Friday afternoon we headed west from New Orleans. The original plan for the weekend was to go backpacking at Big Thicket National Preserve but there were some problems logistically and I read some disturbing stats on venomous snakes in the area. I grew up a very nervous child, afraid of snakes, spiders, house fires, burglars, the dark, etc. I’ve mostly outgrown those fears, mainly by forcing myself into uncomfortable situations, but the Houston Space Center provided a good excuse for skipping the snake infested thicket of Eastern Texas.
Space Center Houston
Being an astronaut had been a pipe dream of mine until I watched Gravity and swore off space travel. After visiting the Space Center, I had a change of heart; if NASA came to me and said they needed me to go to Mars, I would. From Saturn V, the tallest, heaviest, and most powerful rocket ever to operate to the Boeing 747 that flew space shuttles across the country on its back, there were some pretty awe-inspiring artifacts at the center.
Saturn V – 363 feet tall, 3.5 million pounds
In addition to visiting all 59 National Parks, we’re trying to stop by other areas owned by the National Park Service. So, on Sunday, we headed to the San Antonio Missions National Historic Park (NPS manages 417 pieces of land so we won’t be getting to all of them any time soon). The Spanish built 5 missions in the San Antonio area in the early 1700’s to keep the French, English, and hostile Native Americans out of their territory. We went on an informative, ranger-led tour of Mission San Jose but I felt a little deceived because only one small building is an original. The rest are reconstructed based on what archeologists think it looked like. I don’t understand how Europe has so many ancient buildings but we can’t even preserve buildings from the 1700’s.
The reconstructed San Jose Mission
We spent less than 5 days in San Antonio and a majority of the hours were spent working or sleeping so I didn’t get a great feel for the city. We hit up the obvious attractions – the Alamo, the River Walk, Tower of the Americas but didn’t have time for much else.
San Antonio at night
The Alamo was okay but having already visited a mission, which I thought more interesting, it didn’t seem like something to nickname the city after. I understand that it’s the spirit of the Alamo that is celebrated more so than the physical location. But between the giant gift shop, the decrepit, empty church and the museum that was way too wordy, it was kind of a letdown. It feels wrong to say less than positive things about a ‘Shrine to Texas Liberty’ but the Alamo wasn’t anything to write home about.
Unimpressed by the Alamo
The River Walk is a cool concept but there’s not much to it other than lots of restaurants and lots of tourists. We got dinner at a TexMex restaurant which was nice enough. I was told I needed to take a boat tour to really get a feel for it, but I didn’t, so maybe that’s what I was missing.
The River Walk packed with tourists
Tower of the Americas is San Antonio’s less iconic version of the Space Needle. You can pay $12 for a ride to the observation deck or visit the restaurant at the top which has great views and allows you to go to the observation deck for free. The Chart House Restaurant is a bit pricy for our budget but has some great happy hour deals that we took advantage of. It’s no Sears Willis Tower (it’s the 27th tallest building in Texas; I saw it advertised as the tallest building in Texas outside of Dallas and Houston (only if you include its antenna)) but the views were good enough for me.
Not a bad view
If you’ve gotten to this point in the blog, it probably sounds like I have a pretty negative view of San Antonio. And while I didn’t love the Alamo or the River Walk, I overall had a good time in the city, mostly thanks to our lodging. All of our previous Airbnb’s had been a room in someone’s house, but here we had our own carriage house in the owner’s backyard. The hardest part of the trip has been not having our own space, other than a bedroom, so it was really nice to have some room to spread out.
Homemade chicken and asparagus
Like I said earlier, we didn’t spend much time in San Antonio and I think that was a big contributor to my indifference to the city. Luckily in our next three cities, Austin, Tucson, and Phoenix, we’ll be staying for two weeks each.