Happy New Year from Padre Island National Seashore! We’ve been hanging out here since December 29 enjoying the gulf coast and relaxing. After a few days just winding down from our Amazon adventure, we are starting to tackle some Airstream projects before getting back on the road. Can’t beat free camping on the beach! I’ve been somewhat challenged regarding connectivity issues here on the island – hence the unacceptable period of time that has elapsed since my last post. You’ll hear more about this later…..
So, what have we been up to since leaving Alvord, and landing on the coast? The past few weeks since Christmas have been a whirlwind of activity!
On Monday, December 26th we pulled up the stabilizers and hit the road again. Our general plan was to set our sights on the gulf coast by way of San Antonio. Experiencing the renowned River Walk in San Antonio has been on my bucket list and since it was on the way to the coast, our logical first destination.
Always expect the unexpected when traveling with the Ambers! We got a late start (not surprising if you know us!) leaving Alvord because Jim wanted to change the oil in the truck. Not ideal but we both agreed that it was a good idea to get the oil changed before leaving because it was so convenient in the RV Park here in Alvord. So, we finally pulled out of the campground at around 2pm. This meant arriving in San Antonio after dark and looking for a campsite. We did not relish the idea of navigating in a foreign city after dark. I started searching on the smart phone and found an Army Corps of Engineers campground north of the city that would be a better spot to find in the early evening and, so that’s where we headed.
Canyon Lake is a reservoir north of San Antonio operated by the Army Corps of Engineers. There is a campground here called Potters Creek Park campground. We like the idea of using federal campgrounds since Jim has the interagency senior pass and it gives us a 50% discount on campsites. Plus, we prefer the federal campgrounds for their ambience. These campgrounds tend to be more rustic and rural, and the campsites are generally more spacious and private.
Apparently, a couple of years ago, the campground suffered from a devastating flood. Two of the three loops were still closed and not repaired. Curiously, there was no indication of this on the website. It did not matter though since there were very few people here anyway, and the gate attendant gave us a site that backed right up to the lake and we had no one either side of us. The cost for a water/electric site with the senior pass was only $13.00 so we could definitely live with that for a night!
I chatted with the gate attendant for a while and asked him about working for the Army Corps. Jobs in the Army Corps campgrounds are put out on bid each year and it’s something I’ve thought about trying. He was not enthusiastic about this particular site, but mentioned a campground they work for Missouri that they really liked. As with any place, the local federal workforce varies. He does not find the workforce at this Army Corps site to be as easy to work with compared to other places. Good information to know when searching for a site to bid on!
It was a decent place to set up for a night and we were happy. We met a nice couple camped in a Class A across from us. He had installed the same type of solar panel kit that we just bought, so Jim picked his brain for ideas and looked at how he set it up. We’d be tackling this project in the very near future!
The next morning, we headed on into San Antonio to the local KOA. We’re not really huge fans of KOA’s, especially those located near metropolitan areas. But, it was convenient to exploring downtown San Antonio. The city bus stop was directly across the street which meant we could leave the truck parked and save the hassle of finding parking in downtown. For a couple of nights, we would survive. As it turned out, since we wanted the *cheaper* site with just water and electric, we were put on a spot that backed up to some green space and a bike trail. We also had no campers on either side of us for the first night!
We got set up on our site around 2pm and then headed to the bus stop to explore the River Walk. Since it was the holiday week, I expected crowds and was not disappointed! I’ve had some people tell me they loved the River Walk, and others who were not enamored with the place. So, I decided to arrive with no preconceived ideas and form my own opinions.
A Brief History of River Walk – The River Walk started as a flood control project to save downtown San Antonio, and a series of canals with flood control gates was established. In the early 1940’s the project to construct the walkway, stairs and footbridges was undertaken, along with the rock walls lining the walkway. In addition, the Arneson River Theater was constructed and the historic area of La Villita was restored. Over the years, improvements continued as the commercial and economic potential for developing this area was realized. Now lined by bars, shops, restaurants, the pedestrian River Walk is a vital part of the city’s urban identity and a popular tourist attraction.
Side Note: We met a gentleman who was camped next to us here at Padre Island who was stationed in the military in San Antonio 50 + years ago. He said that back then, the River Walk was not a place you ventured after dark! Clearly, a lot has changed in 50 years 🙂
When we arrived downtown, it was getting on to late afternoon. I think this must be when the River Walk comes to life. It was literally packed with people making it difficult to walk at times depending on where you were along the route. I started to wonder how many people ended up taking an unexpected swim in the river! In most places, there is no barrier to the river – literally just a drop-off. While the river is not deep, I still would not want to get wet! There were times when the crowd was such that I found it a little dicey on the river side of the walkway and a subtle shift in the crowd could mean a not-too-pleasant dip in the water!
Oddly, this type of crowd would normally bother me. But, it was such a festive time of year and the lights were so beautiful along the river, that I actually was energized and refreshed by the masses. We walked around for a while looking for a spot to eat dinner, and settled on a Mexican restaurant (one of many along the walk). Since I was determined to have a table right on the river, we would have to wait an hour to be seated. So, we headed in to the bar for a couple of beers and settled in to watch the college bowl game on TV and wait for our table. Lucky for us, it was happy hour! That helped take away the pain of waiting an hour before dinner!
After an hour went by, the bartender was concerned that we were overlooked and went to check on our reservations. And sure enough, they bypassed us! (The host said she had come in and called our name and did not get a response – but we were diligently listening and making eye contact with the hosts every time they traveled through). The bartender came back in and informed us it would be another 30 minutes to put us back on the list for a river-side table. With an hour already invested, we said we would wait. Jim then headed right back out and spoke with the host personally, and 5 minutes later we had a table. Not sure what he said – but it worked. He can be very persuasive 🙂
I was delighted to have a table right on the water, and really enjoyed watching the boat tours travel by, and the pedestrians. Great place to people-watch! We ordered dinner and a couple glasses of wine and settled in. When our dinner came, they had messed up my order and I had to send it back. By this time, I was pretty hungry and thinking perhaps we had not made a good choice in restaurants! The waiter felt bad and quickly replaced my dinner with the correct order. And to our surprise, when we got the check we were only charged for Jim’s meal and drink. So, all in all, a win-win situation for us despite all the delays. I was impressed that they acknowledged their mistakes regarding our questionable service.
The highlight of our dinner was due to a older gentleman dining alone who occupied the table directly behind me. He was immaculately dressed in an authentic *ranch* style outfit and caught our eye when he first sat down. During his meal, he called over the wandering Mariachi band and requested a song. We got the benefit of this serenade and it was awesome!! Afterwards, we thanked him and asked him about the song – since it was in Spanish. He got a tad emotional and with a tear in his eye told us the song was a favorite of his mother’s, who had passed away just a short few months ago. It was so touching and he was so genuine in his feelings that it brought a tear to my eye too!
After dinner, we found a quieter section of the River Walk to meander along and then caught the late bus back to the campground.
It was interesting trying to assess whether we were at the correct bus stop, and we enlisted the help of some other local folks nearby to assist us. Everyone was friendly and willing to weigh in on what bus we needed. We made it back to the campground with no issues! (Although, when riding the city bus back late at night, I was struck by a vision of a recent Lee Child mystery I had read where Jack Reacher was in a subway car -not a bus but close enough – and assessing the occupants for terrorist-like attributes!) It’s funny how something as commonplace as public transportation can be so daunting to those who never use it! No such thing in rural Vermont!
My goal the next day was the Alamo. I’ve always wanted to see the Alamo – not sure why really – but I wasn’t leaving San Antonio without visiting this historic site. Now, admittedly, my memory of the history of the Alamo was somewhat fuzzy. I remembered that it involved Texans and Mexicans, was a lost cause under overwhelming odds, and that Davy Crockett perished during the battle. I also remembered the famous cry later issued by Sam Houston – Remember the Alamo!
So, for all those with equally fuzzy memories, here goes! Short and sweet recap of the Alamo! The Alamo started out as a Spanish mission in the 1700’s – the Mission San Antonio de Valero. When the mission eventually closed 70 years after it opened its doors, the Spanish military took over the compound, followed by the Mexican military after Mexico won its independence from Spain. Mexico inherited the territory of Texas from Spain and, in an effort to increase the settlement of this territory, the Mexican government encouraged immigration from citizens of the United States. This colonization of Texas was carried out through the use of land agents called empresarios who acted as recruiters and middle-men, screening potential immigrants and taking responsibility for them as new settlers. The project was so successful that the immigrant population of Texas increased from around 500 to over 30,000 in just five years.
During this time, Texas enjoyed a certain amount of autonomy as a *department* of Mexico, but wanted to achieve statehood within the Mexican government and decided to fight for statehood. The Mexican government was opposed to Texas statehood and started to feel threatened by the increased immigrant population. So, in an effort to restrict more colonization and control the territory, the government halted the immigration practice. This, of course, angered the colonial population that had come to Texas and started to fuel a movement for independence from Mexico.
When Antonio López de Santa Anna rose to power in Mexico he adopted a more centralized government, and wanted more control over the colonies. He seriously restricted the self-government of various territories and states. One thing led to another as tensions arose, and the Battle of the Alamo and fight for independence erupted with an incident between Mexican soldiers and Texas colonials. The colonists fought against huge odds at the Alamo and lost, but the Texas Revolution was inevitable now that the colonists were energized by the bravery of those who fell at the Alamo. Eventually, Texas won its independence from Mexico. Texas would remain independent until annexed to the United States 10 years later. I thought the immigration problem hauntingly similar to recent modern day issues and arguments. Allow immigration until it does not suit us anymore – then deny it. Did not work then, will not work now……but I digress…..
I really enjoyed touring the old mission and the gardens surrounding the Alamo compound. The museum that is housed in the old barracks was well-done and worth spending some time perusing. We loved passing under the old live oak outside the museum and reading about its history!
After touring the Alamo, it was time to re-visit the River Walk and we decided to be real tourists and take a boat tour on the river. The 30-minute wait was worth it, and while we both thought the guide could have been better informed and more entertaining, the boat trip was still fun.
We exited the boat just in time to find the bar that a college friend recommended we visit – The Esquire – and enjoy a happy hour beer. The Esquire is notorious for housing the longest continuous bar in Texas. We were advised to go and experience this old, traditional establishment!
On the way to the bar, we stumbled across the Main Plaza area and the San Fernando Cathedral. So, we detoured into the cathedral for a spell. It was breathtakingly beautiful and so peaceful inside the cathedral. So glad we happened upon it. A nice respite from the crowds on the River Walk.
Back to finding The Esquire! We arrived at the beginning of happy hour, and it was not crowded at the bar on the street-level entrance. Definitely enjoyed the atmosphere and thanks to my college friend Renice for the recommendation!
After enjoying our brews, I wanted to wander on over to the outdoor amphitheater called the Arneson River Theatre. There was a Chanukah celebration on the river that night, and a Jewish-American rock band from New York City was going to be giving an outdoor concert at the theater. We arrived in plenty of time to get some seats and settle in for the performance. San Antonio is home to a diverse Jewish population and the downtown area has been hosting a Chanukah festival on the river for a number of years. It was really nice to see! The band played some traditional, folk-style music that was very entertaining.
We left the River Walk shortly after the concert, and headed back to the campground to get some dinner going. We were not interested in battling the crowds again, and wanted to settle in and get ready to leave the next morning.
The weather reports for Padre Island National Seashore were calling for gale-force winds and cool temps. Hmm….. what were we getting ourselves in to?? Coincidentally, a couple from Kentucky with two children had pulled into the site next to us that day. They were stopping off for a day in San Antonio and then also heading to Padre Island. We compared notes on the weather report, and both decided to give it a go. This would not be the last time we saw them!
I promise a more timely posting on our adventures here on Padre Island. The good, the bad, and the ugly….