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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

San Fernando Cathedral: Where Davy Crockett Was Buried

The San Fernando Cathedral is a short departure up a few stairways from the Riverwalk.  It's located on San Antonio's Main Plaza and is super easy to find.   It's across the San Antonio River, about a half mile from The Alamo.   At one point, before the skyscrapers were built, you could see one from the other.  The church and plaza are  very picturesque.
What really jumped out to us was the plaque on the side of San Fernando.  "The remains of the Alamo Heroes are entombed in the chapel in the left-hand side of the entrance to the cathedral.  Visitors Welcome".   This is it!  Davy Crockett's final resting place!  We would have loved to go in and pay our respects to a hero and his fellow heroes, but the church was closed because we got there late.
After Santa Anna finished his massacre, the troops piled the bodies up and burned them.  The residents of San Antonio gathered what was left afterwards, and brought it to the cathedral for burial.

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Strolling down the Riverwalk in San Antonio

After you have visited The Alamo, take a walk across the street to visit The Riverwalk.  It's San Antonio's second most famous attraction.  The Riverwalk is a series of trails built along a bend in the San Antonio River.  Because the trails are literally at the river's edge, it's down below the traffic and hustle and bustle of the streets above. It's a great example of well done urban design, and is a draw to people from all over who come to San Antonio to see the Alamo and walk the Riverwalk.
There are no guardrails for most of the sections of the trail.  You're tucked in between the river on one side, and shops and restaurants on the other.  Small cascades and gardens line the walk at regular intervals.  Most kids enjoy the Riverwalk, but it can be stressful for parents since the river is an immediate dropoff if one steps from the path.  My favorite part of the Riverwalk is the bridges that span the river.  They are beautiful bridges!
At night, the Riverwalk is a lively place, as diners sit under colorful umbrellas and enjoy their meals and drinks.  The Riverwalk is generally well lit and has a constant flow of people.  An added benefit of visiting in the evening is the free parking up on the street level.  San Antonio might be the seventh most populous city in the US, but along the Riverwalk it certainly doesn't feel like it!

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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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The Texas A&M Century Tree

In the middle of campus at Texas A&M is an old live oak known as the Century Tree.  This graceful tree has long drooping branches that bend all the way to the ground.  Aggie tradition maintains that if you walk under the boughs of the tree with your lover, you will be together forever.  It's the site of countless engagements and numerous weddings.  Many an Aggie has a tale of the Century Tree.
We visited A&M's campus while in College Station to visit friends.  Their kids were big Aggie fans, (complete with Johnny Manziel posters on their walls) and  wanted to show us campus and the Century Tree.
There's a hammock craze sweeping College Station, and I'm sure many other college towns.  We passed numerous groups of students dangling from branches of many of the beautiful trees on campus, just "hanging out" if you will.  Some trees had 8-10 hammocks in them.  When we got to the Century Tree though it was left alone.  I'm sure there's an unofficial official rule stating the tree is not for hammocks.  In fact, if someone was to hang their hammock, it's not hard to imagine other students quickly rallying to stop the outrage.
The Century Tree is a fun stop if you're spending time in College Station.  Swing by central campus and it's not hard to find.

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The San Antonio Japanese Tea Garden

I had a work trip to San Antonio.  My wife insisted that she go too.  And bring the kids.  What's a man to do?  I thought it would be a great time for my wife and kids while I was in meetings all day, and it would be an educational opportunity as well.  We planned our trip so that most things could be done while I was in my meetings, but there were a few smaller things that I could join them for in the evenings.  The Japanese Tea Garden was a place that everybody liked, so much so that they insisted I join them for a second visit.
The Japanese Garden is located near the San Antonio Zoo in Brackenridge Park. Nearby is the Sunken Garden Amphitheater, but the Japanese Garden sometimes is referred to as the Sunken Garden.   It's in an old rock quarry that once supplied stone for many buildings in San Antonio.  Nearly 100 years ago, the quarry was repurposed to become the garden and now provides a beautiful quiet park for all .  The limestone quarry is now covered with plants, and full of walking trails winding through and around it.  It has peaceful ponds at the bottom of the old quarry, full of koi.  Bridges over the ponds are picturesque and its fun to peer over the edge at the fish below. At the back of the park is a waterfall, and at the entrance a Japanese Pagoda.
The park is open daily from sunup to sundown.  It's at 3853 Mary Street, San Antonio, TX.  The best part about it (other then the beauty of the place) is that it's free!  Of course the pavilion can be reserved/rented for a fee, and reservations are even accepted for the place at the foot of the waterfall for events such as an intimate wedding or marriage proposal.  But if there's not anything reserved, go ahead and enjoy the space.

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Canoeing Down Turkey Creek

Turkey Creek is a great place to go canoeing.  We have gone canoeing there a couple of times, and each time has been a slight improvement over the previous time.  While it's canoeable year round, it's probably best to go in the fall, winter, and spring months.  Summer is definitely canoeable too, but the summer heat is much more enjoyable when you are actually in the water then on the water.  In the summer, we do a different kind of float on Turkey Creek.  We'll go with tubes, pool noodles, and boogie boards and float Turkey Creek in the water.  But for canoeing, we've enjoyed it most in the off-months.
There are three notable launch points to float down Turkey Creek with a canoe.  The first one is at the Turkey Creek North Park, located just off of College Blvd in Niceville.  Launching here leads to a relatively quick trip- maybe an hour long.
The second and third launch points are on land managed by Eglin Air Force Base, and require a permit from the Jackson Guard Station.  The permits are good for a year, and are valid to access all of the Eglin Air Force Base Range that is not closed.  Areas that are closed vary from day to day and require checking the access map before you go, but some areas remain permanently closed.  Permits cost $7 per person in 2016 (age 16 and up) and are good for a year.  They are a great value if you live in the area and like to get outside!
The second launch point is off of the first road north of the Highway 85 / Highway 123 interchange. Take the road west less then a mile from the highway and there's a parking area shortly after crossing Turkey Creek.  The canoe launch is evident right as you cross the one-lane bridge. Paddling from the middle launch gives a 3-4 hour trip.
The third launch point is from Hippie Hole, even further upstream.  We haven't left from this spot yet, but I anticipate it would be a 5 hour float.
You can choose the launch point based on how long you want to float.  We're still working on the stamina of the kids for the longer floats, so we've stuck with the short and medium length trips so far.  I do want to get up to Hippie Hole and launch there sometime though.
After determining a launch point, the second challenge of any point-to-point float is setting up a shuttle.  We have two cars, which makes it easier to run a shuttle.  We stage one car at the take out point, and all drive up together to launch and float.  The best take out point for Turkey Creek is at Twin Cities Park on Boggy Bayou.  It's located on John Sims Parkway, if you paddle to the right after the mouth of Turkey Creek.  Look for the piles of gravel from the creek mouth, and head for them.  They are Vulcan Materials Company, and are located just beyond the Twin Cities Takeout.  They do make a good visual reference point to head for on the open water.
Turkey Creek itself is a basic, straightforward canoe paddle.  I would rate it as an advanced beginner paddle.  There aren't any rapids and the current is steady and gentle.  The greatest challenge is navigating through the switchback turns  where the current wants to push you into a bank or strainers.  With my canoe full of kids, and my wife handling the baby, I knelt in the middle of the canoe for the most control since I was a single paddler.  Canoes with two paddlers will find it even less difficult and more enjoyable.

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The Turkey Creek Boardwalk

Taking a break on a January visit to Turkey Creek
The Turkey Creek Boardwalk is one of the many awesome places to visit in the Florida Panhandle.  It's located in Niceville, right on the banks of Turkey Creek, a springfed creek that flows at 68 degrees year round.  The boardwalk park is owned & operated by the City of Niceville, but is free for anyone's use.  We've had a great time there, just walking from one end to the other, floating down the creek in our canoe, and tubing down the creek.  We've even seen people swimming down the creek with snorkel gear- an intriguing approach since the water is so clear! Some people go there to run laps since it is so scenic, and is roughly a mile each way.  Along the boardwalk, there are several creek access points with platforms and access to the water.
Turkey Creek in January
Turkey Creek is home to a variety of critters.  One week we spotted some baby raccoons perched high in a tree.  We saw a snake on another visit.  I'm not sure if it was poisonous or not, but it was big.  Lots of tubers were floating down the creek and passed right by without even knowing it was there.  Almost every time we go we see turtles.  There are lots of turtles down below in the water after the first creek crossing.  Down below another portion of the trail we have also found a favorite hangout spot of a large snapping turtle.  And then we see fish when we go splash on the platforms.  Fishing is allowed in Turkey Creek, but not from the boardwalk or platforms.  The only time I've seen someone fishing at Turkey Creek, they were sopping wet, wading from one submerged sandbar to the next.
Many first time visitors to Turkey Creek wonder about alligators.  We've never seen any.  We've also talked to many other visitors who haven't seen any.  That said, a news article in the Northwest Florida Daily News highlighted a small gator that a few visitors have recently spotted in July 2016.  Generally speaking, alligators find Turkey Creek too cold.  Since they are cold-blooded, they prefer water that is at least a few degrees warmer.   If you're in the Destin/Fort Walton area and interested in seeing a gator in the wild, there are better places to go rather than Turkey Creek.

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Hello Florida!

At the beginning of the year I had a job transfer.  Hello Florida!  Hello beaches!  We're now in the Destin/Fort Walton Beach area of the Florida Panhandle.  The area is famous for its beautiful white quartz sand beaches.  It's also home of the World's Luckiest Fishing Village.  I think we're going to like it here.

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The Indian Defense Wall at Fort Leavenworth

Fort Leavenworth is a beautiful Army base with a rich history.  It was established in 1827, a fort to protect the travelers on the Santa Fe Trail.  Back in those days, once the Missouri River was crossed, travelers found themselves in Indian Territory.  One of the oldest structures still standing is the wall built in 1827, at the top of the bluff along the Missouri River, to protect the soldiers and travelers against indians.  The wall is about 6 feet high, with an abundance of narrow holes for rifle ports.  It's at the northwest corner of the intersection of Grant Avenue and Riverside Drive.  There's a small sign that tells about it, but generally the wall goes unnoticed by the people passing by.  Interestingly enough, everyone is aware of the General Grant statue located just south of the wall.  IMG_1469If you're spending a day or a few hours at Fort Leavenworth, the wall makes a great stop.  Park nearby and walk to the Oregon Trail ruts located just down the hill.  They're still visible from the countless wagons that ferried across the Missouri River to the floodplain below then pressed onward up the hill.  After visiting the ruts, then the indian wall, the Mormon Battalion sign is another few steps westward.  The old parade grounds is ringed by many of the oldest buildings at Fort Leavenworth, including "The Rookery", the oldest continuously occupied building in Kansas.  Then a few steps further, on the south side of Kearney Avenue is Dwight D. Eisenhower's home when he was a student at the Command & Staff College.  All of these stops are within a short walking distance of each other and make a great walking tour of Fort Leavenworth.  It's a worthwhile addition to a stop at the Fort Leavenworth Museum and gives a depth to your visit that only visiting the museum doesn't provide.

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The Anita B Gorman Discovery Center

Some winter weekends in Kansas City are best spent indoors.  The Anita B Gorman Discovery Center is a great place to spend an hour or two.  We've found that it's a place to visit in conjunction with the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, which is just down the street.  We can visit the discovery center and let the kids look at the animals and maybe do a craft, then go and browse through the Nelson-Atkins Museum for a few hours.  It's great because both are free!  The Gorman Discovery Center isn't very big, but there are exhibits and some hands-on opportunities geared for kids.  The last time we visited, they made pine cone bird feeders.  The kids had a great time smearing pine cones with peanut butter and suet, then pressing in added goodies such as sunflower seeds, craisens, and bird seeds.  The staff is very helpful and friendly and uses the crafts to teach about nature.  For example, each goodie or seed added to the bird feeder attracts certain species of birds.   By choosing what you place on the feeder, it influences the kind of bird that visits.
IMG_1358Of course, there are other exhibits that are interesting to adults at the Gorman Discovery Center too.  I liked seeing the replica of Lewis & Clark's keelboat that they brought up the Missouri River.  My wife really liked learning about the different kinds of plants in the Kansas City area that have red berries, and their different food values for wildlife from an exhibit that was up.  The exhibits rotate in and out, so if you visit once, come back and visit in a few months and there will be something new to learn.  There are a few walking trails outside, but since we only visited in the winter, we stayed inside on our visit.