unusable by people in wheelchairs without really good upper body strength or a really powerful motorized chair.

I’m running these out of order.  I missed two, so I’m publishing this now and will follow up with Comanche Lookout and Cibolo Nature Parks in another week or so (maybe longer if I do end up exploring downtown San Antonio for Pokéstops in the next few days).

I have to admit that I haven’t spent that much time at Concepción Park. Alex and I explored a little, and it seems to be a nice addition to the neighborhood around there, with a swimming pool, a playground, picnic tables, and sports fields. Unfortunately, it is relatively low on shade and the only walking trail is only 0.5 miles (0.8 km). Alex and I were at the park primarily as a parking lot for the Mission Reach part of the San Antonio River Walk.  Concepción Park, including the attached Sports Complex, are around 76 acres, which isn’t that large, but by my estimate, it’s around a mile along the river, which took us two tries, since we had our elderly dog with us the first time. We had to stop so that she would have the energy to make it back to the car.


My family and I have spent many happy hours at Friedrich Wildnerness Park (post to follow later). One day when the now-ex and I were heading home from Friedrich, we passed a sign for a Crownridge Canyon Park. Curious, we turned at the sign and got utterly lost trying to find the park.  We did see a wild turkey, however, when we accidentally drove into the parking lot of the Palmer Course at La Cantera, so there’s that.

This was back around 2006, in the days before everyone had Google Maps on their phones so we turned around and headed home. We figured out that we missed a turn onto Babcock and made another attempt a while later, but didn’t see the park then, either, due to having missed yet another turn that we didn’t know about.

I finally found the park for the first time sometime around 2009 or 2010 after my divorce and when my dad moved in with me and it really was worth the effort.

The area which is now Crownridge Canyon Park was, at one time, purchased by a company that wanted to put houses in that area. However, that land is in the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone and is also part of the nesting range of the Golden-Cheeked Warbler, both of which are pretty compelling reasons for the city to buy the land and mark it for public use. Eventually, from what I can tell, there is going to be one greenway including Crownridge Canyon, Friedrich, and the new Rancho Diana parks.

Crownridge Canyon is a great place for birders. As I mentioned, the golden-cheeked warbler and turkeys are both endemic to the area. The park also has bushtit and the last time we were there, Alex and I saw a really pretty (and still unidentified) blue bird in the parking lot.

Hill Country Water Cycles

Oscar Alvarado, Hill Country Water Cycles, 2005 (you can see the rocks of the stream off on the right-hand side)

The park has a public art display, Oscar Alvarado’s Hill Country Water Cycles, which consists of a wall and floor mural and also a model stream created with collected rainwater. The drive up to the park may be worth it just for the artwork.

Crownridge Canyon has 1.8 miles of hiking trails in a sort of figure-8 shape. The bottom loop of the 8, which is 1.3 miles, is kind of steep, but paved, so people with quite a bit of upper-body strength should be able to make the path in a wheelchair. The top loop, which is 0.5 miles, is steeper and is unpaved, so it may be unpassable by wheelchair users.

So, since I’m not sure how to tackle over the 200 parks that I haven’t covered yet (many of which I haven’t even visited yet), I guess I’ll do this alphabetically.

First of the ones I’ve visited, I guess, is Alamo Plaza.  I didn’t even realize that Alamo Plaza was a park until I saw it on the San Antonio Parks and Recreation website.  While Alamo Plaza has a fair bit of history — it was part of the mission complex for Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo’s original name). Today, though, there’s really not much to Alamo Plaza.  I don’t think that the Alamo itself is actually part of the park. The Alamo is owned by the Texas General Land Office and not the city.  The plaza itself is largely paved with limestone. People gather there to socialize and street vendors (notably, if I recall correctly, raspa (sno-cone) vendors) sometimes have carts set up there. There’s a gazebo and the cenotaph, which is a giant monument listing the names of those who died in the battle of the Alamo. Also, Alamo Plaza is where the city sets up the city Christmas tree.

2015 San Antonio Christmas Tree

The 2015 city Christmas tree for San Antonio, Texas in Alamo Plaza.

Bamberger Nature Park is in a completely different part of the city — the northwest side. At nearly 71 acres (28.7 hectares), Bamberger is considerably larger than Alamo Plaza. I seem to recall that seeing a sign saying that before it was a park, Bamberger was a part of some family’s farm.  I thought I took a picture of the sign but can’t find it now.

There isn’t a whole lot more to Bamberger Nature Park than there is to Alamo Plaza, only in the other direction. Where Alamo Plaza is all built up, Bamberger Nature Park is largely unimproved. The only real change made to the park are 2.5 miles of hiking and biking trails. These trails connect to the Leon Creek Greenway. I’ve been there twice, once intentionally in December of 2014, and the other one in the spring of 2016 when I made a wrong turn on the Leon Creek Greenway. Both times, it was a very nice place to take a nature walk.  Even if it was a little chilly in December.

This is going to be a twothree (see note below)-part post. The first part will cover the Witte Museum as I have visited it in the past and what I saw during my recent visit on June 21.  Then, once the renovations to the museum are finished (which is projected to be sometime in early 2017), I will return and take new photos and do a writeup of that visit.

I’m trying to remember the first time I went to the Witte Museum. Fairly soon after we moved to Texas, my now-ex and I attended a wedding there, but I think that was our second visit, or maybe our third. I cut my teeth on world-class museums like the Field Museum of Natural History and the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, so the Witte was kind of underwhelming at first. Charming, in a sort of small-town way. My now-ex and I were particularly nonplussed by the selection of longhorn furniture (as in made from the horns of longhorn cattle, not furniture that supports the University of Texas at Austin Longhorns sports teams).

The entrance to the Witte Museum used to have a fountain and an elephant statue from the now-no-longer-extant Hertzberg Circus Museum in front of it. Flanking the doors (though a ways away) were two statues, “Mother and Child” and “Father and Child” by Charles Umlauf.  I think there was also a third Umlauf sculpture somewhere on the property as well.

There was one dinosaur, as I recall, a triceratops, I think. This was kind of a disappointment, as this area had lots of dinosaurs back in those days. There are dinosaur tracks at Government Canyon State Natural Area and also some were found along the spillway for Lake Boerne (only one, maybe two, of the lakes of Texas are natural lakes — the rest are man-made). Seems like they could have acquired some more local species of dinosaur.

Quite a lot of the first floor of the museum was taken up with the special exhibit area, which has an extra charge in addition to the admission fee (that was hard to type at 7:00 in the morning!), and most of the rest of the floor was taken up with a display on the fauna of Texas, including some taxidermy animals. There was also a room that had live exhibits — tarantula, snakes, and so forth.  The Witte had a coterie of prairie dogs, and a bee colony that had access to the outside.

Upstairs, as I recall, was primarily human history. There was a small exhibit on Ancient Egypt (for Ancient Egypt, back then, you’d be better off at the San Antonio Museum of Art) and some information on native cultures and the stone-aged people of Texas. There was also a room of artifacts from more recent Texas history (and this is where the aforementioned longhorn furniture used to stand).

I’m now about 500 words into this.  Maybe I’ll turn the Witte Museum into a series of three posts. Because I’m still not entirely done with the layout of the museum before the renovations started.

At the back of the first floor of the museum was another temporary exhibit space — this one for free exhibits (mostly of photographs, posters, that sort of thing, though I think that may have been where I saw the display of butterflies and moths on one visit). I think our first visit was because I was on a historical photograph kick and someone mentioned that they were having a display of historical photographs at the Witte.  Actually, if I recall, the person said, “There are historical photographs at the Witte,” and so I thought at first that it was a permanent thing. I was very disappointed to find that it was temporary.

At the back of that exhibit room there were several doors leading outside. There also used to be doors outside from somewhere in the vicinity of the room with the prairie dogs and bees. Out back of the museum there were a variety of historic structures including a limestone house, the studio of the artist Julian Onderdonk, and the home of José Antonio Navarro. There is also a replica log cabin constructed in 1939 by the National Youth Administration which, I guess, makes it historical, just in a different way from the others.

Way off in the southeasternmost corner of the museum’s property was the HEB Science Treehouse. The Science Treehouse focused largely on physics, since that’s a pretty easy thing to do in a museum — there were exhibits on pulleys, for example, and a whole room of various musical instruments to demonstrate acoustics (you would not believe what I had to go through to find that word!). There was also a section on ecology of the San Antonio River (which flows right past the museum) and I think there was a meteorology section as well. Outside the treehouse was an assortment of water-related activities, including an Archimedes Screw.

For the last part of the older Witte, I’m going to have to take you back farther in time, to the early 20th Century. A Mexican artist named Dionicio Rodriguez mastered a technique that he called “faux bois,” which is making cement look like wood. You can see his work all over the city. He made a bridge in Brackenridge Park and several features at the nearby Miraflores estate (speaking of things I need to talk about later). There are a number of other examples of his work throughout the city. When Rodriguez died in 1955, it was expected that the secret had died with him. However, another local artist, Carlos Cortés claims that Rodriguez taught the technique to his family and they passed it down to him. Either way, Cortés has been making faux bois sculptures throughout the area. As I write this, Cortés has just recently been sent to prison for a year for tax evasion.

Little Treehouse Banister, Witte Museum, San Antonio, Texas

The banister of the stairs on the Little Treehouse. I took this picture just to see if it would work and was quite taken by the result.

Well, tax evader or not, Cortés built what is one of my favorite parts of the Witte Museum, the Little Treehouse, a faux bois, well, treehouse, that has educational signage on the wildlife of the region. I generally go out through the door on the, I think it’s the second, floor of the HEB treehouse and walk the bridge across to the top of the Little Treehouse then walk down from there.

Much of the Witte is handicap accessible. Some of the historical buildings have stairs and, of course, there is no way to get a wheelchair down the stairs of the Little Treehouse. The bridge across is stable, though I hate to admit that it totally slipped my mind to measure the width to see if a wheelchair would have room to make it across.

Today, Google Photos reminded me that this is the first anniversary of the day that Alex, my phone, and I went down to San Pedro Springs Park to take some possible header photos for my blog. I had just discovered the panorama mode on my phone. My older digital camera — which has a wrist strap, so I still use it in situations where I’m afraid of dropping my camera — has a panorama mode that takes separate overlapping photos which I can then stitch together into one. My phone’s panorama mode is one continuous shot. You move the camera from one side to another (or from top to bottom/bottom to top) and the camera makes one image out of it. This works out really well outdoors.  Indoors, it makes the walls look like they’re bowing inwards. It’s kind of a neat effect, but not exactly what you want for an indoor shot most of the time.

Below is the panorama I took of the inside of Grand Central Terminal so you can see what I mean.

Grand Central Terminal Panorama

Grand Central Terminal taken with my Samsung Galaxy S5 on panorama mode

As I said, though, the panorama mode is pretty good outdoors, so I went around to different parts of the park and took a variety of pictures of different parts of the park and sometimes the same part of the park from different vantage points with different aspect ratios (the width-to-height measurement of an image).

Then, once I was certain that I had the layout that I wanted, I looked for an image that could be cropped and/or resized to fit the dimensions of the header image for the layout without compromising the subject. The winner was the panorama I took from the top of the stairs above the springs. And now, one year ago later (to the day!), I’m still pretty proud of that photo.

Much to my shock, while digging through my past posts to see which locations I’ve covered, I cannot find a post on the main part of the River Walk anywhere. And, yes, it is officially “River Walk,” though you will see it spelled “Riverwalk” occasionally, including here on my blog. Also the word “walk” looks funny when you stare at it long enough.

The River Walk, which is one of the hundreds of city parks in San Antonio, actually has some of its history in the flooding that afflicts San Antonio every few years. There were major floods in downtown San Antonio in 1913 and 1921.  The damage in the 1921 flood was so severe (50 people died) that the city decided to build a dam upstream and then connect the river above the U-bend to the river below it with a canal so that water would go straight through the canal, rather than around the U-bend in the river, and then they would pave over the river and turn it into a storm sewer. Work began on Olmos Dam and canal, but the San Antonio Conservation Society protested paving over the river. The fact that there just was not enough money in the budget to pave over the river might have helped save it,  as well.

In 1929, an architect named Robert H. Hugman suggested that, rather than paving over the river, the city put in floodgates at the beginning and end of the U-bend and then lower them when flooding was expected. This would force the water to go through the channel and save most of downtown from the flooding.

Then, since the area would be pretty well safe from flooding, Hugman suggested building river-level shops and restaurants in the basements of the buildings lining the U-bend and having a river boat service carrying people from one area to another. The boat plan had one hitch, however. The river current tended to be faster than Hugman preferred owing to a drop in the level of the water both above and below downtown.  Hugman designed a limestone dam to be put north of downtown to slow the speed of the water.

The the Stock Market Crash of 1929 hit, followed by the Great Depression. Plans to build what Hugman had called “The Shops of Aragon and Romula,” were put on hold. Work began once the Works Progress Administration was formed in the 1930s.  At first, the people of San Antonio were, shall we say, less than enthusiastic about the construction.  Hugman’s plans involved paving along the river, and also building limestone bridges over the river. Plants were uprooted so that new landscaping could be installed.

And yet, it all worked out in the end. Hugman believed so much in his vision that he put his own architecture office on the river level. The office is still there today where the bridge takes Commerce Street over the river and the other side of the bridge is the Casa Rio restaurant, the first restaurant put on the River Walk.

Nueva Strete Bridge and Dam, San Antnio

The Nueva Street Bridge and Dam, San Antonio, Texas, 2015

In 1987, work began on a tunnel that would take flood waters from a flood control inlet at Josephine Street north of downtown to an outlet at Lone Star Boulevard south of downtown. This opened up a lot more retail, restaurant and recreational space. the flood control tunnel allowed them to add sidewalks and greenspace to the old flood control channel as well, so that one can walk the entire distance from the original River Walk to the farthest north (at the Witte Museum) or south (which I currently believe is at Mission San Francisco de la Espada).*

*It looks to me like if they could just keep it going another three miles or so (as the proverbial crow flies), the River Walk could meet up with Salado Creek and we could eventually have one linear park that leads from the Witte Museum, down to the confluence of the San Antonio River with Salado Creek, then up Salado Creek to Eisenhower Park, then down Leon Creek to the Medina River. Some of these connections, such as the one at Eisenhower Park, are already planned.

I’ll probably include this information on my post for the San Antonio Zoo, but I’m going to put this here just so that I have it in the blog until such a time as I can update the post. Or maybe I’ll just link this post there. Actually, now that I think about it, that’s probably the best way to go.

Lucky the elephant is no longer all by herself in her enclosure.  As of today, the San Antonio Zoo has taken on a middle-aged Asiatic elephant named Nicole. Nicole was formerly a performer with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The zoo says that they matched Nicole with Lucky by comparing their personalities, sort of like a dating app, I guess, and they hope that the two will turn out to be compatible.

One thing in Nicole’s favor is that she is a former circus elephant. This means that she is already socialized to humans and should pick up the routine at the zoo pretty quickly.

Let’s hope that the new roommates hit it off and have a long friendly association together.

This post is due to go live on June 27.  I had hoped to go to the Witte Museum on June 21 to take pictures and then write that post. It is now June 19 and I haven’t made that trip to the Witte yet.  So, since I did finally get to the San Antonio Museum of Art (“SAMA”) for a very, very fast trip (40 minutes!) on June 5, let’s do that instead and then I’ll visit the Witte on Tuesday and get some pictures and post that article on what looks like July 5.

Meanwhile, I have another National Geographic issue to get to reading.

I have been going to art museums for just about as long as I can remember.  So, again, once we moved to San Antonio, the now-ex and I had to check out the art museum. I think it took us a couple of years, but it was well worth it.  And one Alex was born, we started going even more often.

San Antonio Museum of Art

A slightly less-than-perfect panoramic photo of The San Antonio Museum of Art, 2016

SAMA has the usual portraits and landscapes and modern art (they have a Warhol soup can (Pea Soup, I think) somewhere; the last time I could find it, it was near the entrance to the auditorium).  But the two areas that the museum is best known for are its collections of Latin American and of Asian art.

In 1998, the museum opened the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Latin American Art (you can just see the leftmost edge of this addition in the far right of the image above). Nelson A. Rockefeller was grandson of John D. Rockefeller, the founder of Standard Oil (which was later broken up into various companies including ExxonMobil (which used to be two companies)).  Rockefeller also held a number of government positions, most notably as Vice President under Gerald Ford from 1974 until 1977.  In his private life, however, Rockefeller was an avid art collector. One of his favorite things to collect was pre-Columbian and folk art of Latin America.  After Rockefeller’s death in 1979, his heirs began searching for museums to display his art, and San Antonio became home to 2,500 pieces.  Not all of the art in the center is from Rockefeller’s collection, but a pretty decent number of them are. The center also has a gallery of modern/contemporary Latin American art.

The Lenora and Walter F. Brown Asian Art Wing (the big glass block in the left of the image above), which opened in 2005, is the other section that the museum is known for.  Walter F. Brown was active in the oil and gas industry and founded a company called Delray Oil.  The Asian Art Wing has thousands of artworks from China, India, Japan, Korea, Nepal, Pakistan, Thailand, Tibet and Vietnam.  the Asian Art Wing has an extensive collection of Chinese ceramics.

My own favorite, though, is the Art of the Mediterranean World section (the fist floor of the left-hand tower on the left of the above image). This is where our old friend Gilbert M. Denman, Jr., comes in.  You do see his name elsewhere in the museum but quite a lot of the artworks, including the wonderfully restored statues of Marcus Aurelius and Trajan, were his donations. Denman (and others, I think) also donated a number of pieces of carvings from the “Amarna” period, which is when Akhenaten ruled Egypt.  These pieces include at least one that I’m pretty sure is Akhenaten’s abdomen, and, my own favorite, solar rays that end in hands.

I’ve been debating whether to write up the Witte so early in my blog.  There are only, like, 11 museums in the city, and that’s including Barney Smith’s Toilet Seat Art Museum, the Magic Lantern Castle Museum, and the US Army Medical Department Museum, all of which are already better covered by other sites (including Atlas Obscura) than I think I could do myself. So, since I’ve already covered two of the eight remaining museums, I was considering writing up the Witte later, particularly since there are something like 200 city parks (and that’s not counting county parks, parks of suburbs that are contained within the borders of the city, or state and national parks that are in or near the city), and I’ve only written up, by my count, five of them.

On the other hand, I will be doing two writeups on the Witte.  They’re in the process of a major remodel which won’t be done until sometime in 2017, so I will do one on the history of the museum and its current status and then another in another year or so on the finished museum.

So, should I do a park or two (or, you know, seven) and get those out of the way, or do Witte Museum Part 1?

I have to go to bed now, so I’ll sleep on this for tonight.  I can’t wait to see what I decide to do.