I Went Downtown Tonight (November 1, 2021)

I sat around all day, working on my reading and writing blog posts (this is my fourth post for today, and will go live on November 5), but not getting any exercise, or any reading on The Eye of the World.

I was so close to having The Eye of the World finished and I figured that a trip from my house to the Pearl and then walking downtown from the Pearl and then reversing the trip should be enough time to finish The Eye of the World and, just maybe, get started on The Great Hunt. And it was, too. Yay!

I was a little nervous a couple of times during my walk, but I mostly enjoyed the walk. I saw a couple of Christmas trees while I was out and about, but mostly it felt like a nice, autumnal evening.

I enjoy taking night photographs in the city because the play of light and shadow is so interesting. During the daytime around here, everything’s so bright. We get an occasional darkly overcast day, which makes photography interesting, but mostly it’s just . . . sunny.

Tonight’s picture of the Alamo. There were people standing in front taking family photos, so I decided to get an angled shot for this one.

Unfortunately, even after all of that walking, I’m still 2,000 steps short and it’s 10:45 at night. Let’s see if I can knock some of that out before bedtime (which is about an hour away).

New Theme. Is it a Keeper?

I stuck the picture that Alex liked better in as my header image. I think it’s kind of busy, personally, but it might grow on me.

I’m working on getting a good picture of the Arsenal Street Bridge with the Pioneer Flour Mill in the background to see how he likes that. He liked this image because it wasn’t just a bridge and thus is more “travel”-y.

I think that I’m too short to get the picture I want, though. Maybe I can get Alex to drop me and the stepstool that we refer to as the “fish stairs”* off there and go around the block while I take a picture from a slightly higher elevation. Or, even better, maybe we could find a place to park and we could walk down there together, so he can keep me from getting so wrapped up in getting the perfect picture that I fall off the stepstool and break my leg or, worse, fall off the stepstool and into the river.

Will I be able to do this before the end of the COVID-19 outbreak? Will I need to wait until the outbreak is over? I look it up pretty much daily and everything I read says that outdoor recreation is still acceptable, even for people in the most locked-down areas of the US, like in San Francisco, just as long as you don’t get too close to strangers. Going out with people in your family is still acceptable. I guess that if I could get Alex to go with me during a work day or very, very early on a Sunday when we’re not likely to bump into strangers we could do it.

Of course, both Alex and I are “essential workers” right now. This means that we both have to go to work until we get infected. Alex is working for a restaurant with a drive-through, so he’s providing people with food. I’m a pharmacy technician and providing people with medical care. So I guess we’ll see if/when we get this thing.

Oh! A new-today discovery about COVID-19! It seems that one of the first signs of the illness is a decrease in ability to taste and smell. This may also be a symptom of a subclinical case (one that never develops really obvious symptoms). So I guess I need to keep something with a strong taste or smell around and test myself daily just in case. I had Indian food for dinner and could taste and smell it just fine, so yay!

Crap. I’m not sure what to do about my Gratuitous Amazon Link. Amazon has announced that they’re going to stop accepting non-essentials in their warehouses. I still want to hopefully be able to make a few cents (and maybe someday dollars) from this, so I hesitate to skip the Gratuitous Amazon Link. However, choosing an “essential” might not work long-term. And what would I pick? N95 masks? That might be useful for anyone who stumbles across my blog right now (and can wait until April 14 for it), but long run, maybe not. Maybe an electronic delivery. A downloaded music album, maybe? A Kindle book? Is clothing an essential? I’ve got it! Lupin Leaps In, by Georgia Dunn, the creator of the Breaking Cat News comic strip. Hers isn’t really the sort of small business that is likely to be affected by COVID-19, but a small business it is, and we really should support it.

* I had to stand on it to take care of Alex’s aquarium when he was little.

San Antonio Parks: Cathedral Rock Nature Park

Okay, so you turn off of Grissom Road into the little parking lot at Cathedral Rock and see a little play area and a little picnic pavilion.

Cathedral Rock Playground, 2018
The playground at Cathedral Rock taken from a creative angle again because I didn’t want to risk getting any of the kids playing nearby in the picture

You walk a little farther and find this:

Cathedral Rock Park path
A path at Cathedral Rock Park.

And then a little farther on you find this:

Cathedral Rock Park Map
A map of Cathedral Rock Park

And you realize that there’s quite a lot of park to explore here. I focused on the corner of the map for the picture above because Cathedral Rock Park is also a trailhead for the Leon Creek Greenway and the Greenway takes up most of the map.

I took a lot of pictures here and don’t know how many I’ll use. I think there are actually more paths at Cathedral Rock than are pictured on that map, because I was following the map on Pokémon Go rather than using that map and almost all of the paths that they had on the game were there in the park (the only exception I can think of is I think it might be that loop there in the upper-left-hand corner looks like it comes straight back from the lower-left part and rejoins the main path in kind of a reverse D-shape rather than that lasso kind of shape it has on this map).

Most of the paths have the San Antonio trail levels assigned to them, where Level 1 and 2 are usable by people in wheelchairs and Level 3 is usable by really incredibly fit people in wheelchairs and Level 4 is probably not usable by people in wheelchairs. Some of the signs showing which level applies to which paths were in pretty bad shape when I was there and could use some replacement signs.

Finally, why Cathedral Rock? Beats me. The park itself is mostly level with the occasional scattered bits of limestone. Once you get to the greenway, though, you find this:

Cathedral Rock?
Is this “Cathedral Rock”?

Which is way more impressive than it looks in the photo. Maybe if the deer had stood there while I took my picture rather than freaking out and running away it’d look less uninspiring.

Now I guess it’s time for a gratuitous Amazon link. I looked at books about limestone, since the rocks of what I assume is Cathedral Rock are limestone, but, eh. So I went back to the same link as I used before and dug up Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: Washington: Section Hiking from the Columbia River to Manning Park by Tami Asars. I’m not planning on going on the Pacific Crest Trail anytime soon, but the picture on the front sure is pretty and it has 4.9 stars (out of 5) so why not?

San Antonio Parks: MacArthur Park

On my master list of parks, I say that not all of the parks in the San Antonio area are actually owned and operated by the City of San Antonio. This is one of those other parks, which is owned and operated by Bexar County. And it’s quite a bit larger than I expected it to be. The entrance to the park is on the access road for Loop 410 so I figured I could cover it in 15 minutes. I stayed for almost 45. I was also there late in the day, so many of my pictures are slightly overexposed.

One of the playscapes at McArthur Park.

McArthur Park has several picnic pavilions and a bit of walking path, but the main feature of the park seems to be playgrounds. The park has three of those playscapes where all of the equipment is connected into one big sort of piece of park furniture and there are additional pieces of playground equipment including swings and a small monkey bar thing that looks like a flying saucer. I found that last one particularly interesting, but couldn’t take pictures of it because there were someone’s kids on it and taking pictures of other people’s children is considered to be kind of creepy. Maybe I’ll return someday and get a picture of that.

Have you played the “You are Jeff Bezos” game? The point of the game is to demonstrate just exactly how much $156 billion is. You wake up as Jeff Bezos and you decide that maybe if you spend all of his money you can get back to your own life. I’m not 100% about the things that the game designers think are priorities. For example one of the options is to revive Mythbusters. I’ve seen like two episodes of Mythbusters and have heard of a bunch more and I’m just not a fan. I’ve just never believed that the five-second rule really means that it takes five seconds for germs to attach to an item dropped on the floor. It’s more a winking “if you fix it fast enough it never happened” thing, I think. So watching two guys drop things on the floor and measure the germs on it just doesn’t seem like gripping television to me.

sad turtle, mcarthur park, san antonio
Concrete turtle in need of repairs, 2018

What I would like to spend a bunch of Jeff Bezos’s $156 billion on is fixing up parks. And McArthur had a bit of stuff that I’d like to fix. For example there are several pieces of concrete art that need a bunch of TLC. The paint is peeling (or has peeled) off and in several cases there are actual chunks of concrete missing. I really do wonder how much it would cost to paint and repair those poor things, if Bexar County would take a donation for that purpose, and if I could write it off of my income taxes.

Now I need an Amazon link. Does Amazon have some kind of “pick a random book” feature? I guess I’ll try to come up with my own. So, searching for “Parks” and sorting by customer reviews, the first result is Urban Trails: San Francisco: Coastal Bluffs/ The Presidio/ Hilltop Parks & Stairways by Alexandra Kenin. I guess that’ll hold me for this post, particularly since seeing the San Francisco area is years away at this point unless this blog thing really takes off or I win the lottery.

South Texas Destinations: The Witte Museum, San Antonio, Texas (Part 1)

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.

Happy First Anniversary to My Blog Header Image

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.

South Texas Destinations: The River Walk, San Antonio, Texas

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.

San Antonio Zoo, an Update

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.

South Texas Destinations: The San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio, Texas

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.

A Peek Ahead . . . .

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.