Saturday, June 18th San Antonio Missions National Historical Park offered a free open house and picnic at Mission Concepcion. The public was encouraged to bring in lawn chairs, food, and cameras for the community event. Live music was provided by Horizon, food trucks offered tasty treats for purchase, and kiddos were provided activities to keep them occupied! It was a hot Texas Saturday, nevertheless people were out enjoying the park. I had originally thought the missions were in close proximity to one another, but it turns out you need to drive to each one. They are not terribly far from one another, but it is something to consider if you are short on time or have other plans for the day.
Mission San Jose is spacious and well maintained. I was able to take my time looking around and snapping photos. My exploration was not hindered by other visitors due to the vastness of the grounds. The church (open to the public) displays some of the first examples of Baroque architecture in the U.S. including a beautiful piece of artistry called the Rose Window. “The Rose Window is known as the premier example of Spanish Colonial ornamentation in the United States”. Historians are unsure as to the significance of the window, however, there are a few theories out there explaining the mystery. Mission San José gives visitors a glimpse of what missions might have looked like some 250 years ago.
Mission Espada was about a fifteen minutes away so I headed there next. I found the Spanish detailing on the small church doorway, the stone archways, and remaining mazelike irrigation structures to be picturesque. The Espada Aqueduct and Dam are still functional and is said to be the oldest aqueduct of Spanish influence in the U.S. The system is about two-centuries-old and can be explored if you are so inclined.
Mission San Juan was significantly less busy than the other missions and it didn’t take me long to explore the grounds. The church, partially restored, is a smooth whitewashed stone façade which is drastically different in appearance from the other three missions. Due to recent structural issues the church is not open to visitors.
I would suggest visiting San Antonio Missions National Historical Park if you are in town. Parking was easy and the visitor centers were helpful and loaded with information. Perhaps combine visiting the park with one of their events!
2009 Flashback: Pu’ukohola Heiau National Historic Site
Flashback to an overcast April day, a relatively empty Pu’ukohola Heiau NHS, my camera and a few hours to explore before I met up with friends. I decided to visit Pu’ukohola Heiau alone as my friends preferred shopping to a rainy morning adventure. I was determined to visit the Park and get a passport stamp before I left the island. Also, I had heard black-tipped reef sharks could be seen in Pelekane Bay (early morning is usually the best time). Upon arrival I spoke with a park ranger to gather information about the park. I was told to walk around, stay on the trails, read, and listen. I wasn’t sure exactly what the listen part meant, but I left the Visitor Center pretty certain the ranger meant the cell phone audio tour.
I began walking, read all the posted signs, and occasionally listened to the cell phone audio tour. Eventually I just walked the trail, observed, and listened. Not to the audio tour, but to the sounds of this beautiful place. I sat on a bench for a while in the light rain and watched black-tipped reef sharks swimming in the bay! Watching the beauty of the sharks was worth the visit and by far the most fulfilling experience of the day. I tried to take photographs, but the rain made it a complicated process. Eventually I put my camera away and simply existed in the moment. I walked down to the shoreline to get a closer look at the sharks, unfortunately, it didn’t allow for a better visual on this low tide day. I sat near the shore under tall palm trees and listened to the water, rain, and wind.
I cannot tell you how long I was there as I had lost track of time in the peacefulness of the Park. I was sitting by the water when I heard other visitors in the distance and decided it was time to head back to the car. Without realizing that I hadn’t explored the whole park I acquired my stamp and departed. I would like to revisit Pu’ukohola Heiau again, learn more about its historical significance, and explore its entirety as I missed a lot of it the first time. Though I wonder if the experience would be as powerful the second time around.
National Mall and Memorial Parks – so many stamps!
Last week I had the chance to visit DC, 11 years after I first lived in the area, and 9 after I left. It was the week leading up to Memorial Day, so the city was bustling with school field trips, tourists, and of course, workers in suits. The stage was set for the annual PBS Memorial Day concert on the Capitol Lawn (filmed Sunday evening, dress rehearsal Saturday). The summer heat suddenly appeared after weeks of cold rain, with daytime temperatures in the mid 80’s, but thankfully – no humidity. Summer gets pretty muggy, which is why the spring and fall seasons are so popular. Winter can be beautiful, especially the peace and calm right after a snow storm, but it’s really only accessible if you are staying downtown. Roads and the metro are a nightmare for a while after snow.
Walking along the National Mall was one of my favorite activities on a day off. It is such a peaceful green space in the midst of a busy city, with so many monuments to visit. Back in 2005/2006, the Washington Monument was closed for renovations. It reopened in 2007 just before I moved away. It’s a wonderful, extremely popular, view of the National Mall and monuments. Timed entry tickets are FREE the day of so get to the visitor center by 8:30am daily to try to get one, or you can pay a fee to reserve online in advance (limited supply here).
Many of the National Mall and Memorial Parks passport stamps can be found at the Washington Monument bookstore, which is not attached to the actual monument but on the east side. Other bigger memorials (Jefferson, Lincoln) that have gift shops will also have a passport cancellation on site. For me, I was thankful for the trove of stamps at the Washington Monument bookstore. I had visited all of these sites in DC well before I bought my first passport book, and due to my limited time this visit, I knew I wouldn’t be able to get to each monument for the stamps.
Getting to the National Mall is easy by metro, if you are willing to walk a little bit. Take the red line to Farragut North or Metro Center and walk in from the White House, take the Orange/Silver/Blue Line to Smithsonian, Federal Triangle or even Foggy Bottom, or the Green/Yellow line to L’Enfant Plaza.
Chicago’s Pullman National Monument is a newly designated unit of the National Park Service. George Pullman was a railroad juggernaut who decided to build a company town for his employees. The idea was for his workers to have a “town” that provided them with a better standard of living and in turn he could retain those skilled workers. However, the town did not become quite the success Pullman had hoped for. The demand for railcars slowed and to make up for the loss of revenue Pullman lowered his workers wages, but kept the cost of living the same, inciting unrest within the community. The downfall of the Pullman legacy, company, and town was inevitable following a strike, a boycott, and riots.
Few buildings of the company town still remain, albeit some in a state of disrepair. The factory buildings have long suffered from neglect, a fire, and the elements. The Pullman Factory Administration Building, Greenstone Church, and Hotel Florence seem to have withstood the test of time, but were unavailable for touring. Luckily I visited on a Bio Blitz day and was allowed access to explore part of the grounds usually protected behind locked gates. I came across an adorable community garden. Members of the community can request (after going to a meeting) a raised bed and cultivate it to their liking! The Factory Administration Building and Greenstone Church stood tall and illustrated the architecture of the time. Hotel Florence is currently under renovations, but the outside of the building and the surrounding areas were nice to walk around and photograph. It was a beautiful day, everyone at the park was so kind, and I was able to take my time walking around. If you are in Chicago and have time to visit their only National Monument I would definitely recommend it.