How did we prepare for our visit to San Antonio? Well, by watching Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure, of course!
But there was more than the Alamo waiting for us in San Antonio…we got there just in time to catch the finals of the San Antonio Rodeo. Having been to the small town rodeo in Belle Fourche 7 months back, we were excited to see the Big Leagues. We had tickets to the final night, hoping we would get to witness some really good Cowboy-ing. And boy did we! The difference was stark. At Belle Fourche, for example, not one bull rider made it to 8 seconds. At San Antonio the majority of them did. And the same difference applied to the other events: roping, barrel racing, and all the others were so impressive. It was hard for us to tell the difference in the riders as they managed to stay on top of their bucking beasts, but the judges could and the winner got a Texas sized rhinestone-crusted belt buckle and a victory lap around the arena in the back of a Ford pickup truck as his award (plus cash, quite a bit of cash). Plus, before the rodeo started we walked around the fairgrounds and got to see some baby animals, and Wyatt got a giant turkey leg. That checks all our boxes, if you must know.
The day of the rodeo we spent the afternoon downtown at the giant sprawling Mexican market and massive restaurant called Mi Tienda. You can’t help but be happy there with all the metallic streamers fluttering overhead and the festive mood. But, what is even better are the desserts in their bakery out front. Whoa.
As we left the restaurant and wandered through the market, we came up on a sidewalk corral of some of the weirdest animals we’ve ever seen on a city street. A porcupine, a few constricting snakes, an alpaca and some very large rodents. Maya loved it and went in to pet or hold every one of them, and even Wyatt went in to visit with some of them.
On our continuing quest to visit missions, we couldn’t miss out on the ones in San Antonio, especially since they are also a National Park. There are five, situated about three miles apart each. The most famous is the Alamo (although you may not know of the Alamo for THAT reason) and they are all connected by a bike/hike trail that runs along the San Antonio River. We started our visit with mass at the Mission San Jose and were thrilled to learn that we were there for the mass celebrating their 300th birthday. Surprisingly though, they really didn’t make a big deal of it. Not even donuts after mass!
After mass, we took off southward on our bikes via the hike/bike trail and visited the Mission San Juan and the Mission Espada. The ride along the river was lush with greenery and yellow blooms and the weather was a perfect spring day. The missions are OLD and in much greater decay than the ones we’d seen in Arizona and California, but they were extremely cool. The style was much like those in California with heavy timbers, adobe and painted with faux finishes and Spanish patterns. The exteriors, though extremely degraded, showed walls where the villages lived and worked. The interior of the San Jose Mission walls was the largest we’ve seen and it was easy to imagine a vibrant “city” center in the courtyard.
Our time at the Alamo, the next day, was an eye-opener for why west Texas is so West-Texas-y. We knew the basic details of the battle, but the full story of how Texas was settled and populated, and then became its own independent nation for 10 years certainly explains much of the pride and general attitude for the state. The love for the soldiers who fought at the Alamo, as well as the determination to fight to the end at any cost is evident all over the state. Davey Crockett and James Bowie were prominent figures in the fight, as were many men who had come from other states in a short amount of time before the fight…more a collection of like minds wedded to an idea of independence, rather than a collection of people defending a land because they are connected to the land.
After hearing the full story of Texas and adding that to the history we had seen across the northern midwest (Lewis and Clark), Northwest (including Fort Ross, the Russian Settlement) and California and Arizona’s Spanish missions (plus the Acadian region we knew we were about to hit in Louisiana) we gave the kids an assignment to create a presentation on the history of countries claiming lands, settling that land, and then eventually those parcels forming the United States. So cool to have seen it all first hand and have it really brought to life for us in context of the places where these things happened.
After the Alamo we went down to the River Walk, which the kids LOVED. We had a mediocre lunch at one of the touristy places along the river, but really, the food is not the main attraction there, is it? We walked through the Hyatt, which has a fountain/stream running from the outside of the hotel through the lobby and out the other side into the river. They both thought it was the neatest hotel…even though through our eyes it looked dated and tired. Just shows you how kids really appreciate different things than what us old fogey are looking for.
Our final day in San Antonio, the kids got to pick some activities and so we went indoor go kart racing and did a family Escape Room. The kids liked the go-karts, especially since they got data sheets after each 10-lap turn telling them how they ranked. But, the Escape Room was the real winner. Dennis had been to one as a team builder, but the rest of us had never done one. For some reason Maya thought it sounded like a blast and had been asking us to do one for months. We finally found the right place and time and boy are we glad we did. It was so fun! Our challenge was to complete a robbery, with the room set up like the lobby of an old-time Western bank. We didn’t completely finish, but we did get within the last few clues of completing the escape, which isn’t too bad considering there were only four of us and three had no experience. We immediately decided that we wanted to do another one in New Orleans when my family came to join us.