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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Groundhog Day at the Alamo

If you are in San Antonio and only can do one thing, anyone will tell you to go see the Alamo.  It's Texas's most famous location, and the spot where Santa Ana and his Mexican Army learned the phrase "Don't Mess with Texas!" in their showdown with Davy Crockett (actually, that came later at the Battle of San Jacinto when they faced Sam Houston, but it sounded good, so I wrote it).  When you visit The Alamo, there are a few things that you'll notice right up front.  The first is the famous facade of the chapel doesn't seem nearly as large as you imagined it to be.  Now don't get me wrong, it's a beautiful building, but it's not nearly as massive or imposing as I thought it would be before I visited it.  The second thing you'll probably notice, especially if you're visiting late in the afternoon, is that the Alamo closes at an obscenely early hour of 5:30.  In the summer, they have extended hours and are open until 7, but still, it seems like it closes pretty early.
The Alamo is a world famous history site, and a shrine of liberty and freedom.  Early Texians, a mix of both Mexicans and anglo settlers, grew tired of increasing friction with the Mexican government. In 1836, settlers gathered and decided to oppose the oppression, and turned the old Catholic church into a fortress.  Their leader was Colonel William Travis.  By his side was James Bowie, inventor of the bowie knife; and Davy Crockett, "King of the wild frontier" and famous woodsman, and 200 others.  General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna led troops from Mexico to put down the rebellion, arriving on February 23, 1836, and promptly establishing a siege.  Prior to the Mexican troops arriving, legend has it that Colonel Travis gathered all of the defenders together, drew his sword, and after telling them the odds, drew a line in the sand with its tip.  Those who were with him were asked to step across the line, while those who wished to depart  could remain behind.  The siege lasted 13 days, when Santa Anna grew tired of waiting and ordered an attack at dawn of March 6, 1836.  After an hour and a half battle, the final defenders were killed, taking shelter in the chapel.  Santa Ana and his troops, marched onward, unaware that the wildfire of resentment would burn brighter into the rallying cry of "Remember the Alamo!" which would lead to his defeat at San Jacinto a few weeks later, solidifying the establishment of the Republic of Texas.
Out in front, the hosts/tour guides will ask you to not take pictures in the chapel, but elsewhere there is plenty to see and photograph.  We found the brass plaque in the plaza representing Colonel Travis's line in the sand.  We stepped through the doors into the chapel first.  The softened voices still echo off of the hard limestone walls.  Flags representing the home states and countries of the defenders of the Alamo line the walls.  A small museum of personal artifacts exists in rooms to the side.  We peered in and saw an original Bowie knife, personal belongings of Davy Crockett, and several other items that belonged to those who perished in the Alamo.  We toured the sanctuary quietly, then stepped outside.
The gardens and grounds outside the Alamo are beautiful.  The promenade to the south of the chapel is a quiet and sheltered walkway.  A fountain under the oaks beckons to come and sit.  An aquaduct passes through the property.  The kids loved looking over the  sides of the bridges for fish.  There are many walking trails, so even though the Alamo is a popular spot to visit, it is easy to find a quiet spot for a moment of introspection.
The north side of the chapel has another museum which explains the history of the Alamo and San Antonio. Several cannons line a courtyard.  A huge oak tree, transplanted a hundred years ago, droops over a well.  There's a gift shop to buy trinkets and shirts.  This side of is considerably more busy.
Go to the Alamo.  It's unforgettable.

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