San Antonio, Texas
Japanese Tea Garden: We spent an hour walking around the garden first thing in the morning. It was serene and quiet. There were koi fish swimming about with turtles (possibly friends), a pair of ducks (possibly lovers), and a single cat lapping up water in a corner (possibly thirsty). The garden was renamed the “Chinese Tea Garden” during World War II to prevent racist vandalism and the name is still carved over the wooden archway at the entrance. It took until 1984 for the city to revert to using the original true name.
San Antonio River Walk: The city has invested a lot in revitalizing its riverfront (on the San Antonio River) by building miles of pedestrian and bike trails, installing art projects along its length, and allowing businesses downtown to setup restaurants and bars right on the river. We enjoyed many sections of the walk (there is more than a days worth of stuff to do) and if you’re visiting San Antonio, it’s one of the main attractions.
The San Antonio Missions: Along the river there are five Spanish missions built in the 1800s. We bought a one-day pass for the city’s bike sharing service and spent a morning biking (25km) up and down the River Walk visiting them all. The most famous, The Alamo, is promoted and managed separately (outside of the National Parks Service) but is technically one of the five missions. Many of the churches at the heart of each mission are still active, and they all remain in good condition. Their size and state of restoration vary, but they’re all very beautiful and worth seeing, despite their violent historic role in attempting to convert Indigenous peoples to Christianity.
The Pearl District: Similar to the Distillery District in Toronto, the Pearl District is an industrial part of town that is being rebuilt. Home to the Southerleigh Brewery where we enjoyed a few beers and another delicious pretzel, a hotel, several cute shops, including a great coffee shop and bookstore.
Vegeria: We haven’t had trouble finding vegan food most of the time, and it’s all been good, but this vegan Mexican restaurant was simply amazing. The food was delicious and very different from most other vegan/vegetarian places because of its selection of authentic Mexican dishes. We were eager to try the entire menu.
Bonus: TBA (a chill bar with great selection), the King William Historic District (a beautiful part of town with pretty historic houses/mansions), the Blue Arts District and Halcyon (where we drank more beer).
San Antonio to Wichita, Kansas
Texas Hill Country: West of San Antonio and Austin is the Texas Hill Country. We stopped for Coffee in Barrera, the cowboy capital of America, and then stopped for a walk in Fredericksburg, an artsy hotspot in the country with lots of quaint shops and restaurants. Besides stopping in these towns, the country itself was beautiful. Lot’s of ranches with huge populations of adorable cows.
The LBJ Ranch: Lyndon B. Johnson was born and raised in Texas. While he was President, he often came home to his ranch and he eventually left it to the National Parks Service under the promise that it would continue to be a working ranch. The visit starts with a driving tour around the ranch where we visited LBJ’s childhood home (rebuilt on the property as a guesthouse while he lived there), a school he attended, the family graveyard, the main barns and fields (where the cattle roam), as well as the hanger, passenger jet, and paved runway behind his house. One we arrived at the house, we were given a tour of the main floor, including the office where he worked with senior White House staff for more than a quarter of his presidency (that’s why it’s called the Texas White House). Every room had at least one TV and telephone as he spent most of his time distracted by one of the two technological wonders / communicated important President things. The house is actually a new addition to the National Park as Johnson’s wife, Lady Bird, lived in the house until she passed away in 2007. As with most National Parks Service stops, this one was top notch.
The Fort Worth Water Gardens: If you’ve seen Logan’s Run, then you’ve seen the main attraction at the Fort Worth Water Gardens. The Gardens contain three water features, a mountain, and a stage. The feature seen in Logan’s Run is the “Active” water garden – a kind of concrete vortex with water cascading down from all sides (you can walk down to the bottom which is very cool). The other garden features are the meditation pool which is surrounded by cypress trees, and the aerating pool filled with fountains spraying water in the air.
Chickasaw National Recreation Area: We’ve been so satisfied with all of the National Parks Service offerings that now, we’ll stop at any nearby without hesitation. As we passed through Oklahoma, we stopped at Chickasaw and had a lovely walk through the forest. The park is known for it’s Bison, which we saw, and it many natural springs. They were so beautiful. On one hike, we passed two that are deeper in the woods and found spaces where we felt completely at peace. The type of space one wants to return to daily and contemplate all the most wonderful things in life. The visitors centre was also excellent as, in addition to being built over a river, it allowed us to get a much better sense of the life native to the park.
The Oklahoma National Memorial: While the terrorist attack in Oklahoma city on government workers in 1995 was an act of ugliness, the memorial is quite a beautiful and provocative space. It is built around a large but very shallow pool that produces the most interesting reflections of its surroundings.
Bonus: Cultivar Coffee (in Denton, Texas).
Wichita, Kansas (and area)
Keeper of the Plains statue and park: Located at the convergence of the Arkansas and Little Arkansas river, the large statue is a celebration of the Indigenous peoples of the area. The park below includes descriptions of various traditions and symbols of these peoples. Each night, five large fires (the Rings of Fire) are lit around the base of the statue for fifteen minutes with many locals (and on one night a couple of Canadian tourists) watching the ceremony.
Wonderful friends in Wichita: We had the privilege of staying, and having some marvelous conversations with our new friend Ed. He also introduced us to his good friends Abhi, Ara, and Nithish who had us over for a delicious Sri Lankan meal. Thank you for your hospitality! Afterwards, we all went to see the Rings of Fire ceremony.
Flint Hills Scenic Byway: Wow. People talk about how flat Kansas is, but the Flint Hills are anything but flat. It was a gorgeous drive through rolling hills of yellow grass.
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve: We figured that, since we were in Kansas, we should at least see what the prairie used to look like. Historically covering 170 million acres of North America, less than 4% of it remains and the majority of that is contained within this national preserve. We opted to take a long hike up into the prairie’s bison pasture with the hopes of spotting some of the beautiful beasts. After cresting the top of a tall hill, there they were – twenty of them grazing in the distance. We turned back, satisfied and chatting only to look up and realize we had been flanked – about 70 bison were now between us and the trail back to the parking lot … and heading our way. It was a pretty spectacular sight to see, but after hoping they’d move out of the way (and making some new local Kansas friends who were also stuck) we decided to take a different, longer trail back.
Fort Larned National Historic Site: On our way out of Kansas, we stopped at Fort Larned, one of the best preserved army posts from the Santa Fe trail. While the history of the site was definitely troubling (many Indigenous peoples were murdered as American commerce and settlement moved west – patterns in American history anyone?), the site provided an incredibly detailed reconstruction of the Fort, including completely outfitted rooms for all the senior soldiers. Every room was different and full of all sorts of different pieces of furniture, clothing, and artifacts – some based on the history of the rooms actual occupants. The detail and maintenance of the site was very impressive.
Bonus: Campbell Castle (a replica of a Scottish castle that’s empty and been on the market for years), the Wichita Troll (so creepy), Reverie Coffee Shop (an amazing coffee spot where we stopped to get some work done).