Place of Refreshing Waters: Heed the Cry, "Remember the Alamo!" but If You're in San Antonio, Don't Forget These Gems Too

Article excerpt

Best known for the Alamo and the River Walk or "Paseo del Rio" (which are neck-in-neck for the honor of Texas' most visited sites), San Antonio offers a staggering number of sites for nature lovers and history buffs alike. Attendees at AMERICAN FORESTS' National Urban Forest Conference may want to find time to explore some of region's vast attractions, In addition to historic missions and cultural sites, the San Antonio region boasts a wealth of natural areas with an incredible array of floral and faunal diversity. The native Payapa people had good reason to call it Yanaguana, "place of refreshing waters." A few extra days lingering here would not be misspent. Here are a few getaway ideas to broaden your conference experience:

SAN ANTONIO NATURAL AREAS

The City of San Antonio's Department of Recreation and Parks currently manages three natural area parks--Friedrich Wilderness Park, Eisenhower Park, and Walker Ranch Historic Landmark Park; all are open to the public at no charge. A hike through one or more of them will introduce you to the varied ecological zones (Post Oak savanna, Blackland prairie, South Texas plains, and Edwards Plateau) that converge to create San Antonio's unique landscape.

* An internationally recognized birder's paradise with nine species of hawks and kites alone, Friedrich Wilderness Park features more than five miles of hiking trails winding through steep bills and deep canyons. Although generally not seen in late summer, the endangered black-capped vireo and the golden-checked warbler nest in the park's ashe and live oak forests. Many other rare bird species are found year-retold. Known for its terrestrial orchids. Friedrich Wilderness Park is also an ideal place to experience the region's floral diversity.

Perched high on the Balcones Escarpment roughly 18 miles from downtown San Antonio, the 240-acre park offers fine views of the surrounding region. If yon plan In hike Friedrich's trails, bring bottled water, especially in September when temperatures can soar. Dogs are not allowed, even on leashes. For more information, call 210/698-1057.

* Providing a prime glimpse of the rocky canyons and dry creek beds filet support typical Texas Hill Country vegetation, Eisenhower Park's 320 acres offer superb hiking, jogging, and birdwatching. Recently upgraded with educational markers, five miles of trails wind through each major vegetative zone.

While leashed pets are allowed, you must come prepared to clean up after them. Slightly more developed than Friedrich Park, Eisenhower does offer barbecue and picnic facilities, as well as overnight camping with prior reservations; 210/207-3120.

* The most recent acquisition to the Natural Areas, Walker Ranch Historic Landmark is a great place to explore San Antonio's archeological riches. For hundreds of years Native Americans hunted and gathered over this open, grassy area, leaving their share of evidence. More recently, it was the site of Monte Galvan, a supply ranch for the early Mission San Antonio de Valero, later known as the Alamo. For more information, call 210/207-3120.

RIVER WALK

Most visitors to San Antonio find the River Walk on their own, but make sure you set aside time to properly (i.e. leisurely) explore this meandering jewel. An internationally recognized triumph of urban waterfront development (see A City Guided by Its River, Summer 2003), the Paseo del Rio is considered the city's centerpiece. With its European style cafes and restaurants, murmuring waterfalls, and lush semi-tropical vegetation, an evening stroll along its shores is a quintessential San Antonio experience. For complete information on the River Walk and its many attractions, call 210/227-4262.

SAN ANTONIO MISSIONS

San Antonio's Spanish Missions, built between 1718 and 1731, played a crucial role in the development of the city and the region. Like the native Payapa before them, the Spanish settlers established their settlements along an 8-mile, north-south stretch of the San Antonio River. …