We had a such a great time visiting
San Antonio in late January,
2008 that we wanted to go back in December to see the holiday
lights we read about. The timing is perfect on this trip -- we
are heading toward Phoenix and San Antonio is right on the way.
Funny thing, though -- we forgot about the lights until reading
an article about the spectacle in the newspaper when we were
camped at Fort Hood recently. We almost missed it! We decided an
overnight stay would be sufficient since we want to get to
Phoenix soon. We lucked out and got a reservation with not much
notice at the Fort Sam Houston family campground, where we
stayed in January. It's a popular place that stays pretty full
San Antonio's River Walk this afternoon
We left Huntsville State Park this morning for the four-hour
drive to San Antonio.
The first challenge was
getting around the sprawling Houston area without going all the
way downtown on 1-45 to I-10 or using the annoying stop-and-go
"outer belt" (Routes 6 and 1960) around the NW side of the city.
That left Houston Tollway 8.
E-Z TO MISS
How difficult could that be? The weather was good and traffic
was flowing well at 10 AM.
Too well. Soon after entering the tollway Jim got into the left
lanes marked for "trucks and trailers" (that's us, right??) and
couldn't get out when we reached the toll booth area.
No one was stopping to pay. Unfortunately, we were forced to sail through an E-Z Tag lane
reserved for vehicles with prepaid optical scanners. We realized
much too late that we were in the wrong lane.
Uh, oh. We figured we got captured by a camera and any minute
would be pulled over by a police officer for failure to pay our
toll. We didn't know whether to get off at one of the exits and
return via another booth where we could come clean or keep going
and pay the piper later. We kept going until we got to another
booth. The nice lady there said we could only pay forward for
the next segment to I-10, not what we'd missed. She gave us an E-Z Tag
brochure and said to call the business in two days, when they'd
be processing today's absconders (she didn't use that word!).
A business along River Walk all dressed up
We still didn't know how big of a fine we'd surely have to pay
until Jim got in touch with the office a few days later. Turns
out, you get one free pass. Well, not exactly free -- we
have to pay the $4 toll -- but first-time "offenders" aren't
fined. Whew. But watch out if you do it again, they warned.
Next time we drive from Huntsville to San Antonio or vice
versa, we'll just go the "free" freeways through Houston
and deal with the traffic.
The rest of the 255-mile drive to San Antonio was uneventful. We
got diesel at Flying J for $2.39/gallon on I-10 west of Houston
and found it a little cheaper in San Antonio. It's great that
the price keeps going down!
Construction around Fort Sam on the east side of San Antonio is
about as bad as northern Houston. We found our way OK into a
different gate on post. Our instructions were better this time
than last January when we were literally going around in circles
hunting for the correct entrance gate to get to the campground. That
gate is closed now because of the 1-35 construction.
Decorative tile on a wall along River Walk
After winding our way through the post to our campsite and
settling in, we made the short drive downtown. I wanted to park
on Market Street close to the spot we found the last time we
visited River Walk. We found an even better parking spot right at the intersection of Market and Alamo, at the
top of a set of stairs down to
River Walk AKA Paseo del
Rio. Parking is free after 6PM. We put in enough cents to
cover the minutes prior to that, and made our way down the
stairs to Casa Rio, the Mexican restaurant where we ate a meal
in January. (Click
here to see photos of River
Walk without the lights.)
What's this? A sign on the door said the restaurant was closed
for an employee party. Rats.
That turned into an advantage for us, however,
because we found another Mexican restaurant a few hundred feet
up the river that we liked better: "The Original
Mexican Restaurant and Bar," they call themselves. Why
"original?" "The rest are really Tex-Mex," the host
We enjoyed a fine meal at our table right next to the river
Several ducks cavorted in the water a few feet away, hoping
restaurant patrons would ignore all the signs to please NOT feed
them. Our menu implored,
"Please don't feed those cute,
The fat on tortilla chips is bad for
Which made me shake my head and say to Jim, "The heck with the
water!! What about ducks' and people's arteries??!!"
But that's another journal entry entirely.
Cute, begging ducks cluster around one of
the restaurants along River Walk, hoping for handouts.
We both had tasty enchilada dinners. Mine were filled with
chicken breast meat and topped with mole sauce. Now I'm in the
mood to fix that chicken chili mole
recipe I found in Phoenix
last winter! I brought the recipe with us. The trick will be finding chipolte-flavored cheddar again;
that made the dish taste extra special. The only place we've
seen it was at a Costco in eastern metro Phoenix. We no longer have a Costco
membership (only because the closest Costco to Roanoke is two
hours away) and Sam's Club may not carry it. It's worth the
Anyway, we recommend The Original Mexican Restaurant and Bar
over Casa Rio if you're dining at River Walk in San Antonio
someday . . . our dinner choices really were more
LIGHT UP THE NIGHT
The sky darkened as we ate our dinner and the lights began to
twinkle. I don't know exactly what I was expecting, but it
wasn't long strands of blinking colored lights hanging a hundred
feet or more from the trees towering over the river. The effect
was mostly striking, however.
This is where I need to apologize for the photos that
follow. I took them with a new camera that I'm neither very
familiar with nor entirely pleased with. Even if I was, a tripod
is needed to get proper photos in the dark -- especially when
most of the lights are blinking on and off. Instead of a
night-time setting I maybe should have used a "sports spectator"
type of setting that takes multiple shots per second.
We wandered the entire length of the U-shaped River Walk on both
sides of the river. What a crowd! It was a clear but chilly
Monday night, and I couldn't believe how many people were
There were times when I was on the river's edge and was
concerned about being accidentally nudged off the narrow stone
path into the water. It's only about three feet deep, so no
one's likely to drown if they fall in. But it would have been
mighty chilly and inconvenient! We finally ended up going in the
direction where the folks on the right were on the
store/hotel/restaurant side of the pathway, not the river side.
Just about everything that's stationary along the river was
decorated with lights. So were the riverboats, some of which
were filled with musicians and carolers. That was a nice touch.
I loved the visual and auditory delights of walking along the
river: multi-colored lights reflecting on the water, thousands
of people laughing and talking in various languages, carolers
and musicians entertaining us from boats floating by, hundreds
of birds singing from the tropical foliage of palm trees and
flowering shrubs. It's not the type of "winter" to which we are
One time I looked up to see dozens of birds that were chattering
away in a tree. I saw the almost-full moon peaking through some
passing clouds and couldn't resist "shooting" both the birds and
the moon (with my camera, of course!). The birds are the dark
spots in the tree:
After spending about two hours walking along the river we
climbed back up to the street level and walked a few blocks to
the Alamo, site of a very tall Christmas tree.
here for shots of the Alamo
that we took during the daytime last January. The buildings were
Many other historical sites, city parks, and other areas
throughout the city are decorated for the holidays. We were
satisfied to go back home (to our camper) after seeing River Walk and the Alamo.
Another year we'll check out the lights in other areas of the
city including Market Square, the
country's largest Mexican market.
Next entry: on the road to Phoenix.
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and
Tater (in spirit)
© 2008 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil