Missions and Museums

Trip Start Apr 08, 2009
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Trip End May 04, 2009


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Flag of United States  , Texas
Thursday, April 16, 2009

After a wet and soggy Sunday morning, we woke on Monday to a cool, breezy, but sunny, day for our trip to San Antonio and on into the Texas Hill Country.  The drive to San Antonio was only about 3 hours, so we had plenty of time for visiting the Spanish missions in and about the city.

On a previous trip to San Antonio we had done many of the traditional stops, including the Alamo and the River Walk, but we only saw the missions around the city superficially from a bus.  During that trip we didn't have the time to visit them, but we planned on making it back some day.

The San Antonio Missions National Historic Park operates four of the five missions in and around San Antonio.  The fifth, the Alamo, is under the care of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas and is a state historic site.  The four missions of the national park are all active parishes of the Catholic diocese in the area.  All five of the missions are located along or in proximity to the San Antonio River.  The Alamo, or Mission San Antonio de Valero was the first to founded along the river in 1718.


Park headquarters and the first mission we visited was Mission San Jose y San Miguel de Aguayo.  This mission is the largest and most complete with all of the walls and much of the housing still in existence or rebuilt.  Founded in 1720, it has some unusual architecture that to me had some Moorish influence.  It also is the largest of the missions with several acres enclosed within its walls. Many of the missions were covered with a plaster finish that was then carved and painted in bright colors.  While most of the plaster has since been removed or fallen off, there are still some traces of the work left.


From San Jose we traveled north further into San Antonio to Mission Nuestra Senora de la Purisima Concepcion.  This mission was moved from east Texas in 1731.  We discovered that other than the Alamo and San Jose, the missions around San Antonio appear to have started in one area (East Texas) and relocated to San Antonio.  The only part of this mission left is the church.


From Concepcion we backtracked to San Jose and continued southward to Mission San Juan Capistrano.  Established originally in East Texas, it moved to the east bank of the San Antonio River in 1731.  The church, some outbuildings, and the basic outline of the enclosed yard of the mission still remain.  While still active, with a brother living in the mission, it looked the most abandoned.  


The southernmost of the San Antonio missions is Mission San Francisco de la Espada.  The oldest of the East Texas missions, it was originally founded in 1690 as Mission San Francisco de los Tejas, but was moved to its current location on the San Antonio River in 1731.  The mission has the smallest church (physically), but the brother currently in residence is an avid gardener, and it is by far the most attractive of the missions.  Most of the foundations of the original church and many of the outbuildings still exist.  Many of its buildings, including the current church, were constructed of bricks made on the grounds.  Mission Espada is also the only mission with an acequia system (basically an irrigation system) that is still operational.  The Espada Aqueduct still carries water to the remaining acequias used to water fields.

After spending the afternoon wandering around the missions, we continued our Southwestern Road Trip further west into the Texas Hill Country.  We set up camp in Kerrville, and from there we spent the next couple of days wandering around the Hill Country.  The center of the Hill Country is Fredericksburg, TX.  It's a small town about 20 miles north of I-10 that is both historic and touristy.  On Tuesday we drove up there to see a garden center called Wildseed Farm, a nursery specializing in Texas wildflowers.  We spent a couple of hours wandering around the nursery.  As Janet said, the web site looked a lot better than the real thing.  We both were hoping for field upon field of wildflowers, and while there were some blooming fields, it was much less than we expected.


We drove back to Fredericksburg (named after Prince Frederick of Prussia) to get the lay of the land for the rest of our visit.  I wanted to visit the Chester Nimitz Museum and War of the Pacific Museum on Wednesday and needed to know where it was.  We stopped for a light lunch and decided to tour a couple of wineries.  The first one was about 10 miles out of town, and afterwards we discovered that we were in need of an ATM.  Finding an ATM in central rural Texas is not very easy.  We ended up in Johnson City before we found one, but in the process we passed the national park preserving the LBJ Ranch.  So rather than taking another wine tour, we toured Lyndon Johnson's ranch and saw his Western White House.  This was one of those serendipity finds as we hadn't really been looking for it, and it was the best part of the day.

The next morning, before heading north to Fredericksburg, we went to the Museum of Western Art in Kerrville.  This was another surprise.  We didn't know what to expect, and found a stunning museum that had exquisite sculptures and paintings of the West, done by contemporary artists.  We had originally planned on 30 - 45 minutes, but spent almost two hours there.  We highly recommend it to anyone going to the Hill Country.

OK, we're on vacation and while we watch the news and were aware of these "tea party" tax protests, we didn't realize that Texas was going to be one of the more active participants.  As we left the art museum and got to downtown Kerrville, the sidewalks at the major intersection were filled with all these Texans holding their signs to protest all the taxes folks have to pay.  While we didn't think to take any pictures, we did have a good laugh at the signs (some of them were pretty clever), but once we cleared Kerrville we figured that was it... But no, Fredericksburg had an even bigger demonstration going on.  As a result, it took us forever to find a parking space, and once we did, by the time we got back so we could grab a picture the demonstration was over.  No one said anything about skipping lunch, so by the time noon rolled around the majority of folks holding signs had headed for home.

I spent the afternoon touring the Nimitz Museum and Janet visited the shops of Fredericksburg.  I found the museum fascinating and very well done.  Janet didn't find the shops so fascinating, but trooper that she is, she pulled out a book, found a shaded courtyard and read until I emerged.  We took another quick run out to Wildseed Farms as Janet had seen a couple of things that caught her eye.

This morning we left under cloudy skies and misting conditions to make our furthest run west to Phoenix.  We will be spending four days there visiting family and seeing sights, so we'll be back online next week.
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