San Antonio – The Cradle of Liberty

San Antonio, Texas.

The summer of 2017 brought me to several new states and places to share here on Journeys With Johnbo. This year, the Civil Air Patrol held their national conference in San Antonio. Over the years, I’ve been to Texas, mostly Dallas, for my career. This trip would be my first to visit the home of the Alamo and the famed River Walk. The timing for our conference was not the best. The few days prior to leaving, we watched the weather carefully as Hurricane Harvey was building with forecast path to hit Houston and San Antonio. I fully expected our conference to be postponed as Harvey spun up and headed across the gulf.

As the date of the conference neared, forecasts for San Antonio improved as the path of Harvey was shifting away from the city. Up early and at the airport on my travel day, I boarded the plane out of Fargo destined for a layover in Minneapolis, then on to San Antonio for an early afternoon arrival. As we crossed Texas, the clouds below thickened and, using my iPad, I grabbed a shot of the topside of the weather systems battering Texas. Our ride, however, was relatively smooth at our altitude, whatever it was. We landed in San Antonio to overcast skies and intermittent showers. Winds were relatively light, the weather here giving no indication of the destruction being wreaked upon the Houston area. Little did I know that six days after returning from this trip, I would be leading a delegation of two aircraft and six CAP members to assist FEMA in damage assessment as a result of Hurricane Harvey. But I digress… that’s a story for another time.

Our conference placed us at the Marriott Rivercenter Hotel. The River Walk only a few steps out of the hotel’s lowest two floors. The hotel is located in a canal “cul de sac” collocated with many restaurants and the Rivercenter Mall. I found myself on the 16th floor with a great view of downtown San Antonio. The image above features a shot of our hotel and the glass walkway to the shopping mall. Having dropped off my gear in my hotel room, being early afternoon, I was ready for lunch. I grabbed my camera and headed to the river where I was sure I would find a place to eat.

Though the skies were gray with light showers dotting the canal off and on, I was ready to explore. After a quick lunch at a nearby Mexican Restaurant, I started walking along the canal, then up a flight of stairs to check out the downtown area. I started out by walking through parts of the Rivercenter Mall. I couldn’t help but notice that the mall suffers from the same conditions as many malls in the country. The number of empty storefronts tells that story well.

There were few people out and about that day, no real surprise given the weather conditions and people canceling plans to visit due to the impending weather event. As the weather cleared I was to learn the normal condition of the mall and surrounding river walk area could be described as “crowded.” Those who don’t mind a few showers had the place to ourselves this day.

On the way toward my walk downtown, I happened upon two Texas Soldiers who were not very busy today in their task of getting people to visit the Battle For Texas Experience, an interactive museum. I chatted a bit with them about the weather. It was unseasonably cool for August and for that they were grateful. Indeed I had expected the heat of south Texas in the summer but the after effects of Hurricane Harvey brought us pleasant temperatures and beautiful skies only warming toward normal temperatures the last days of my visit. I got their permission to pose for a photo and promised to check out the Experience later that week. As it turned out, I will need to save that visit for another trip.

Stepping outside into light sprinkles, I found myself in a walkway that eventually led to the city streets. I walked toward what I thought was the downtown area. It turned out that I was correct in my guess. I eventually found myself on East Commerce Street. I walked past St. Joseph’s Cathedral toward South Alamo Street. The cathedral, built in 1868, is still there because the parishioners refused to sell out to business interests first in the 1940s and then again when the mall was built. It remains to this day, surrounded on three sides by the mall that would have bought its demise. You can read more about this church from an earlier Cellpic Sunday post of mine here. On an early morning walk to breakfast later in the week, I captured this shot of the church.

In the coming days, I would walk past the church many times, most often around 6 AM when I would visit the nearest McDonald’s for my breakfast of Oatmeal. Knowing that much of the days in our conference would be sedentary in classes and meetings, there were three advantages to my breakfast choice. The daily walk gave me a bit of exercise and woke me up, the light breakfast kept my caloric intake in balance with my lack of exercise, ohh, and it cost much less than the breakfast in the hotel.

Turning the corner onto South Alamo, I walked by the Ripley Museum, The Amazing Mirror Maze, and other tourist attractions. I would discover in the next block a building I recognized the moment I saw it. Until that very moment, I’d not realized this building is located in the city center. 

The Alamo, originally known as the San Antonio de Valero Mission, after it was abandoned by the church, became the fort and the rallying cry for the independence of the Texas Republic. In a future Journeys, you can step back in time with me and explore the interior of the old mission and fort where so many Texans lost their lives in 1836. On this day, however, due to the impending possibility of hurricane weather, the exhibition was closed.

Walking a little further north of The Alamo, I noticed a distinctive triangular building. The Emily Morgan Hotel began accepting guests after a major renovation in 1984. Built in 1924, the thirteen story building served San Antonio as a medical center and hospital. The hospital closed in 1976 and the Gothic Revival building sat dormant until becoming a hotel named after Emily D. (West) Morgan. An indentured servant, she adopted the surname of Colonel James Morgan, her master. There are many stories about this legendary woman, variously related in legend and story. Whether or not she was the inspiration for the song, “The Yellow Rose of Texas”, I leave to you, dear reader, to decide. Given the bloody history of the area during the Texas Revolution and the medical facility housing a morgue and psychiatric ward, it’s no wonder the hotel also has a reputation of being haunted. No doubt a stay at this DoubleTree Hilton Hotel will be memorable.

A few blocks down Commerce Street, at the San Fernando Cathedral, a video/light projection show is offered as a free attraction four nights a week. On my first day there, I didn’t know about the show that features the history of San Antonio in music and video projected on the front of the cathedral. “San Antonio – The Saga” is shown on Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at 9 PM, 9:30 PM and 10 PM. A few days later, the show became an excuse to walk the River Walk into the area, then up the stairs, a couple of blocks further and being a few minutes late for the first show, it was easy to follow the sound of the music.

I conclude this journey with one of several sunset shots from out of my 16th floor hotel room window. Stay tuned for more from San Antonio in the coming weeks. Same bat time, same bat channel.

A note on the camera:

First off, I love my D500 with the Tamron 18-300mm lens. When I get on an airplane, however, it’s backpack is an extra bag and often on these trips, I have other priorities than photography. Until this trip, I just used my cell phone, but I missed being able to have the capabilities of the Nikon for bracketing exposures and shooting in RAW format. I decided it would be nice to have a much smaller camera, one that I can put in a belt-clip case and that takes minimal space. I chose a Sony RX-100 V. Though the zoom lens isn’t nearly as long range as my Tamron, the Zeiss lens is much faster at f/2.8. San Antonio is my first project site for the new gear. In a future digression, I will post a few notes about the camera, a review of sorts (not that there aren’t already plenty on the web already.)

I leave you with a gallery of images captured during my visit to downtown San Antonio. On most browsers, you can click on an image to enlarge it and to scroll through the gallery.

John Steiner

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