Thursday, April 25, 2013

San Antonio Missions & Riverwalk

Before we made our move further west, we wanted to make sure we spent a day in San Antonio, so we got up early Friday morning and made our way downtown.  We wanted to see all of the Historic Missions, as well as the Alamo and the Riverwalk, so we decided to start at the one furthest from downtown and then work our way in.

The Missions of San Antonio were established along the San Antonio River by the Franciscans, with financing from Spain.  The missions served a dual purpose – spread Catholicism among the native Tejas Indians, and expand the Empire of New Spain (Mexico).

Mission San Juan de Capistrano

Due to construction on Mission Blvd., and a crazy GPS, we missed the first and oldest Mission – San Francisco de la Espada, and we ended up at Mission San Juan de Capistrano.

As we entered at the North Gate, we saw the ruins of the Native Indian living quarters,

Native Indian Living Quarters

and the Parish Center which had been reconstructed in 1967-8.

Parish Building

All of the Missions (with the exception of the Alamo) are still active Catholic Parishes, and each has a resident Pastor.  The Rectory at San Juan Capistrano has a beautiful prayer garden,

Rectory Garden


and there are Stations of the Cross along the walkway from the Rectory to the Church.


Stations of the Cross


The Church at San Juan Capistrano is small and simplistic, yet very beautiful.

Restored Church, circa 1772

The Altar


The Indian residents of San Juan were farmers and, with the fertile soil and close proximity of the San Antonio River, they were successful enough to be able to trade their surplus produce with other Missions, and even with the French settlers in Louisiana.


As the community grew in population, they began construction of a new, larger church, but it was never finished.



There was also a Convent in the Mission, and a Hospital.

Convent - Remaining Original Arch

Also, among the ruins, are the buried remains of many of the early inhabitants of the Mission.


Next on our route was the Mission de San Jose.  This is the largest of the Missions, and is also the location of the National Parks Service Visitor Center.



Because of it’s large size and standing as a social center it was known as the “Queen of the Missions.” 

The front of the Church

The San Jose Mission had tall stone walls and large gates to protect the community from attacks by Comanche and Apache tribes,

Entrance Gate

and the mission residents were trained to use firearms to defend the mission.


This mission included extensive living quarters,

Native Indian Living quarters

and a large community space in the center of the mission.

Live Oaks

At the well

There were several volunteers around to demonstrate what life in the mission was like in the 1700s, and Tom & the boys spent some time learning how to make fire using a bow.

Learning how to make fire

Nicolas' turn

Tom working on fire

In contrast to the San Juan Mission, the Church at San Jose was very large and ornate.

Courtyard Garden at the Mission de San Jose

Ornate Window




In the doorway of the Church


We entered the Church through the ornate side door, and were amazed by the beauty of the altar and sacristy.

The elaborate stonework and craftsmanship demonstrate the high skill level of the Spanish artisans.






Our Lady of Guadalupe

Outside the Mission walls is the rectory, where again there is another beautiful garden,

St. Francis

and a Granary, where another volunteer explained how the mission residents used the San Antonio River to power the mill to make flour.

Volunteer at workGranary











We completed our walk around the Mission, admiring the condition of the remaining buildings and their unique architecture, including these “green” roofs, ahead of their time.

Green Roof

The next stop on our route was the Mission Conception,


Mission of the Immaculate Conception

The stone used in the construction of the Mission was obtained from a quarry on the site.

The Quarry

Mission Conception is also still an active Catholic Parish, and in fact, it is the oldest non-renovated Catholic Church in the country.


The church is not as elaborate as Mission San Jose, but no less beautiful.

Beautiful altar

Mission Conception is most known for the colorful painting and carvings that were created using plants and minerals mixed into the stonework.  Many of the paintings have faded over time, and some have almost completely disappeared, but there are still a few that can be seen.







The walls of the main church were a warm cream color, and the stations of the cross were ornate metal sculptures.


We really enjoyed our visit to the Missions, and only wish it had been Sunday so that we could have gone to mass at one of them.


So, once we finished our tour of the Missions, we were all pretty hungry.  Tom was in the mood for mexican, so even though the neighborhood were were in was not the best, we stopped in at a local cafĂ© for lunch – and made it just before they closed.

Time for some lunch!

Tom was drawn in by the 3 for $1.99 tacos, but that was only breakfast tacos, not lunch . . . but they still were pretty reasonable . . . and good!  We all had tacos, and that gave us enough energy to complete our tour of San Antonio.

We arrived downtown by the Alamo and the Riverwalk to find it very crowded, even though it wasn’t the weekend.  It was, however, the weekend of the Air Force graduation, and there were LOTS of familes touring the Alamo and enjoying the Riverwalk.  I got a pretty good picture of the Alamo, considering all the people around . . .

The Alamo

That’s the only picture I got, though . . . it seemed a little strange to us that we could take pictures in all the other Missions, which are active churches, but not in the Alamo, which is a shrine.  Oh well, there were too many people around to get good pictures, anyway.

After walking through the Alamo, we went down to the Riverwalk.  We saw all the tour boats and taxis going by, but they were pretty crowded, and the boys said they didn’t want to look like tourists riding in one!

River Taxi

So we just walked past all the shops and restaurants, amazed at the fact there was no guardrail of any kind to keep people from falling into the river. 

I don’t think these guys would save you if you fell in!

Ducks at the Riverwalk

That first section of the Riverwalk was pretty full and crowded, but once we walked to the end and walked around the back of the shops and restaurants, where more of the hotels were, it was peaceful and quiet . . . and actually much more beautiful.




We stopped for a few photo opportunities.

At the Riverwalk







Our last stop was La Villeta,


a cute little row of shops and art galleries.


They must have had some “Fiesta” activities here the day before.  There were some colorful creatures on the street, and what looked like stages being dis-assembled.


From “La Villeta” we made our way back to where we had parked the car . . . eventually . . .

Trying to figure out where we are!

OK, it really didn’t take that long, but we did need to consult a few maps, and had a few “discussions” about which was the correct road to take!


It was a very full day, and we were ready to get back to the RV to relax!


  1. WOW, what a day!! You sure covered a lot of ground...beautiful photos:o))

  2. Kathy and I took a guided tour of the San Antonio missions and River Walk in 08. Problem was we were so rushed. Some day we'd like to do it again at our own pace to really enjoy it.

    You could take pictures inside the grounds of the Alamo but just not in the chapel section itself.

    Be Safe and Enjoy!

    It's about time.

  3. Marci - do you collect the NPS passport stamps? Becki


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