The defenders of the Alamo were on a mission, or more correctly in a mission. In fact, San Antonio wouldn’t even exist if not for missions. There are five along the river through the city, the most famous being the San Antonio de Valero Mission, better known as the Alamo. The four others, San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, San Juan Capistrano, Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción and San Francisco de la Espada, are preserved as part of the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.
Our mission was to see all five in one day, which is easily accomplished by either car or bicycle. In our case we used both. From the park headquarters at San José y San Miguel, which is the largest and most ornate of the five missions, there is a bike path south to San Juan Capistrano and San Francisco de la Espada. The three of these provide fascinating glimpses into the history of Texas in the early 18th century, when Spain began to expand their colonization efforts northward.
Spain’s expansion was both political and religious, as the two were completely intertwined for them as an empire. While the Franciscan friars were attempting to convert the Tejas natives, the military used the compounds as fortifications and hoped to discourage France from expanding westward from Louisiana. They were successful on both counts, the French never arrived and the churches still provide a parish home for the community just as they have for nearly three centuries.
To continue north up the trail we bailed on the bikes and drove to Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción and then on to the San Antonio de Valero Mission, remembered as the Alamo. The Alamo stands in stark contrast to the modern city that surrounds it. But in many ways it is the reason San Antonio exists at all. The Alamo was the first mission built in the area, and the village that grew up around it, known as San Antonio de Béxar, became the most important settlement in the region. When Texas declared independence from Mexico in 1836, The Alamo figured prominently in the city’s history again. Even though the Texans were defeated in the battle of The Alamo, it created the rallying cry that inspired the new republic’s ultimate victory just a month later, “Remember the Alamo!”
By the 50th anniversary of the fall of the Alamo few people seemed to remember though, which led to the formation of The Daughters of the Republic of Texas whose goal was to preserve the Alamo. But their efforts didn’t go smoothly; infighting between interested groups like the Daughters, local officials and state politicians slowed down the efforts, and frankly those arguments still haven’t stopped today.
Through it all though the Alamo managed to not only survive, but also become the most popular tourist site in Texas. The former chapel is treated with real reverence, and while we’re confident that the locals don’t need reminding, there is still a sign at the mission’s entrance informing any rubes, bushwhackers, tenderfoots, or greenhorns who might wander in to kindly remove their hats before entering the sacred ground. We were more than happy to oblige.
After an all-day tour of the missions, there is no better place to kick back with a Lone Star beer and a bite to eat than the famed River Walk. Restaurants of every variety, along with nightclubs, hotels, bars and shops, line the beautifully landscaped banks of the San Antonio River as it runs through downtown. After a devastating flood in 1921 Robert H. H. Hugman had the idea to rebuild the area to emulate a visit to Venice, but it wasn’t an immediate success. For decades businesses struggled to make a go of it as visitors were scarce and crime rampant. For a while the River Walk was so rough that it was off limits to Army personnel from nearby Fort Sam Houston, but those days are long forgotten. Today plan your own visit to include a stay at the beautiful Mokara hotel.
These days the River Walk is alive with activity, and we found everything from Texas Tapas like smoked shrimp enchiladas and chili fried oysters, to tempting twists on old favorites like duck & sausage gumbo and mesquite-grilled quail. Everything we tried was delicious, but the highlight of the evening in both name and flavor had to be Bone Marrow Pudding with Tongue & Cheek Marmalade.
It left us feeling downright cheeky as we finished our evening by strolling under the twinkling lights that adorn the bridges and trees along the river. Discussing all we had seen and done, we could only say, “mission accomplished.”