The National Parks T1D Road Trip & Fundraiser

Thousands of miles across America to have fun and raise money for diabetes research at JDRF.
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National Parks T1D Road Trip › Day 21: San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

Day 21: Remember the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

“The story is a sad one told many times
The story of my life in trying times
Just add water, stir in lime
How the West was won and where it got us”

—R.E.M.

Donate nowThis epic three-month road trip is intended to raise awareness of JDRF, the leading global Type 1 diabetes research organization. If you'd like to help me reach my fundraising goal, click here now. 100% of your donation goes directly to JDRF.

What do you do, on a nationwide road trip raising money for JDRF and visiting National Parks, when you enter a part of America where there aren’t many Parks? No problem – just call upon your diabetes experience to allow you to seek another way to achieve what you what. That’s what happened after Masayo and I left western Texas: we took the opportunity to visit San Antonio and tour not only the famous Alamo but some of the old and remarkable Spanish missions of San Antonio Missions National Historical Park.

Riverwalk, below the city

We opted to walk to the Alamo on Day 20 rather than take the car – about a mile and a half one way, and making this the first day of the trip that the rental car has gone totally unused. An unexpected and extremely charming surprise was San Antonio’s Riverwalk, a super-gentrified and extensive area of winding paths beside canals and rivers, built outside (of course) but one level below street level. Numerous bridges span the rivers, as diners sit at outdoor restaurants watching the ducks and pigeons and the flat boats full of tourists that amble peaceably up and down the waterways.

Frequenters of Riverwalk in San Antonio.

Most of Riverwalk in the area we found ourselves in was shaded under large, leafy green trees. San Antonio can be hot, even in April, but it was pretty perfect on this day. We found a restaurant with a nice outdoor area for lunch, then proceeded to The Alamo.

All I knew about The Alamo before visiting it

I’ve always heard of The Alamo, and knew it had something to do with Texan pride, but my only real connection with it comes through Ozzy Osbourne, who as legend has always had it urinated onto a wall of The Alamo and was banned from Texas for life. That, and Pee Wee Herman’s cinematic anxiousness to see its basement, of course.

Audio touring The Alamo. Turns out it’s not just a wall, it’s a whole building with an inside and everything.

So, I’d seen pictures of the place, which in my mind always made it look like a single, freestanding wall, the ruins of some battle that I’m sure I studied at some point in my schooling but which had completely quit my memory.

So I managed to learn a lot by actually touring The Alamo, and some internet research revealed that I had most of the details of the Ozzy story wrong too.

The Alamo was a church, and Texas was a part of Mexico in the 1830s. The Mexican government was altering the power structure, a move that would take power away from Texas. Several men were stationed in San Antonio at The Alamo, part of a resistance against troops representing Mexico.

Early one morning the Mexicans attacked, and completely overwhelmed the men at The Alamo. They all died, including famous names like David Crockett and James Bowie. It was a serious blow to the movement, until soon afterwards at a different battle at a different place (nearby San Jacinto) when Texas hero Sam Houston inspired his men with the cry, “Remember the Alamo!”; their victory at San Jacinto cemented Texas independence from Mexico. (It became a U.S. state later.)

I learned all that from the displays and the audio tour at The Alamo; it’s actually free to get in and see the church and its so-called Long Barracks building, both of which are full of interesting plaques and items like Davy Crockett’s bear-hunting knife. Masayo and I paid $7 for the audio tour, which was extensive. We were flooded with information; it was tough to keep all the names and the narrative straight but we did our best with this sudden and unexpected history lesson.

Ozzy and his Texas pee

In case you’re curious, in 1982 Ozzy Osbourne was in San Antonio for a concert. Drunk in his hotel room, his clothes had been removed by his wife Sharon in an effort to stop him from going outside and making a spectacle of himself.

So Ozzy put on one of her dresses and stumbled out into the San Antonio daylight. Needing to pee, he found the closest thing: a large vertical wall. (Actually a cenotaph opposite The Alamo building.) He was arrested for public intoxication and urination, but made it out to perform his concert that night.

The show was sold out and a few kids outside rioted. All of this prompted San Antonio to ban Ozzy from the city; ten years later in 1992 they lifted the ban when he “donated” $10,000.

I must admit that while at the storied building, I peeked around the walls outside, not knowing the actual details above, wondering, “Is this the wall where Ozzy peed?”

San Antonio Missions

The next day we went to an actual NPS unit: San Antonio Missions National Historical Park. This consists of five missions (church compounds) built by the Spanish to convert the native Indians.

We only made it to two of them, though, since time was pulling us down the road.

Mission San José (and the Visitor Center)

We started at the visitor center for the Park, which is located outside Mission San José. This Park is quite unlike any of the ones we’ve been to so far on this trip, which are all vast expanses of natural beauty. San Antonio Missions, like The Alamo, is about human history and is very informative.

“Huh, I didn’t know any of this,” was what kept coming to mind.

Masayo photographs the famous Rose Window. Nobody knows why it’s called that.

This guy and Michael Stipe: separated at birth?

The site consists of well-preserved quarters where Indians lived around the perimeter of a large green lawn with oversized, bountiful-looking trees in places. At the far end, taking center stage in the complex, is still-functional San José itself. When we were there, an enthusiastic park ranger was leading a group of tourists around, explaining the ins and outs of life at the mission.

There is a peacefulness to the compound, even with lots of tourists like us milling around taking photos and squinting up at the stone architecture hundreds of years old. Birds have made nests behind the heads of angels, and the greenery is kept immaculate. Being an active religious site, there’s an appropriate air of reverence as well, and visitors can stroll around at random reading displays and ducking into interesting, air-conditioned little rooms here and there for more info.

BEWARE OF DEATH ANTS!! Oh, and welcome to the Mission ‘n stuff.

Mission Concepción and its fire ants

Appetites whetted, we drove the short distance to Mission Concepción, a smaller and less-visited church with an equally pastoral vibe, but one that verged on the desolate since it wasn’t staffed (at least not when we went) and there were only about four other people there. Like back at San José, a sign warned visitors to not leave valuables in their cars thanks to break-ins.

We haven’t seen that at any other Parks.

There was also a sign warning of fire ants. Everything is fraught with something in Texas. Fortunately, nobody broke into our car and we weren’t beset by any miniature hellbeasts here.

Inside the smaller Concepción, figures of Jesus were hung on the walls and candles, lit recently by some mysterious visitor, burned beside the impressive altar. There was a feeling of safety inside, despite the dire warnings on the signs in the parking lot.

At least until my camera said its card was full which caused me to curse next to the front pew, bringing a bolt of lightning down from above on my fool head as angels wept. Jeez, sorry.

So with that, we set out for our next destination (Galveston, TX) and left behind a most unusual and enlightening National Park Service attraction. It was enough to make me further question my pedantic “National Parks only” tendency. Maybe, from now on, if it’s under the watch of the NPS… maybe it’s automatically worth a trip to…?

That’s the good thing about this road trip: there are no rules and no itinerary.

BG high after walking all day?!

Heat, exercise, and blood sugar: I found that I’m not good at balancing these things quite yet. Especially when diabetes isn’t behaving anyway.

Before walking 1.5 miles to The Alamo my blood sugar was 310. I don’t know why; breakfast had seemed to be normal and manageable. So I did nothing, and walked through it.

I don’t want to be the one to say Texas fetishizes itself, but…

By the time we sat down for lunch beside the river I was down to 204. Better, but I was going to be walking quite a bit more so I took a few fewer units for my chicken sandwich, fruit, and fries than I normally would have.

After strolling around The Alamo in the hot sun, wandering downtown San Antonio looking for some sane-priced cold water (thank you CVS) and then trudging home in the late afternoon haze of a large city, I thought I would probably have done very well.

Nope: it was 273. Shrug. Live and learn – tomorrow is another day.

Stupid fries.

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Read next: Day 23 › Jean Lafitte NHPP - Barataria Preserve

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