San Antonio Parks: Salado Creek Greenway paths are completely paved and winds gently through the old Voelcker farmstead

Created Wednesday, 23 March 2011 13:46

Along the (Other) Riverwalk

So in the process of exploring Phil Hardberger Park a little bit at a time over the last three or four Sundays – being that we have taken the dog to the dog-park there for a vigorous romp, followed by a brisk walk along one of the trails – last week, we thought we should explore the Salado Creek Greenway, which rambles from the old Voelcker farmstead buildings more or less north towards Huebner Road. The trail is completely paved, and winds a gentle way through stands of oak trees, along and over and back and forth along the bed of Salado Creek. Which – rather as the joke used to be about the Los Angeles River – only seems to have water in it when it rains. However, there is plenty of evidence that when Salado Creek does have water in it – it has lots of water. There are a number of places where the creek-bed is eroded down to stone, and one long stretch where the intermittent watercourse has also eroded away a line of hills to produce a fairly steep, rocky face, pitted with caves.

There are houses on either side of the creek-way; many of the back yards either open to it through gates, or with a private view from a back yard overlooking the creek, but it is just barely possible along some stretches to even see houses at all. When the seasonal trees leaf out a little more, such houses will be even less visible from the paved pathway. That pathway was very popular on a Sunday, by the way – joggers, and people like us, walking their dogs, families on bicycles. I suppose that eventually it will be possible to cross all the way across San Antonio on a greenway path – from 1604 on the north, all the way to downtown and the best-known stretch of the Riverwalk, along the San Antonio River, through the south-side and out at Mission Espada at 410 and South Presa.

The one thing that I did notice, somewhat wistfully, as we walked along – was what a wonderful un-constructed playground all this would have been for kids. My brothers and sister and our friends would have been all over a pocket wilderness like this, so temptingly close to the backyards of the suburban houses so very much like the ones that we lived in, growing up. When there was water in the creek, there would be tadpoles and minnows to watch. The temptation to dam up an ankle-deep stretch of the creek to make it a little deeper would have been overwhelming – our very own swimming hole. Trees to climb and make tree-houses in the lower branches, thickets to hide in; to play hide and seek, to pretend to be Indians, or play an extended round of capture-the-flag, to build forts out of scrap wood, or to deepen some of the caves and make a den out of them . . . oh, that would have been the best kind of playground for us … I don’t know how children could be kept from that kind of romp, even though free-range play and the concept children being permitted to amuse themselves for hours on end unsupervised by adults seems to be a concept now well out of fashion.

Anyway, I hope that those kids who do live in the San Antonio homes along the creek-way do get some serious play-time in. And for those of us, sadly grown-up and years beyond tree-climbing and minnow-catching – we can still enjoy it the greenway trails, too.


The Goliad Massacre. On Palm Sunday, 1863, about three hundred Texians were divided into three groups, and marched out of town in three different directions, before being shot down by Mexican guards.

Created Tuesday, 22 March 2011 14:51
by Julia Hayden

Goliad – The Other Alamo

The Texas war for independence from Mexico kicked off 175 years ago – but that it barely lasted six months, and crammed the most spectacular events into a period of about seven weeks means that the commemorative events are similarly crammed. The first weekend in March took me to the Alamo . . . and the last weekend will take me to the Goliad, or La Bahia del Espiritu Santo. Of all those places the Texas revolution happened, La Bahia is the only one which still looks much like it did in 1836.

In the matter of retaking Texas, Santa Anna had detached General Don Jose Urrea, with a force of about a thousand soldiers to guard his eastern flank and to mop up the Anglo-Texan resistance along the coastal plains. Colonel James Fannin with 500 men – the largest portion of what military the Texian rebels possessed – were at Goliad, which commanded the strategic route from the coastal port at Copano. Meanwhile, spurred by the knowledge that they must either fight or go under, a convention of Texian settlers at Washington-on-the-Brazos declared independence on March 2. In double quick-time, they had drafted a constitution, elected an interim government, and commissioned Sam Houston as commander of what army was left. Houston went to rally the settlers’ militia at Gonzales, intending to relieve the Alamo; on the day of his arrival news came that the Alamo had fallen.

Houston sent a message to Fannin, ordering him to fall back towards the east, but Fannin had sent out a small force to protect Anglo-Texan settlers nearby, and refused to leave until he heard from them. When he did finally move out, Urrea’s column had already made contact. Fannin and his force were caught in the open a little short of Coleto Creek. They fought in a classic hollow square, three ranks deep for a day and a night, tormented by lack of water. Finally, Urrea brought up field guns, and raked the square with grapeshot. Fannin surrendered, believing that he did so under honorable terms.

The survivors were brought back to Goliad and held for a week. They all assumed they would be disarmed, paroled and sent back to the United States. Urreas’ officers had assumed the same, and were appalled when Santa Anna ordered that the prisoners be executed. Urrea had asked for leniency and the commander left in charge of Goliad was personally horrified, but the orders were obeyed. On Palm Sunday, 1863, those of Fannin’s garrison able to walk – about three hundred of them – were divided into three groups, and marched out of town in three different directions, before being shot down by their guards.

Forty wounded were dragged into the courtyard in front of the chapel doors and executed as they lay on the ground. Fannin himself was shot last of all, knowing what had happened to his men. Many bodies were dumped into a trench and burnt, although most were left where they lay. A handful of Texians survived by escaping into the brush during all the confusion, and another handful were kept out of the fatal march – concealed by sympathetic Mexican officers or rescued by Francita Alavez, the Angel of Goliad.

There will be a reenactor’s encampment within the walls of the presidio this weekend, March 26 and 27, 2011 and a number of scheduled events, in addition to a memorial service on Sunday. More is at the linked website.

Presidio La Bahía is located one mile south of Goliad, Texas on U.S. Highway 183 (77A). Presidio La Bahia was established at this location in 1749, with Mission Espíritu Santo



SATURDAY, March 26th

12:30 Concert by K.R. Wood and the Gone to Texas Band in chapel.

SUNDAY, March 27th





Tubing on rivers near San Antonio, absolutely relaxing; no cellphone, no internet, no city traffic – other than other tubers – just drifting along in the river current, keeping cool and watching the r

Created Sunday, 20 March 2011 15:07

By the Rivers’ Edge

The rivers that run through Texas were not historically reliable enough to facilitate heavy transport in the way that the Mississippi and its various tributaries were and still are. The various rivers – Rio Grande, Nueces, Guadalupe, San Antonio, Sabine, Brazos and Trinity – were at times and in places navigable by shallow-draft boats and steamships – it all rather depended on how recently it had rained. They were slightly more useful at providing small-scale power for mills, at those points where they could be built. But the most important use for Texas rivers though, especially the western-most of them – was simply that they were there, providing water in an otherwise arid land.

San Antonio was located where it was because of the generous sources of sweet, cold water – springs of which came out like fountains because of the aquifer, buried deep under the limestone hills to the north. Travelers and memoirists alike noted the importance of water and the river to San Antonio, even in the early days. By mid-19th century, it was noted that the very best houses in town backed on the river, with bath-houses and pavilions built along the banks, and in the heat of summer, practically everyone found relief from it by soaking in the water. After the Alamo, San Antonio’s premier tourist attraction is – of course – the Riverwalk. Out of the spotlight, there are a number of projects to extend various existing parks and construct new recreational greenways along the banks of urban rivers and creeks – but that’s a year round and on-going project. The major summertime enjoyment of other local rivers is just about to be launched, with a large and refreshing splash.

For San Antonio residents, the nearest place to indulge in that kind of recreation would be on the Comal River (at three miles long is about the shortest river in Texas), which runs through New Braunfels, and a twenty-mile long stretch of the Guadalupe between Canyon Lake Dam and New Braunfels. Those reaches of river are marvelously scenic, with unlimited opportunities for sightseeing, dining and shopping at every bend, no matter if you are kayaking, canoeing or just doing it on a rubber inner-tube. My daughter claims that Texas river tubing is absolutely the most relaxing way to do it; no cellphone, no internet, no city traffic – other than other tubers – just drifting along in the current, keeping cool and watching the riverbank go past. There are some deep places, and some rapids here and there; the river reaches are patrolled fairly rigorously for under-aged drinkers, and for those who carelessly bring glass or Styrofoam out onto the river – but for sheer total relaxation very possibly the only way to beat tubing, is probably a full body-massage at a day spa. A lot of the river outfitters have already opened in mid-March, although it won’t really kick into high gear until it gets warmer. By Memorial Day weekend, there’ll be so many tubers out there on weekends that you could probably cross the Guadalupe, by hopping from tube to tube.

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Meat, potatoes, and several kinds of veggies make up this full meal salad

Created Thursday, 17 March 2011 14:26

Dinner Salad – Salade Nicoise

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This is one of our favorite full-meal salads – being that it’s three out of the four food groups in one, and in fairly generous quantities: there’s your meat, potatoes, and several kinds of veggies. Throw in some nice crusty French bread, and there you go. (The other favorite dinner salad being a concoction of leftover chicken, bean-thread noodles, toasted sesame seeds and a vinaigrette dressing made with a dash of soy sauce).

It is also something that my mother used to fix fairly often, especially when it was too hot to spend very much time in the kitchen in the heat of the day. It’s one of those handy dishes which may also be prepped in advance, and the quantity may expanded or contracted to suit any number of diners; one big platter in the center, or scaled down to individual servings. The name comes from the town of Nice, on the French Mediterranean coast – oddly enough, Kiet, the Vietnamese teenage refugee who lived with us for a year in the mid 90s recognized it and liked it very well, also. Kiet pronounced it as “Salad Nuc – Wha” and liked his with a little spritz of Vietnamese fish sauce.

The recipe is infinitely flexible; you may make your own marinade/dressing or use any bottled oil-and-vinegar dressing instead, or adorn with cold cooked shrimp instead of the canned tuna. I once had Salade Nicoise in a very upscale restaurant where they had chunks of seared ahi tuna steak – which was very good – but they also served it with lightly boiled blue potatoes, marinated wax beans and yellow tomatoes, which had me blinking at the plate and wondering if my eyes had suddenly gone bad.

Anyway – this version serves four:

Combine and shake vigorously until emulsified: ¾ cup olive oil, ¼ cup red wine vinegar, a dash of salt and pepper, 2 tbsp each of chopped chives and chopped parsley, and ½ tsp whole-grain mustard.

Meanwhile, boil 4 large unpeeled boiling potatoes in salted water for 15-20 minutes until just tender. (You can also use whole baby red potatoes, too.) Cool immediately under cold water, peel and slice, and pour over just enough of the dressing to thinly coat slices. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours.

Blanch 1 ½ pounds fresh trimmed green beans in boiling water. Drain well, and moisten with salad dressing. Cover and refrigerate for at least two hours.

Line a large, deep platter or four dinner plates with fresh lettuce or spinach greens, and arrange a mound of the cooked potato slices in the middle. Top with 1 7-oz can solid pack white albacore tuna, drained. Arrange the green beans on either side of the potatoes, and ring the platter with 2-3 hardboiled eggs, halved, and 2 medium tomatoes, cut in wedges. Adorn the salad with any or all of the following: 10-12 anchovy filets, 6-8 marinated artichoke hearts, a handful of ripe olives, a tbsp of whole capers. My daughter likes marinated baby ears of corn. Sprinkle the whole thing with a little more of the salad dressing/marinade. It can be served at once, or covered in plastic wrap and allowed to sit for a little while.


Daylight Savings Time Begins Spring Forward 1 Hour

Created Thursday, 10 March 2011 15:42

Daylight Savings Time Begins  Spring Forward 1 Hour

It’s that time of year again, when we turn the clocks forward. Don’t forget this Sunday, March 13, 2011, officially at 2:00am to Spring Forward your clocks by 1 hour. For many of us, that means we should turn the clocks forward 1 hour before we go to bed.

Benjamin Franklin invented the idea of Daylight Saving Time in 1784. Why? I’ll not ever understand, myself, but those smarter than me figure it’s a good thing.

Move the clock ahead in the Spring, losing one hour of sleep when DST begins, and falls back one hour when DST ends in the fall. To make it easier to remember which way the clock goes, keep in mind this saying: “spring forward, fall back.”

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Open Air History The Alamo – reenactor events and displays

Created Tuesday, 08 March 2011 02:27

Open Air History – The Alamo

I’m not alone in this mad love of history, in being so besotted by events and eras to the point of studying certain aspects down to the sub-atomic level. I only write about it, which is the traditional venue for those like Miniver Cheevy, who wistfully believe they were born too late. There have been writers who have done very well by antiquarian enthusiasms; Sir Walter Scott almost single handedly popularizing the sport of jousting in mid-19th century England and America, as well as a passion for plaid. Indeed, the 19th century went on a Gothic bender for decades. Anyway, this kind of enthusiasm is not confined any more to scribblers of genre fiction; now there are thousands of dedicated amateurs – who actually go out and make an effort to live in the time of their passion. I am pretty sure this started with the Society for Creative Anachronism, or possibly with enterprises like the various Renaissance Pleasure Fairs which I vaguely remember hearing about or attending early in the 1970s.

I’ve loved going to reenactor events and displays, even more since I got taken up with the writing bug. There is just only so much one can get from a book, or from a display in a museum, or from a TV documentary – sometimes it just helps to have someone demonstrate something to you, or even let you try it out yourself. A couple of years ago, I went to a Mountain Man rendezvous, at a reconstructed log fort in Ogden, Utah. One of the lucky experiences there was to watch a family erect a tall canvas-covered tee-pee. So, however did several people maneuver a series of long poles, which were too heavy for someone to lift, yet lift and lean them together? Twenty minutes of watching – and now I know. And I also know how the teepees and tents appear at twilight, with lanterns burning inside and out, the mist rising from the lakeside just as the sun sets . . . and there’s a lovely tableau set for me to write a description of . . . when the opportunity rises, of course.

I had another experience, of learning to load and break down for cleaning, an authentic Colt Paterson revolver, so that I could write about that believably in one of my books. Another friend, a black-powder shooting enthusiast, let us go shooting at the range he has out in back of his house. (Which is waaaaaay out in the country, FYI.) Useful information for me, since the experience of shooting with a black-powder period revolver is as different from the modern Beretta that I had to learn to use in the Air Force. Out in California, I hung out in the weavers’ barn at a little local museum, just picking up general knowledge about that process. And just this last weekend, out to Alamo Plaza to watch the San Antonio Living History Association events to commemorate the siege of 1836. I think the useful thing for me there was the clothes and accessories; all the difference in the world to eye-ball them close-up and in real time, rather than just look at pictures. Long live open-air historians; they are teaching other people besides me what the past looked like, felt like, and sounded like.

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South Town and Blue Star scene is coming ever more close to bein an art district. Sort of the Texas So-Ho

Created Tuesday, 08 March 2011 02:04

Blue Star and South Town

So, after we scoped out the elaborate series of reenactor events on Alamo Plaza last weekend – uniforms and long rifles and cannon -oh-my! – we decided to venture into South Town and check out anything interesting going on at the Blue Star Arts Complex . . . which since it was the day after First Friday – not very much. It had been simply years since I had reason to go to the Blue Star. I don’t recall what took me there that time; either responding to an advertisement for a job opening (possible) or trying to sell someone advertising space in a little arts publication that I was working for at the time (also possible).

Anyway, it’s been a while, and the whole South Town and Blue Star scene is coming ever more close to being an art district. Think of it as a sort of Texas So-Ho/Tribeca, with repurposed industrial buildings and renovated cottages of a historical nature all mixed together along the banks of the lower San Antonio River in the shade of the Pioneer Flour Mill towers. After all, the area is wedged between historical downtown and equally historical King William, so why the heck not?

South Town looks to have gotten the right proportion in the mix – just enough gentrification and upper-crust establishments to be fairly safe, and enough shabby decrepitude to be cheap and interesting. And if you have an arty section of town, it has to be cheap enough that artists can afford to live there and freelance artists and writers are not (ahem) often generously remunerated for the exercise of their art.

Remember the guys in La Boheme? Four guys, sharing an attic in Paris, hocking their overcoats for food and burning their manuscripts to keep warm – but they had friendship and fun, so at least that kind of life looked to be sustainable. And San Antonio in winter is definitely warmer in winter than New York or Paris.

We walked around for a bit, looking at an exhibit of prints and another of very modern art – which seemed to consist of random squiggly shapes cast or cut out of metal and hung on the wall, adorned with this, that or the other. Not my cuppa – but as my mother used to say, it obviously keeps the artist busy and amused. I’m still wondering about a series of twenty identical cast-iron leaf shapes, each with an identical trapezoidal divot of opaque cast glass inset into one edge. Hooo-kay, and yeah, I’m a philistine when it comes to modern art, as I suspect that much of it is a huge practical joke played upon the public.

We better liked the folk art at San Angel Folk Art, at 110 Blue Star. Yay for folk art, which transmits more of a sense of energy, joy and sheer humor . . . plus, you don’t have to guess what it actually is supposed to represent. It’s usually pretty obvious: Ray Charles at the piano, a huge folk-art albino crocodile, a set of miniature Catrinas – all dressed and decorated for various holidays and events, and a very elaborate vase with a huge flower and humming-bird, all made of cleverly folded and cut paper. I couldn’t take a picture of the piece I liked best – a very large round painted bowl, entirely covered in three-dimensional flowers and monarch butterflies; the butterflies mounted in short wires so that they seemed to float over the surface – I could almost see their wings trembling. Anyway, that was my Saturday afternoon; what was yours?


The Alamo, that old Spanish Mission at the edge of town

Created Wednesday, 02 March 2011 14:57

The Old Spanish Mission at the Edge of Town

And that’s what it was – a hundred and seventy-five years ago this spring – when the Alamo achieved fame immortal, just before sunrise in the spring of 1836. Visitors are usually taken back to discover that it is so small. I was, the first time I visited it as an AF trainee on town-pass in 1978; a little Spanish colonial style chapel, in limestone weathered to the color of dark ivory.

The church and the ‘Long Barracks’ are the only buildings remaining of Mission San Antonio de Valero; the northernmost of a linked chain of five missions complexes, threaded like baroque pearls on a green ribbon, and originally established to tend to the spiritual needs and the protection of local Christianized Indian tribes. The missions were secularized at the end of the 18th century; their chapels became local parish churches and the oldest of them all became a garrison.

I have a full-sized copy of a birds-eye view map of San Antonio in 1873, which shows a grove of trees in rows behind the apse of the old chapel. In that year those surviving buildings served as an Army supply depot, and the plaza a marshalling yard. Did the Army supply sergeants or the laborers unloading the wagons ever wonder about the building they worked in. What did they think, piling up crates, barrels and boxes where a handful of survivors had made their last stand against the tide of Santa Anna’s soldiers flooding over the crumbling walls? Probably not much- whitewash covers a lot.

A useful, sturdy building is just that – useful. By the 1870s, those Regular Army NCOs were veterans of the Civil War, and perhaps haunted enough by their own war. The growing city had spread beyond those limits that William Travis, David Crocket and James Bowie would have seen, looking down from those very same walls.

In 1836 the old mission sat some distance from the outskirts of a little provincial town, out in the meadows by river fringed in rushes, willows, and cottonwood trees. Cottonwoods grow wherever there is water in plenty, their leaves trembling incessantly in the slightest breeze. Otherwise, it would have been open country, rolling meadows star-scattered with trees, and striped across by two roads; the Camino Real, the King’s road, towards Nacogdoches in the east, and the road south towards the Rio Grande. It is a challenge to take away the tall glass buildings, the lawns and flowering shrubs, to ignore the sounds of traffic, the SATrans busses belching exhaust, and see it as it might have appeared, a hundred and seventy-five years ago

Those northern provinces of the nation of Mexico were in ferment in the 1830s, some of which might be chalked up to the presence of settlers who had come to Texas from the various United States looking for land. Many like Stephen Austin were honestly grateful for the free land and consideration from the Mexican authorities, and initially had no thought of trafficking in rebellion. But rebel they did; the old Alamo was strategic; but too large to be effectively defended.

The rebels and their leaders chose to stand fast in the old mission, for reasons that they perhaps didn’t articulate very well to themselves, save for in William Travis’s immortal letters. James Bowie was deathly ill and David Crockett was new-come to the country, in search of adventure more than glory. None of them perfect heroes by any standard, then or now… but of such rough clay are legends made.

Events to commemorate the 14-day long siege are scheduled for March 5th and 6th, to include displays and reenactments by the San Antonio Living History, to include their annual Dawn at the Alamo ceremony, at 6 AM, March 6th. Other events include performances of period folk music, a flyover of Air Force jets and the placement of 30,000 yellow roses on the lawn in front of the chapel.