Touring San Antonio National Missions National Historical Park on Bike

During my week off from work, I decided that I wanted to go tour the San Antonio National Missions Historical Park on my bike. This tour is commonly called the Missions Trails tour and as the name implies it is a hike and bike trails system that covers several old Missions in the San Antonio area. I’ve had several friends that have cycled the trails and loved it and from the pictures they have posted I can see why.Me being the spontaneous person that I am, I was on my way to San Antonio the next day.

Cycling the trails was also a good chance to hook up my new Topeak MTX EX Beam Rack and Trunk Bag (EX model). I’ve wanted to use it to carry my digital SLR camera and other goodies for a long time and this was the perfect chance to do so. after an over night stay in San Antonio I was ready to head out about 11 AM. According to the map the Mission Trails covers five old Missions:

Since I’ve seen The Alamo before, I skipped the start of the ride and started at the Blue Star complex. Blue Star bikes was my first stop to get a map of the trail and some supplies. After talking to the owner and a local resident, I got a sense of what to expect and they showed me the way on the map. Nice friendly folks with the shop catering to the urban cyclist scene.

Hopping on my bike I took off for the adventure on a very beautiful sunny day. The first part of the trail follows the San Antonio river heading out of the city. This is basically a wide sidewalk that follows the river but it does the job. Sprinkled throughout the trail there are many benches as well as covered pavilions at prime locations. Very pleasant ride that not at all flat. There are some mild ups and exhilarating descents (we are talking overpass high types of hills and many of them) as well as some very nice looking stone bridges. I encountered many friendly “Hello” saying people using the trail to either walk, walk their dogs, jog or cycling.

At my first stop I had to make a pit stop. Stupid me I left my phone on the bench and didn’t realize that I didn’t have it when I started to talk to a local on a recumbent bike. Lucky for me it was still there. Whew! At this juncture the river trail ends as the rest is closed for construction. From this point on I have to take to the streets and make my way to the first Mission. Actually the second Mission. I never did find the first one, Mission Conception. After stopping several times to consult my map, I find what I was looking for, Mission San Jose looming in the distance. Wow, what a site to see. I can imagine back in the mid 1700’s, what a weary traveler feels when they turn a bend to finally see the Mission in the distance.

From here the trail leads to Mission San Juan. Getting there was a little confusing and not being familiar with the area did not help either. I stopped, checked my map several times and back tracked to get going in the right direction. Once on the right path, it was a very pleasant ride past a huge cemetery and a small airport. It was fun listening to the buzz of the single prop airplanes take off and land as I cycled on by.

Mission San Juan is just as large space wise as Mission Jan Jose, but not as well preserved. The walls have collapse and exposes the courtyard. Still a magnificent structure. This Mission is under preservation efforts at the chapel and the building next to it. At the other end of the courtyard there were more building that seemed to be in better shape as this one had a roof on it.

While taking pictures I ran into someone visiting the site that was also interested in cycling the route. I shared the information as best I could in my limited Spanish. Luckily, the wife was able to speak enough English to translate what I couldn’t. This is really a nice park. Plenty of benches with families having lunch. Speaking of lunches I forgot to pack a lunch in my cycling bag. Not even chips! Sitting and eating a good sandwich was just not in the cards today. Pushing on to the next stop, Mission Espada.

Getting to Mission Espada required a little backtracking and taking a fork in the road. I was looking forward to the last stop on this adventure of mine. Unfortunately this was not to happen as there was a HUGE free roaming, car chasing, mean looking dog that I didn’t want to tangle with going and coming back from the Mission. No problem, I spotted something of interest nearby that I wanted to explore, the Espada Aqueduct system.  Built in 1902, the aqueduct is used to irrigate land and provide water for the farm animals. It is still in use today with the water rights stretching back to the 1700’s.

The ride back to the start was a lot easier to do since I knew the route back. I still didn’t see the first Mission on the list, Mission Conception. I have a general idea as to where it is and later I find that I had to exit the trail at a different point to get to it. Something to keep in my mind on my second trip back, yet to be spontaneously planned.

Over all trip distance is 18 miles that took three hours to complete. Lessons learned? Pack a lunch. Would it kill me to stop at a subway and get be a sandwich and some chips. The other lesson learned is to bring a lock for the bike. I was not able to explore the Missions as closely as I would like to have because I had to keep my bike within visual range. Having my only mode of transportation stolen would have been a very bad thing. Very bad. Other than that I had everything else that I needed, water and flat tire repair kit with spare tube and a pump.

The San Antonio National Missions National Historical Park is something that I recommend doing when you are in San Antonio or planning a trip there. Nice scenery, friendly people, interesting history and the entire tour was free. Perfect for those on a budget.

Enjoy the slide show.

Espada Aqueduct bike

Picture 1 of 25

aqueduct in the background

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