Photo scavenger hunt adds new dimension to family's annual expedition
By Kitty Crider
With two digital cameras, four smartphones, and a list of 15 San Antonio landmarks, my family recently took on the Alamo City for a photo scavenger hunt.
It’s a tradition for three generations of Criders to gather in a different Texas city each year to explore its history and attractions. San Antonio has a wealth of both, of course, and my grandsons, ages nine and 12, had never seen the Alamo or the River Walk. It was time to remedy that. We added in the photo scavenger hunt to spice up the weekend for the boys, who were primed to use a new camera and smartphone they’d received at Christmas.
First on our list was the Alamo, which attracts 2.5 million visitors a year. To dodge the crowds, we arose early on a Saturday morning. After acknowledging San Antonio’s German culture by breakfasting on brats, pancakes, and apple butter at Schilo’s Deli (which dates to 1917), we headed out on foot on East Commerce Street. Immediately, we came upon the city’s reddish-orange Torch of Friendship, which reaches 65 feet into the air. The sculpture was a 2002 gift from the Association of Mexican Entrepreneurs of San Antonio. Click went our cameras.
Not far away we spied the 750-foot-tall Tower of the Americas. Designed as the centerpiece of the 1968 HemisFair, the freestanding observation tower is taller than Seattle’s Space Needle but shorter than Las Vegas’ Stratosphere Tower, facts not lost on the competitive Texans in our bunch. The top of the tower houses a revolving restaurant, along with an observation deck that offers a 360-degree view of the city and other attractions, but we opted to save those experiences for another time. Click.
The adults realized that without some background, the kids might not understand what makes the Alamo such an inspiration in Texas history. So before visiting the shrine, we decided to view the 42-minute movie at the IMAX Theatre at Rivercenter Mall, Alamo: The Price of Freedom. The 24-year-old film offers an action-filled, if slightly fictionalized, refresher course for all ages.
'Our goal was to explore the Alamo City's downtown streets and the famed River Walk, or Paseo del Rio.'
To our delight, we were the only ones in the theater for the 9 a.m. feature. We each chose a different row for our “private” showing of how 189 champions of Texas freedom at the Alamo held off Santa Anna and his Mexican army of 2,600 troops for 13 days before being defeated in 1836. This struggle of bravery in the face of overwhelming odds played a critical role in the Texas Revolution and spawned the cry “Remember the Alamo.” (Thirty of those men, including Davy Crockett, were from Tennessee, pointed out my husband, Chester, who was born in the Volunteer State.)
Moved by the Texians’ sacrifice, we walked over to the Alamo, a former mission on 4.2 acres in what is now downtown San Antonio. A bronze plaque on its heavy, wooden doors reads, “Be silent, friend. Here heroes died to blaze a trail for other men.” The message resonated with our group as we peered into the roped-off rooms, admired brightly colored flags, and took in display cases that showed the Alamo’s grounds as they were laid out in 1836. In the museum gift shop, we circled a large, glass-enclosed battlefield display filled with miniature soldiers, which depicted how outnumbered the Alamo defenders were.
We caught a 15-minute recap of the battle by a docent in an outdoor stone amphitheater on the Alamo grounds. “The north wall was where the post office is today [across Alamo Plaza, on East Houston Street],” he said, “and it took Santa Anna’s men three tries to get over it.”
We took our exterior Alamo photos, departing just as the crowds arrived. It was time to explore more of the nation’s seventh largest city, which attracts 26 million visitors a year. Because we had enjoyed the zoo and amusement parks on previous trips, our goal was to explore San Antonio’s downtown streets and the famed River Walk, or Paseo del Rio.
But first, nine-year-old Ryan spotted Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Odditorium and shouted, “Oh, yeah! This is where the real stuff happens!” We had to enter this three-story hall of screaming, talking, flashing, moving weirdness. Among the oddities: a sculpture of a New York man who weighed 1,400 pounds, a dinosaur built of car parts, a 12-foot-diameter tire. Click, click, click went our cameras.
“Do it! Do it!” encouraged Ryan, wanting us all to push a button to smell dirty socks. Or to see if we could fold, twist, or curl our tongues in a lighted vanity mirror. One in 1,000 people can fold their tongues, the video proclaimed. Amazingly, Ryan, Garrett, and their mom, Kim, could. The rest of us failed. We turned the corner of the exhibit to discover a group of people laughing. At us. We had been trying our tongue maneuvers in front of a two-way mirror! An impromptu addition to our agenda, the Odditorium had been a hit.
But it was time to move on. Before heading down steps from the street level to the river level, we paused to photograph along the River Walk, which winds attractively through downtown, with hotels, shops, galleries, and restaurants bordering its lush banks.
From the May 2012 issue.