December 22, 2011: San Antonio—Part 2

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

San Antonio National Historic Park

DSC00508On Monday, December 19, we woke up to rain (Surprise! Surprise!) so Barry spent the morning working while the girls finished school. After lunch, we headed to San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. Fortunately, it quit raining.

DSC00570The Missions are a very different park in that you have to visit each of the four missions separately, driving to each one. The missions are a set of four Catholic missions (The Alamo is technically the fifth one but is not a part of the National Park Service) that were established in the early 1700s by Franciscans and Spanish representatives with the purpose to acculturate and Christianize the native population and make them citizens of Spain.

All four missions are very beautiful. We had the feeling that we had stepped back in time but in a different country. The churches are still active parishes today with at least two of them having priests or nuns (we weren’t sure which) living on site. Can you imagine living in such a piece of history? It was especially interesting to visit during the Christmas season and see the very old Creches (old nativity sets). In one of the parishes, a small brass ensemble was practicing for Christmas Mass. While showcasing beautiful Spanish architecture and detail, the Missions are also a place to learn about yet another, oftentimes sad, chapter of Native American history. As we toured the quarters in which the Native Americans lived, we wondered what sad tales the walls could tell. There are a lot of facets to this incredible place. I suggest studying about it in advance before visiting.

The drive between the missions definitely had the feel of being in a different country. For Barry and I, it was very reminiscent of a trip we took into Mexico’s interior several years ago—not to a tourist attraction but right into Mexico. There were a lot of stray dogs and brightly painted Mexican type homes with little courtyards. Along the way we stopped at an Acequia (aqueduct) that was used to water the fields of the missions.

I want to be careful not to be negative about any of the places we visit. People live there and most likely have a love for their area. I will say this, the National Park Service has signs upon entering their parking lots warning of possible break-ins and not leaving valuables in the vehicles. At one of the missions, a NPS Ranger was always outside because of the stray dogs. Whether you are at the Missions or driving to the next Mission, you just have to be careful and aware. We found the area, though very different from what are used to, to be a very unique cultural experience.

And speaking of being careful, the Missions also are home to fire ants. We had never seen them before but now have a healthy respect for the little critters. We were very careful to avoid these voracious little creatures.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park

DSC00841The next day, Tuesday, December 20, we drove to Johnson City, TX, to visit Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park (LBJ). Our plan was to spend a couple of hours at the park and head back to San Antonio for more sight-seeing. It was so amazing, that we didn’t leave until closing time. The drive to the ranch and between the spots is through the incredible Texas hill country. We could easily see why LBJ’s forefathers and then the President himself chose to ranch this land.

This is another unique park in that it is in two separate sections that are 14 miles apart. We started at the Visitor Center where we watched a movie on LBJ’s wife, Lady Bird. There was a movie on LBJ but we were told that it was very similar to the one we had watched at the library a few days earlier. Next we took a tour of the home in which LBJ grew up and where his father was a Texas State Legislator. We then went to the Dog-Trot Cabin area that LBJ’s grandparents homesteaded. A small museum near the homestead details the struggles and strength of the pioneers who settled Texas, life on the cattle drives, Cowboys, and much more. We are currently listening to “Old Yeller” on audiobook. This museum put much of those struggles about which we are listening to life. You can’t help but walking away with a lot of admiration for the sheer grit of these people—especially the women and children who were left behind in this very harsh land while the men drove the cattle to the markets.

DSC00899When we arrived at the second aspect of the park, we stopped at LBJ State Park to pick up the free driving pass and audio tour CD of the ranch. Almost immediately upon entering the ranch we had to stop and wait for some of the Herefords to cross the road. I’ve always found cattle to be very comical and it was especially fun watching the calves kicking up their heals as they ran around their mothers. The bulls were massive, much bigger than any bulls we ever had on our dairy farm in Wisconsin. It was surprising to see so many deer grazing among the cattle.

DSC00880We drove for a long way back to the show barn where we ended up spending most of our time. We had so much fun talking to three of the ranch-hands. Growing up on a farm, I was always curious about the big ranches. As it turned out, they knew as little about dairy farming as I know about ranching. It was fun exchanging stories but we pummeled them with questions about life on a ranch. Barry, the Pontiac, MI, city-boy, was very pleased with himself that he knew what the metal rings at the ends of the Herefords horns were for and I didn’t. They are weights used to turn down the horns of the Herefords. The ranchers knew right away why I didn’t know and came to my defense: dairy farmers dehorn their cattle. Barry is still gloating over this one!

Our next stop was The Texas White House. This is only fee area of the park and was only $2 each for Barry and I to get a ticket. The girls were free. I don’t know where to begin as this was so interesting. Let me start by saying that we appreciated that the Ranger who lead our tour didn’t sugar-coat LBJ or his presidency. He told the facts and left it up to us to decide what we believed on different aspects of this controversial president and this very tumultuous period of American history. I am not at all suggesting that he was just p.c. on these subjects. He told us that no questions were off limits and he did an excellent job of presenting all sides. It was very thought provoking.

LBJ was the first president to set up a remote central command center. He spent 25% of his presidency at this ranch. There are military outposts, a landing strip for air-force one (a Lear jet version-any plane a president is on is Air Force One), a hangar, secret service housing, communications, and guest housing. His secretary still lives on the ranch. The secret service were there until 2007 when Lady Bird died. His daughters still live on the ranches that are adjacent to LBJ’s ranch. They visit the ranch often and help the National Park Service as they are still in the process of restoring the main home. Every aspect of the home was interesting. It was part private resident, part entertaining center and part central command. There were a lot of interesting facts and funny stories that were told by the Ranger.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit the home in which LBJ was born or the one room school he attended. We should have planned an entire day for this park. On our way out of the park, we had to stop for a young Hereford that stopped in the middle of the road to give her side a good scratch!

DSC00514Since this was our last night in San Antonio, we went to the River Walk once again. This time we didn’t just stay on the Walk but went into shops, malls, little walkways or anything that caught our eye. We especially enjoyed walking through the beautiful and historic La Villita which is an area of art galleries, restaurants and shops.

As I woke up on the morning of Wednesday, December 21, I thought I heard very loud and long thunder. As it turns out it was the fighter jets from Randolph Air Force Base. It was really neat watching them all morning and as we drove out of San Antonio. My Dad took his basic training at Lackland Air Force Base which is also in the area. We drove by but didn’t see very much but it was neat for the girls to see where their grandpa had started his military service.

None of us were ready to leave the San Antonio area the next day! We all wished that we could stay another week.

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