Mo & Terry Smedley


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Heartland USA by Rail
June, 2005

Part IV:  Touring San Antonio, then to Oklahoma City via Fort Worth

After our morning arrival into San Antonio, we checked into our hotel, took a few minutes to get our land legs back, then headed out to explore the town.  Our hotel was a block or two from the train station, and just a few blocks from the Alamo and River Walk areas.

Our first stop was The Alamo.  The site itself is not physically imposing, but it clearly carries something approaching religious significance to Texans.  The displays were an odd combination of tacky gift shop souvenirs and interesting historical memorabilia.  I think my recollection of Davy Crockett was muddled a bit by Fess Parker's portrayal in Disney movies - I had forgotten his role in defending The Alamo.

We next walked downtown to the River Walk area.  When we stopped in San Antonio on our 2000 American Orient Express train tour, we really enjoyed our brief water tour of this area.  We had been intending to come back here for some time.  We explored the paved river walkway from one end to the other, sampled the eateries and shops that line both banks of the river, and enjoyed an outdoor music & dance production at an amphitheatre built into the river bank.  Evening was beautiful along the river, with the soft lights reflecting off the waters and temperatures finally dropping to something we considered bearable.  It was HOT here during the day.  We dived into air conditioned shops wherever we found them just to cool off.  I remember being impressed during our 2000 visit with the construction of a new high-rise bank building that had preserved the original historical character of the area by incorporating the beautiful facade of the original building right into the new.  I was delighted to recognize this building while exploring the River Walk, and I got a couple of pictures showing how well the old was incorporated with the new.

On our way into San Antonio on the Sunset Limited, we learned that the Spurs had won the NBA Championship.  The town was electrified with the news.  We got out of San Antonio just in time - crowds of a couple hundred thousand were expected along the River Walk on Saturday as the team was scheduled to parade through the area on the barges usually reserved for tours.  We were not disappointed to miss those crowds!  We did see plenty of evidence of a celebration already beginning - confetti on the ground, and more rowdy than usual crowds at the sports bars in town.

The Texas Eagle train from San Antonio to Fort Worth displayed far more punctual timekeeping than what we experienced on the Coast Starlight or Sunset Limited.  Our arrival into Fort Worth was only about 30 minutes behind schedule.  We did, however, encounter another one of the risks associated with train travel - bizarrely unsatisfactory customer service in the diner.  Our waiter was a mixture of hostility, forgetfulness, inattention, and just plan incapacity.  It is absolutely bizarre that this kind of behavior would be tolerated from an employee.  The problem was confined to this one employee - others in the diner were friendly, and even pitched in to provide us service when our designated waiter seemed unable.

Fort Worth was hot - stinking hot.  I made a brief foray from the train station, but quickly retreated to its air conditioned comfort while we waited for the departure of the Heartland Flyer for our trip to Oklahoma City.  The Flyer exhibited prompt timekeeping, and we arrived a few minutes ahead of schedule.  Sadly, this train is scheduled to be eliminated this fall due to federal and state budget cuts.  On the day we rode it, all three coaches on the train were completely sold out - in fact there was standing room only.  Go figure.

We'll be spending time on Sunday with nephew Jason McGuire, currently stationed at Tinker AFB in Oklahoma City.  On Monday, we'll do some exploration of the city on our own by foot.

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We briefly toured The Alamo in the morning.  This shrine appeared to have an almost religious significance to Texans. We had lunch at a nice Italian restaurant on the River Walk. Eateries and shops line both sides of the river. Barges run continuously to take visitors on a 45-minute cruise through the River Walk area.  We elected this time to hoof it along the full length of the River Walk.
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Here's one view of the building that has integrated the original facade into the new structure. And here's another view of that interesting preservation. We (mostly Mo) explored the art galleries and craft shops in La Villita, just off the River Walk area. Bird picture #1.
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Bird picture #2. The Arneson River Theatre is built along the shores of the River Walk.  We saw flyers for "Fiesta Noche Del Rio" at the theatre that night. The Fiesta was a benefit performance sponsored by the San Antonio Kiwanis club to fund children's charities.   The performance featured music and Dance from Spain, Mexico, and the Southwestern USA.  Here, a Mariachi band plays from one of the archways across the river, while an embarrassed local couple is coaxed out of the audience for an anniversary celebration dance.
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The San Antonio Amtrak station is right next to the Alamo Dome, home to the NBA Champion Spurs.  San Antonio was buzzing with excitement about the championship, which had just been decided the night before. Look carefully at the artwork on the wall of the restored Sunset Station (adjacent to the current Amtrak station) - you can see the old Southern Pacific "Sunset Route" logo.  The Tower of the Americas observation tower is on the right in Hemisfair Park. The Fort Worth station is a new building that is part of a multi-mode transportation hub, serving Amtrak, commuter rail, bus, and trolley lines.