Mission Reach

River Fun Down the Mission Reach

by Celia Hayes

It is one of those grand civic plans to extend the Riverwalk from downtown towards the north and south – especially to the south to connect up all the ancient missions once established on the banks of the San Antonio River. The original section of the Riverwalk, which together with the Alamo itself is San Antonio’s primary claim to touristic fame, was just the very beginning. After all, San Antonio was established where it was because of the river… and for a long while in the last century, the river itself – aside from the landscaped stretch in downtown – was little better than a storm drain, running through industrial areas or at the back of commercial establishments.

But the Riverwalk extension to the north – the Museum Reach has now gone almost as far as Breckenridge Park. Some time ago we walked it from the Pearl Brewery well into downtown – and this last weekend we hiked a length of the new Mission Reach, between the Riverside Golf Course and Padre Park. It had just opened with some ceremony and celebration the day before, but Saturday was hot and presumably crowded, and Sunday was not. We went venturing, armed with a map of the new reach and were most pleasantly surprised. The Riverside Golf Course is most astonishingly upscale, green and manicured. All the new park pavilions along the way were newer than brand spanking new, the finished trail was wide and beautifully finished, every turn of the trail with a pleasing aspect was furnished with an assortment of benches and picnic tables positioned for best effect. There are not so many trees shading the path, though – although there are some groves of tall pecan trees off on either side. The pecan trees along the river provided sustenance to the Indians from the earliest days; I wish there were more of them, but as one of the ladies whom we talked to said – it’s still a work in progress.

It is all very new, though – and although there were enough people venturing on it – by foot, bicycle and kayak, there were not as many as we thought would have been there if the Mission Reach was more well-known, and if the various establishments on either side were more orientated towards it. If this was Europe, my daughter ventured – there would have been families picnicking at every table, and children playing on the various greenswards. Men would have been trying their luck at fishing in the river – and contra the warning signs here and there, there would have been people swimming and wading in it. There would have been ice cream vendors on bicycles towing little coolers after them, selling cold drinks and ice cream cones to all. Commercial establishments with an eye towards the view would have had outdoor dining areas looking toward the riverbanks – and those people sufficiently fortunate to have houses with back yards overlooking it would be building their gardens with an eye towards the view. A couple of mobile home parks that we spotted would also have made their Riverwalk-Mission Reach location a major feature of their appeal. Very likely the rejuvenation of the old Hot Wells Resort will play into this. The old tourist cabins on the ground – overgrown in thickets of small trees – are as ruinous as ever, but looking through the fence at the edge of the main property, we could see that work is being done. There is even a new roof on part of the old bathhouse building.

We walked more than four miles today – and consequently are pleasantly exhausted and somewhat sunburned. That was my weekend – yours?

Urban Critters

Critters in the City

by Celia Hayes

A good few years ago I had a project for a college class in ecology, a topic that I already knew a good bit about, thanks to Dad. Yea, my bretheren and sisteren, at that time, the whole concept of ecology was a brand new and shiny one, with that nice fresh concept smell to it. Dad, being the working research biologist, had introduced us it ages before – when we were in grade school, as a matter of fact. My class project involved finding out about nominally wild animals living in the city. In that pre-internet and search-engine day this involved a daisy chain of phone calls, beginning with the city animal control office, until I wound up talking to (IIRC) a gentlemen at the Bureau of Land Management, who kept saying that really, he didn’t know all that much about it, but talked for nearly an hour telling me of all kinds of examples and incidents involving wild animals settling down rather happily in suburbia, and even deep in city high-rises.

At the time, we lived in the hills, on the far fringes of a suburb nestled against a national forest; miles and miles of chaparral-covered hills and semi-dry creeks, so that we were already acquainted with coyotes and foxes, and once we had even found the tracks of a mountain lion, deep in the canyon on the muddy bank of a creek. I thought that I had left that kind of untrammeled wild-life far behind upon moving into a fairly built-up suburb in San Antonio, but no… there is plenty of wildlife, happily roaming in or flying over the neighborhoods.

There are enough fingers of woodland along the creeks and parks connecting them to support quantities of deer. In Hollywood Park the resident deer herd is seen as sort of community pet and the main campus of USAA also supports their own herd. The only surprising thing is that there are no apex predators preying on the deer save automobiles … yet, anyway. A couple of years ago one of my neighbors nailed a deer with his car, on Nacogdoches between Judson and O’Connor. The deer was killed – so was his radiator. I presume that there are coyotes and foxes prowling some of the denser thickets, although I have not seen or heard any – and believe me, although coyotes may be shy, they are not quiet.

The suburban critters that I have seen – and sometimes up close and personal are possums and raccoons. Just this very week I have had a young raccoon removed from where it had been making a messy nest under the eaves of the back porch. One morning when I came out to get the newspaper, I surprised some skunk kittens on my front porch. A neighbor had just demolished the deck at the back of her house, evicting them. I had a family of opossum kittens living in my garden for a while; four of them, who seemed to like the cat food that I put out for the timid semi-feral cat that I was trying to tame. I was eventually successful with the cat, but not the opossums.

Birds now – egrets in the creek bottomlands, rails and ducks in plenty, and wherever squirrels are in plenty, there will be hawks. There are several nesting pairs in my neighborhood alone, performing the office of chlorine in the squirrel gene pool – in two instances, sitting in the mulberry tree in the back yard, chowing down a nice bit of tender squirrel al la plein air. The wild kingdom is all around us, even in the middle of the city.

South Texas on a Tank of Gas Canyon Lake

Created Monday, 02 June 2008 10:50

South Texas on a Tank of Gas: Canyon Lake

Next in our series of places to visit on a tank of gas is Canyon Lake.  Located just about an hour north of downtown San Antonio, one of the most scenic and beautiful lakes in the entire state waits to greet visitors.  Boasting 80 miles of shore, Canyon Lake is created from the waters from another of the Hill Country’s natural landmarks, the Guadalupe River.

Whatever their preference, visitors to the lake will find almost any outdoor activity available that one could hope for.  In addition to the lake itself, eight parks are located on its shores, including:

· Canyon Park & Canyon Beach Swim Area
· Comal Park
· Crane’s Mill Park
· Guadalupe Park
· Jacob’s Creek Park
· North Park
· Overlook Park
· Potter’s Creek Park

The lake is perfect for water sports of all sorts, including fishing, swimming, boating, skiing, and more.  The clear water and depth of the lake (43 foot average) also make it a great place for SCUBA diving.  Anyone who has their own diving equipment can come to Canyon Lake and enjoy exploring the unique underwater environment that it has to offer.  For other outdoors enthusiasts, camping, picnicking, and wildlife viewing can all be taken advantage of in the surrounding parks.  Whitewater aficionados will find the waters of the Upper Guadalupe a great place to put in their raft, canoe, or kayak, and get their adrenaline pumping as they speed downstream.  The Lower Guadalupe is perfect for lazing down the calmer waters in a tube or canoe.

Fishermen will find the waters teeming with a variety of fish species native to the area.  Anglers can test their skills trying to reel in Guadalupe, Largemouth, Smallmouth, and White Bass; Blue, Channel, and Flathead Catfish, Black and White Crappie, Bluegills, Walleyes, and more.

Canyon Lake is located about 20 miles north of New Braunfels, and can be reached by taking 281 N to the Boerne/New Braunfels Exit (46), then heading left on FM 3159 to Startz Rd.  The parks are usually open from 7 AM to 10 PM, and fees vary from free entrance to a few dollars per car.


South Texas on a Tank of Gas Calaveras and Braunig Lake Parks

Created Thursday, 22 May 2008 22:24

South Texas on a Tank of Gas Calaveras and Braunig Lake Parks

With rising gas prices and a weak economy, many people are looking for vacations that are cheaper, closer to home, and yet still provide an exciting outing full of cultural experiences and fun.  Luckily for residents of the San Antonio, there are numerous opportunities for all kinds of exciting getaways within a couple hours drive.  Over the coming weeks, this satxblog will be taking a look at some of Central South Texas’ best bets for a weekend adventure in many of the best small towns, parks, campgrounds, outdoor sites, and even beaches, that can be reached in roughly two hours’ driving.  Just because the economy is a bust these days, doesn’t mean that your summer has to be!

South Texas is loaded with opportunities to get away from the stress of the city life, and two parks that are just on San Antonio’s doorstep are Calaveras Lake Park and Braunig Lake Park.  Located just 15 miles southeast of the city, these two parks combine to offer visitors the picturesque beauty of the Hill Country with the excitement of the Texas outdoors.  For a minimal charge of just a few dollars, visitors can have access to both parks and all of the great activities that the parks provide.

Between the two parks, visitors have access to fishing, camping, hiking or biking on the nature trails, boating, picnicking, and more.  In the area surrounding the park, Texas’ wildlife is on full display with a wide variety of birds, wildflowers, fish, and plenty of furry friends.  The main draw for these two lakes, however, are the watersports opportunities that both present visitors.  Boats are allowed on both lakes, and boats are available for rental also.  Fishermen are well-cared for as well, as both parks feature lighted piers, cleaning areas, tackle shops, and acres of water full of hungry catfish, bass, muskie, and red drum.  Braunig Lake and Calveras Lake

Both parks are pet-friendly (with leashes), and offer terrific picnic areas, playgrounds, and plenty of other areas for the whole family to enjoy.  Both parks can be reached by taking Highway 37 south.

Braunig Lake is located 15 miles southeast of downtown San Antonio off Interstate Highway 37 south; take Exit 130 (Donop Road) and follow the signs. The park entrance is located at 17500 Donop Road.

Calaveras Lake is located 15 miles southeast of San Antonio. From Loop 410, proceed southeast on U.S. Highway 181 south, then turn left on Loop 1604 and proceed for two miles; turn left on Stuart Road and proceed for 1/2 mile to the park entrance. The park is located at 12991 Bernhardt Road.

The parks are open every day of the year.  The American economy may be limping along, and a gallon of gas may soon cost more than a gallon of Dom Perignon, but there’s still no reason not to hop in the car, load up the family, and spend a day or two visiting some of south Texas’ beautiful offerings.