San Antonio Missions and Natural Bridge Caverns

posted in: Texas, Travels, United States | 0
Exploring the History and Natural Beauty of San Antonio
 
Here are some interesting things to do in San Antonio for a weekend if you love history and nature. 
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Earlier this month was our 2nd wedding anniversary! We had been trying to figure out what to do to celebrate and decided to have a weekend away in San Antonio. Here are some of the neat things I recommend trying out in SA. 
 
1. San Antonio Missions
 
It is probable that when you think of San Antonio, one of the first things that comes to mind is the Alamo. Did you know that the Alamo, which served as a Spanish mission in the 1700s is just one of several missions still standing in the area? 
 
San Antonio Missions National Historical Park  is a fun and informative experience for both children and adults. The visitor center is located next to Mission San José and offers a gift shop, restrooms, and plenty of parking. This is the best place to begin if you are planning to see all the missions. Guided tours are offered at the visitor center but are not necessary. It is important to note that the park is not located near the Alamo or River Walk and the missions are in separate locations that are not walking distance apart.

Mission San José 
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Here you can see the faint pattern of some of the original Spanish tiles that once covered the building. 
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We looked inside the visitor center then headed to the adjacent Mission San José. I was surprised by the beauty and serenity of the place. The wall that surrounds the complex still remains and encloses the grounds like you are stepping into a unique little world. I pictured what life might have been like living in this mission in the late 18th Century. This mission provided me with an improved understanding and appreciation of Texas history. 

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After touring Mission San José, we drove a couple miles down the road to see Mission Concepción. This Mission has a smaller visitor center and far less parking.  Mission Concepción is located on a smaller area of land, but it still holds its grandeur. I thought that the inside of the chapel was particularly beautiful. 

Mission Concepción
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We noticed how tiny some of the doorways were!  
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The thing that surprised me most about the missions was that I didn’t realize they are still operating Catholic Churches. For some reason, I thought they were just historic buildings, but they still hold regular services. When we first arrived at the park, the chapel of Mission San José was closed for a wedding. Luckily, we came at the tail end of the ceremony and were able to look inside within minutes. It was such a pleasant day and a very special spot for a ceremony despite having a few tourists around. 
 
I hope everyone would do this automatically, but please note that it is important to be quiet and respectful at the missions and please stay out of the way of those praying in the chapels. It makes the experience more special for everyone! Also, the missions are free to visit, but it is recommended that you make a donation to help with the preservation and maintenance of the park. 
 
 
2. The Alamo, River Walk, Main Tourist Things
 

My advice is do not try to do these things during spring break or a holiday weekend. I tried going over spring break years ago and stood in a line 50 people deep to walk inside the Alamo. This time, we tried going during the last weekend of April and there was no line at all! We enjoyed brushing up on our Texas history! The grounds of the Alamo have a nice timeline on display outside. Inside, the shrine area serves as a small museum. The downside of the Alamo is that it’s popularity makes it a louder and more crowded place than the missions, but it also has a rich history making it an emblem of Texas. 

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Over a century old oak tree at the grounds of the Alamo
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The Alamo is conveniently located near the river walk and plenty of shopping and restaurants. It was nice to just walk around and check things out. We really enjoyed Zinc Bistro & Bar, which had excellent bar food like burgers and mac and cheese, but there are tons of other great places to eat. I don’t want to go into too much detail on the river walk since there’s already so much information available about it online.


3. Natural Bridge Caverns and Wildlife Ranch 


The next day we drove about 30 minutes north of SA to the Natural Bridge Caverns. We arrived at about 10am on a cool Sunday morning and were lucky to have no line. To enter the caverns, you first must go inside the visitor building and purchase a ticket for a tour. There are various types of tours offered, the most common ones start at $22 for adults and $14 for children. The visitor area also has a full indoor concession stand and gift shop. When leaving the visitor center, you walk down a hill which leads you past a maze, ropes course, and an ice cream parlor . There are well-marked signs that lead you to the beginning of the cave tour. We waited for our guide and entered the caverns! 


The caverns are humid and dark, but they are lit in a way that makes the walls seem to glow. It is slippery inside, so wear some shoes that grip and be prepared for a couple tight areas at the beginning of the tour. I have visited the caverns twice, and do feel that it is worth it for the ticket price. The huge slimy-looking stalagmites made us feel like we were on another planet. It is hard to tell the size of the structures without people in the pictures, but the caverns are huge! 

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After the cavern tour, we grabbed lunch at the concession area and drove to the Natural Bridge Wildlife Ranch. The ranch entrance is right next to the entrance for the caverns, so you can’t miss it. It was $22 per adult to go into the ranch. The tickets also provided us each with a bag of feed, which was more than enough. I actually went home with extra feed that i forgot to throw out. 

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You can drive your car around the park where tons of various goats, antelope, and deer all crowd to get food. All of the animals seemed very tame, except for the ostriches. I was afraid of them! We had trouble driving at times because the animals got so close to the car and we didn’t want to hit them. Also, I’m not sure if animals have ever damaged the vehicles, but it is definitely possible! 


This ostrich practically charged our car! I promptly rolled up the window when he approached! 

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It was so neat to see the exotic animals up close, and they all appeared to be healthy. After driving through the ranch, you can park at a visitor area with food and restrooms and walk around the lemur habitat and giraffe house. I recommend this for anyone with kids and/or if you just love animals!  


Thank you for reading!  Please contact me with any questions you have about visiting these places. 

 

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