I must say, we are thoroughly enjoying our first visit to San
I can't remember exactly why we decided to spend a week here,
except we were looking for somewhere interesting between Phoenix
and Houston while we killed time before Jim's Rocky Raccoon
race. We wanted economical campground fees and reasonably warm
weather. From what we could determine on the internet and in our
travel literature, San Antonio looked like a nice place to visit
in January, with its mild temperatures and minimal chance for
Our research and instincts paid off. It's been a good choice for
us in all regards.
San Antonio has a long military history, which I'll talk about
again in an entry about the famous Alamo. There is still a big military presence in the
area, what with sprawling Fort Sam Houston and Lackland / Kelly Air
Force Base located here, as well as the smaller Randolph AFB and
Brooks City-Base. Camp Bullis Military Reservation is just north
of town. You can see why San Antonio has been dubbed "Military City USA."
We are very pleased with our choice of the Recreational Vehicle
Park at Fort Sam. Before we left on this trip Jim read our
military campground directory and information on-line about the
various posts and bases with camping facilities in the area. He
was initially drawn to Fort Sam but we were put on a waiting list
because the campground was full this week. We were happy to
receive a phone call a couple weeks ago to let us know that someone
had cancelled his reservation. Would we still like to stay for
a week at the end of January?
You betcha! So here we are, and we're very happy with the place.
It was a hassle finding it several nights ago but now that
we're here we see why it's so popular in the winter. The weekly
cost ($96) is very reasonable for full hook-ups, the sites are
spacious and grassy, there is a laundry room fifty feet from our door, we
can run all over the base on roads and trails, and it's very
convenient to downtown attractions.
That means we're doing more in town here than we did in Phoenix. We can
be downtown in less than ten minutes. The freeways and streets
are easy to learn and traffic isn't nearly as bad as around
metro Phoenix, even though this is a large city.
If you're considering a visit to San Antonio, a
decent one-stop source of information about the city's
attractions, history, culture, climate, and other features is
Wikipedia (an easy resource,
although I can't vouch for its accuracy). There are some good photos on that page. For other
sources of information, just use your favorite handy-dandy
internet search engine.
In this entry I'll feature information about Fort Sam Houston and a long-horn cattle drive
right through the city streets. (Yes, you
read that right. We're in Texas now, remember?) In upcoming entries I'll highlight
downtown area and historic Market Square; architecture in
the old German King William Historic District;
attraction, the beautiful River Walk along the San Antonio River;
the famous Alamo; and several other old Spanish missions
with very photogenic architecture...
FORT SAM HOUSTON AKA "FORT SAM"
In addition to lots of activities in and around the city, we
have also had plenty to do on this large post: working
out at one of the fitness centers, visiting the history museum,
shopping at the PX (post exchange) and commissary, going to the library, getting an inexpensive haircut (Jim)
and perm (Sue), and running around the post. We've even found
some dirt trails! There are other
activities here like golf, swimming, and horseback riding for
folks who enjoy those sports. Both the equestrian center and
golf course are close to the campground.
A large American flag graces the RV of
one of our neighbors
Many of our U.S. military installations are like miniature
cities, with activities and services geared toward thousands of active military
personnel and the civilian contract workers who support them.
:"Fort Sam" is particularly big -- 3,300 acres
in size, with approximately 27,000 military and civilian folks
at work. It's one of the larger Army posts in the country. And like White Sands
Missile Base, the building numbers aren't in sequence. It's a
bit difficult to find particular buildings at first, even with a map, but we
were doing OK after a couple of days.
We settled into our new "home" quickly. It's nice to be in one
spot for eight nights, with everything so convenient. On the
first day here Jim was able to determine what was causing the
problem with the slide-out (a sheared bolt) and fixed it. We found
the closest stores we wanted to use off-post (REI,
Costco, Sam's Club, Lowe's, Wal-Mart, Flying J). We ran and
drove around the post, getting acquainted with the location of
trails and streets with little traffic, off-hours at the golf
course (nice place to run!), and services we can use here. And
we got acquainted with the campground office staff and some of
our neighbors, who are friendly and considerate. Everyone has
some connection to the military, a good place to start
We feel right at home here.
The post was originally founded in 1845 and later named for the
first president of the Republic of Texas, whose photo is above. It remains a major, active
military installation vital to the defense of our country. It is
command headquarters for the Fifth U.S. Army (now called the
U.S. Army North), the U.S. Army South, and several other
divisions of the Army. It is reportedly the birthplace of
Fort Sam has also become the largest
and one of the most important military medical training facilities in the world.. It is home to
the Army Medical Department (AMED), Brooke Army Medical Center,
and other medical commands, academies, research centers, and hospitals.
Some of the officers' spacious houses at Fort
There are so many (900+) preserved historic structures on post that
has been named a National Historic Landmark. Although we missed
touring the oldest building on post, the Quadrangle, we enjoyed
the architecture of many of the historic buildings we ran and
drove by. Originally a supply depot, the Quadrangle now houses
the U.S. Army North command. The building is perhaps most (in)famous
for housing Geronimo and his fellow Apache prisoners of war for
about six weeks in 1886 until the government decided what to do
We also had a fine history lesson at the Fort Sam Houston
Museum, where exhibits chronicle the life of its namesake and
the post itself. The display two photos above regarding Sam
Houston is from the museum,
as is this one:
This humorous sign is at the beginning of the self-guided museum
tour and it made us smile, reminding us that history can be FUN:
For more information about Fort Sam Houston, consider the US
web site or these two links:
Jim and I have been all over this country and we've seen and
done some unusual things, but this was a first for us --
observing yesterday's miniature long-horn cattle drive down
Houston Street to the Alamo!
We heard about it on the news as soon as we got here and I knew
it was just one of those unique experiences I had to have. This
is Texas, after all, and I've got a little bit of cowgirl in me.
Jim was game, so we found ourselves walking along Houston Street
on Saturday morning, trying to find a good spot to watch the
cattle and take photos. There were lots of spectators milling
around who were enjoying the arts, crafts, and food booths
(organized by the Houston Street Fair & Market) as they waited
patiently for the longhorns to appear. Musicians entertained the
crowd and various civic organizations tempted folks with their
grilled and BBQ'd edibles.
One cowboy mingled with the crowd at our end of the parade route by
riding on a longhorn steer through the streets, and another steer
was contained near the Alamo for the spectators to see
up-close and personal. My, those are loooong and very sharp horns!!
Vendor booths line Houston Street during the
Ride 'em, cowboy!
Although cattle are no longer driven through the city streets to
the stockyards like they commonly were in the 19th century, the
legacy of the cattle drive looms large in San Antonio's history.
Cattle were king in Texas after the Civil War. While there was a
glut of cattle in both Mexico and Texas in the late 1860s, the
northern states were suffering a beef shortage. An industry was
born. Local ranchers blazed the historic Chisholm Trail from San
Antonio to Abilene, Kansas so cowboys could drive the cattle
northward, where they fetched a fair sum of money.
The famous cattle drives ended by 1890 thanks to rail lines and
barbed wire, but the legends remain in American culture. Who
hasn't seen cattle drives memorialized (and romanticized) in
western movies and books??
21st-century cowboys and cowgirl
Cattle are still important to the economy of Texas, of
course. But for the last 130 years they've been trucked or sent
by rail to other parts of the country, not driven over land by
cowboys. Thousands of acres of former ranch land around San
Antonio now sport subdivisions instead of cattle, yet the city
still celebrates this part of its multicultural heritage. I sure
wouldn't consider it a "cow town," though. Despite all
the historic buildings and festivals that honor old traditions, San Antonio is
The mini cattle drive is not an annual event; we were lucky
to be here when it happened this time. It was scheduled to
publicize the large San Antonio Stock Show &
Rodeo that begins on Thursday -- and it did garner the attention
of thousands of residents and visitors.
Thirty-five longhorns were trucked to town from the Y.O. Ranch
in Kerrville. I'm not sure if they were all steers (castrated males
raised for beef) or if
there were bulls (breeding males) and cows (females) mixed in. Both sexes have
long horns and I didn't even think to look at other, um, "parts.".
Here they come! Get your cameras out!
We stationed ourselves near the Alamo at the end of the ten-block route. That
way we got to see the cattle walk by AND see them herded back into the trucks.
could see them coming I climbed up about 18 inches above the sidewalk onto the
base of a streetlamp, wrapped one arm around the post so I didn't fall off, and
took photos with the other hand. With folks standing three abreast or deeper
and hanging 'way out over the plastic fencing, it was the only way I could get
some clear shots.
The Big Boys positioned
themselves in the lead. That's a lotta beef.
I must admit I was expecting something a little more, uh,
fast-moving, like the "running of the bulls" in Pamplona, Spain.
This was no stampede, however. The cattle moved along at a
leisurely pace behind several quarter horses and their riders,
following dutifully with the largest fellas toward the front and
the smaller ones at the back (they have
their testosterone-fueled "pecking order," after all).
Good thing longhorns are well-behaved. Look at
those sharp horns!
The rear guard
Once the cattle got to our part of the route near the Alamo, the
parade wound down. Quite a few of us followed behind the
longhorns as they were herded first into a large fenced-in area,
then into several trucks for the ride back home.
I gradually wormed my way to the front so I could take some
close-ups of these gentle, intelligent animals. Aren't those faces
sweet? The horns look lethal, though.
Longhorns come in a wide variety of colors and horn
configurations, as you can see from the photos in this entry.
Below, for example, you've got the goalpost, curly-Q, and
upright styles (my terminology, not official!):
Spectators who had lost their interest in the cattle visited the
festival booths or swarmed into
the area inside the wall (on the right in the photos above) to
visit the Alamo. We decided to wait for a weekday morning for
our Alamo visit when it wouldn't be so crowded.
Even though we'll be leaving San Antonio the day the rodeo starts, we got to see
what I consider to be even more fun (and free, to boot). I've been to a rodeo before, but
not a cattle drive! Check out this web site for more
information on the origin, history, and myths about longhorns:
Wikipedia for the "Cliff Notes"
Next entry: San Antonio's intriguing River Walk. Wish
Roanoke would do this with its river!
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and
© 2008 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil