The first day of autumn officially falls in September each year, but to me, the final days of October really herald the changing season. With the sun’s rays striking the earth at a shallower angle, the light softens and dapples the landscape with a honeyed glow. And for some reason, I think of new beginnings, friends and family members who have passed on, and the mysterious quickening of time.
The streets of Old San Antonio have long been noted for their winding and crooked courses. And if you travel the way I sometimes do—the mule-headed “guy way” in which we set out exploring without maps or directions—you’ve no doubt gotten happily lost in the Alamo City’s avenues.
The arrival of summer inspires mixed emotions in Texas. There’s no getting around the heat of our most extreme season, a months-long series of blistering days that test the endurance of even the proudest and most stoic among us. But it’s the high summer temperatures—along with late sunsets, school vacations, and a blessed number of swimming holes—that also make the season special. For generations, Texans have embraced the summer not because it’s inevitable, but rather because it’s packed with opportunities for recreation, travel, and fun. It’s in that resilient spirit that we scoured the state to bring you our list of unbeatable activities to shunt the summertime blues and enjoy your best summer ever.
Driving northbound on I-35 through downtown San Antonio affords a clear view of the city’s Christus Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital, where a nine-story, tiled mural called Spirit of Healing features an image of a young boy holding a dove while an angel watches over him. For San Antonio artist Jesse Treviño, who completed the mural in 1997, the intricately tiled artwork expresses a simple and enduring sentiment.
I set out for a place that is a bit like another continent, a bit like a science-fiction universe, and yet completely Texas. It’s not a town, but a destination north of San Antonio built around adventure and a unique “natural bridge.”
In San Antonio, a few miles northwest of the Alamo, Texas’ oldest public park enchants visitors with a spring-fed pool, broad expanses of tree-shaded land, and an archeological history that predates Spanish colonization of the New World.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Stories on the Alamo inevitably stir deep emotions, and Jan Reid’s personal reflection on the storied shrine in the September issue was no exception. Some readers found the piece compelling, some took offense to certain ideas expressed, and some pointed out factual errors. We appreciate all of the feedback, and have posted the responses below. For an updated version of the story, click here.
The hump-backed façade of the Alamo, the 18th-Century mission chapel that actually comprised just a small part of the fabled killing field of 1836, is the profile and shrine of Texas. U.S. Army engineers introduced the distinctive arched gable while restoring the structure in the early 1850s. But that roofline symbolizes Texans’ tradition of valor, pride, and independence. My dad attended a Wichita Falls grade school that was built to resemble and remember the Alamo, and children still go there. Another Alamo-look-alike school is closed and fallen almost to ruin in the hamlet of Mosheim; doubtless more of these relics are scattered throughout the state. That’s because our legislature in the 1920s freed up some school-building revenue contingent on architects and brick masons aping the Alamo’s silhouette.
Needing an escape from city stress, I packed a bag and drove 45 minutes west of my hometown of Fort Worth for a stay at the new Double J Hacienda, a 12-acre retreat just outside Mineral Wells. Almost as soon as I arrived, I realized I had found a favorite getaway destination.
There’s an essential, all-purpose shirt that every Texas man should have in his wardrobe. It’s one that can be worn casually, with shorts or jeans, or worn more formally with slacks, to weddings—or even to funerals. It’s the guayabera, and its origins lie in the Mexican state of Yucatán, or in Cuba, or even in the Philippines, depending on who is trying to sell you one. And since I was trying to buy one, I found myself headed to San Antonio, Texas headquarters for all things tropical, and to the venerable Penner’s, an Alamo City landmark.
If you ask Luke Tips, a popular concierge at San Antonio’s century-old Fairmount Hotel, to reveal his favorite thing about his job, he’ll tell you—with a certain oscillation of his eyebrows and a long satisfied sigh—that he adores sprawling on the cool tile floor in the foyer and greeting guests from his bed in the well-appointed lobby. Well, he won’t tell you this in so many words, exactly. This loveable lug is the hotel’s canine concierge (his business card reads “Director of Pet Relations”), and he’s but one sign that the Fairmount is no ordinary place to rest your head in San Antonio.
I love my old friends, but that doesn’t keep me from making exciting new ones. I wish I had more time to spend with all of them. So it goes with travel: I’ll never quit staying, eating, and playing at my old favorites, but I always try to work in a few new ones, too. And we all know what that means: The list of old friends grows longer and longer...