San Antonio’s Fiesta Week: Taste of New Orleans, El Mercado and the Texas Cavaliers River Parade

During my short time in San Antonio visiting family, I was excited to participate in a few Fiesta Week activities!  The tradition began in 1891 as a one day event as a salute to those in the battles of the Alamo and San Jacinto. The celebration has evolved into 10 day festival held each spring in San Antonio featuring three different parades throughout the week.

The first event we attended was the Taste of New Orleans event at Brackenridge Park at the Sunken Gardens Theater. The park was filled with Cajun style food stalls ranging from savory crawfish to sweet beignets. We spent the afternoon eating, drinking and dancing to the music. Admission was $15 plus you will need to purchase food/drink tickets once you get inside but all of the money raised at the event goes towards scholarships offered by the San Antonio Zulu Association.

After getting our New Orleans fix, we headed next door to walk around the Sunken Gardens. This Japanese tea garden was completed in 1919 and was created to beautify an abandoned quarry at this location. Walking the stunning winding paths and seeing the vibrant koi fish was a great ending to our day!

Our next Fiesta week activity was a visit to the Mercado in downtown San Antonio. The Mercado is open all year long full of stores selling primarily Mexican wares but during Fiesta Week there is an entire festival lining the streets. We shopped and explored before eating a delicious lunch at La Margarita. The Mercado was a great place to get our festive flower crowns and clothes for the River Parade that evening!

Finally it was time for the main event of our visit, the Texas Cavaliers River Parade! Rows of chairs line the San Antonio Riverwalk going right up to the edge of the water. Sitting in the front row I was worried I was going to fall in! The parade began around dusk and the trail of 55 decorated barges glowed brighter as the evening went on. One of the best parts of the River Parade is that all the money raised from the event goes to various children’s charities in the community.

Our seats were along the newer addition to the canal so, since there was no exit for the floats at the other end, we got to see each float twice! Every float had their own theme about their “mission”, a play on words referring to the Missions located in San Antonio (The Alamo is the most well known). Each float also had their own source of music and I was pleasantly surprised that about half the floats had live music! The floats were gorgeous but the best part of the evening had to be the looks on my young cousin’s face at every new float she saw!

While there are two other parades and many other activities during the rest of Fiesta week, sadly our trip had to come to an end. But here are some tips if you are trying to participate in these Fiesta activities:

  1. Utilize the event Park & Rides. For every Fiesta activity we rode the Park & Ride buses for a small fee so we didn’t have to try to find parking spaces downtown.
  2. Buy your tickets in advance for the parades. For the Texas Cavaliers River Parade, no one was allowed down by the Riverwalk unless they had a ticket.
  3. For the River Parade you are allowed to bring food and drinks (alcoholic or not) as long as they aren’t in glass containers.

Hopefully these tips are helpful, we can’t wait to go back and experience more of Fiesta Week!

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Biking on A Mission: Visiting Four Missions in San Antonio Texas

While visiting family in San Antonio, Texas, we decided to rent bikes and ride the trails to visit four different Missions along the San Antonio River. When missionaries came over to the Americas they attempted to convert the indigenous people to Catholicism. The Missions are the communities and churches built surrounding the missionaries efforts and there are five still standing today in San Antonio. The most notable would be the Alamo, famous for the Battle of the Alamo in the early fight for Texas’s independence from Mexico. We visited the Alamo the day before (read about it here) so we started our bike ride from Mission Concepcion. All the missions we visited on our bike ride are active churches today.

We parked our cars at Mission Concepcion then went to look around. A volunteer named David was super helpful explaining some of the historical aspects of the mission. Mission Concepcion is the most well preserved mission of those in San Antonio. While many other missions have been rebuilt how they were before, Mission Concepcion is the least altered with most of what you see today being original. Visitors can explore the courtyard, church and attached buildings learning the histories of what stood there.

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When we were done exploring it was time to figure out how to rent bikes. At each of the missions is a rack of bicycles available for rent from a company called SWell Cycle. The cost for the day is $12 and you have to dock the bikes once every hour along the way. We were able to dock the bikes at each mission so we didn’t have to push them around with us inside. The first leg of our ride was the longest at 3.3 miles from Mission Concepcion to Mission San Jose.

Mission San Jose is probably the best mission to visit if you are only visiting one as it has an (air conditioned) interactive center with a 20 informative minute video on about the origin of the missions and the affect they had on the area. The church is surrounded by a wall of jacales, or small houses, where the Indians the missionaries were able to convert lived. We spent a least hour at San Jose watching the movie and walking around. Behind the church you’ll find the first mill ever built in Texas in about 1794.

After another hot 3 mile long ride we arrived at Mission San Juan. This mission was much smaller than the previous two and we were not able to see the inside of the church. We learned from David at Mission Concepcion that the churches at these missions used to be colorfully painted, a large contrast to the all white facade here at Mission San Juan.

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After a quick break we made our way to the the last 1.9 miles to Mission Espada, the final stop on our trip. This mission was not as large as the others on our ride but the church, built in 1756, was quaint and there was a small store connected. Missionaries worked to make life in the missions resemble that of Spanish villages and Spanish culture.

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If you are planning to make this bike ride through the missions there are a few things you should keep in mind.

  1. It’s hot! – We visited in April and it still got to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, so I’d hate to feel it in the dead of summer. If you’re there in the summer consider going early in the morning
  2. Bring water, drink often!- there are places to fill water bottles at each of the missions but by the end of the trip I was very dehydrated.
  3. Wear suncreen! – Don’t be like me and realize you didn’t put it on before the first leg and end up very burnt.
  4. No admission fees!- The only cost we had for the trip was the bike rentals, the missions are free to enter.
  5. Bring your own helmet! – Helmets aren’t provided so if you’re doing the biking make sure to bring your own.

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Even though I ended up as a lobster after our bike ride, I’m very glad we did it. It was a great way to get active and see some history. Plus, the trail follows the San Antonio river walk so the scenery was beautiful.

5 Things to Know about Visiting the Grand Canyon in the Winter

The Grand Canyon is a breathtaking natural wonder any time of year, but visiting in the winter months can be very different from the peak summer season. When we visited last winter here are the five things we wish we would have known before visiting the Grand Canyon in December:

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  1. The North Rim is closed

The Grand Canyon’s North Rim has view and trails to trek similar to the South Rim however it is more difficult to visit as it is far from the freeway and doesn’t have close airport options. Generally the North Rim is less crowded but it is not open to visitors in the winter months. If you are planning to visit, the North Rim is open from May 15th to October 15th each year.

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  1. Its gets cold!

The Grand Canyon is at an elevation of 7,000 ft above sea level so although it is a desert it is still pretty cold in the winter time during the day. For us it got up to around 50 degrees Fahrenheit during the height of the day but if you are hoping to see the sunrise bundle up! When we watched the sunrise it was around 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit. We also saw some ice on the trails so be careful when hiking and be sure to wear plenty of light layers!

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  1. Daylight hours are short

While it makes it easier to view the sunrise (~7:30am) and the sunset (~5:15pm), there are a lot less hours in the day to enjoy the canyon. The main way this affected us was when we hiked part of the Bright Angel Trail down into the Grand Canyon. We were wary about leaving plenty of time to make it back up the canyon so we wouldn’t be on the trail in the dark.

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  1. Not all the buses are running

We never ended up using the shuttles since it was more convenient to have a car in the winter. Only two of the shuttle bus routes are running and this did not include the one that could bring us to the park from our hotel or the route along Hermit Road stopping at many beautiful overlooks including Hermit’s Rest. If you are there in the winter it will be helpful to have a car to drive to the different areas you want rather than relying on the shuttle bus services.

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  1. During holiday weeks it is extremely crowded but other times it is not crowded at all

If you are traveling to the Grand Canyon in the winter be sure to avoid Thanksgiving week and the week between Christmas and New Years if at all possible. During the holiday weeks the Grand Canyon National park is jam packed. However, when we were there in mid December there were many times we had places to ourselves.

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Visiting during the winter months definitely has it’s advantages, the main one being very few fellow tourists, but we weren’t quite sure what to expect. Hopefully these tips will help you plan you winter vacation!

Spending Half a Day in Sedona, AZ

On our week long Arizona road trip, we spent our last day in Sedona. That morning we drove three hours from Page, Arizona, leaving us with only half the day left to explore. While this is in no way enough time to experience all that Sedona has to offer, here is what we were able to fit into our short time:

Our first activity in Sedona was hiking the Cathedral Rock Trail. Overall the trail is only 1.4 miles round trip, but in that short time the elevation rises 608 ft. It was definitely more challenging than expected with parts of it being more similar to rock climbing than hiking.  Overall the climb was moderately difficult as a novice hiker who is also afraid of heights but the views from the top made it all worth it!

Next we made a quick stop at the Chapel of the Holy Cross. High on the red rock hill, the simple design of the small Chapel of the Holy Cross looks out over the town of Sedona. The chapel is run by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix and was built in 1956. The interior of the chapel is unadorned and filled with ruby red candles for devotion. The unique chapel was voted by the citizens of Arizona as one of the Seven Man-Made Wonders of Arizona in 2007.

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To round out our day we decided to unwind in the nearby town of Cottonwood at a winery located on the Verde Valley Wine Trail. While there were a few different ones to chose from on Main Street, we decided to do a tasting at Arizona Stronghold Vineyards. The menu was broken down into 4 flight options: white wine, two red wine flights and a mixture of colors. At $9 each we chose the mixture of red and white plus an all red flight. Jay served us our flights and gave us lots of information about each wine and where the grapes inside came from. All of the wine we tried was delicious and we got to keep our tasting glasses!

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Overall, we wish we had planned more time in our trip to explore Sedona and the surrounding areas but we were very happy with everything we did get to see in the area. Hopefully some time soon we’ll make it back to Sedona to see more of what the city has to offer!

5 Things to Do in Page, Arizona

This past winter during our Arizona road trip we were fortunate to be able to visit Page, Arizona for two days. During our time there we experienced some amazing natural and man made wonders. Here are our favorite activities from our time there:

1: Visit the Lower Antelope Canyon

The Lower Antelope Canyon lies on Navajo Tribal lands and you can only visit them with a tour guide. We explored them with Dixie Ellis Tours. Since we visited in the winter we had the place practically to ourselves! Our guide, Kendrick, helped us with our cameras to make sure we got the best pictures we could. Read all about our visit here.

 

2: Visit the Upper Antelope Canyon

Similar to the Lower Antelope Canyon, the Upper Antelope Canyon is also on Navajo lands and requires a tour guide, we visited with Antelope Canyon Tours. With our guide, Cindy, we piled into a covered truck bed for our 6 mile ride to the canyon entrance. The Upper Antelope canyon was wider and deeper than the lower canyon, but also more crowded. Read more here!

 

3: Visit Horseshoe Bend

Just minutes down the road from Page on Route 89, you’ll find a small parking lot for Horseshoe Bend. After a short half mile hike, you’ll find yourself on the edge of a cliff looking 1000 ft down with a beautiful view of the Colorado River as it winds through the canyon below. For more information check out our post here.

 

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4: See the Glen Canyon Dam

Just off of Scenic View Drive, there is a car park for a view of the giant Glen Canyon Dam. Walk down a rocky path to see the second tallest concrete dam in the United States standing at 710 feet tall.

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5: Hike the Hanging Garden Trail

Right next to the Glen Canyon Dam is a small dirt road that leads to a parking lot for the Hanging Garden Trail. The trail is a mile round trip through red rock scenery. At the end of the trail is a small hanging garden with hundreds of vines extending down the rock ledge.

 

 

While this is in no way a complete list of things to do in Page, Arizona, these were some of our favorites. What was your favorite thing to do in Page?

Viewing the Sunrise at the Grand Canyon National Park

When we visited the Grand Canyon this past December we were very happy that the Grand Canyon National Park is open 24 hours a day so we could watch the sunrise. For two mornings in a row we dragged ourselves out of our comfy warm bed, to spend time in the freezing morning air to watch the sunrise at the Grand Canyon. It was so worth it. The canyon itself is jaw dropping but watching it light up with the sun was stunning.

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View from Lipon Point

The first morning we woke up late (surprise, surprise) and hustled out the door leaving our map of the National Park behind. Our plan flew out the window! We drove fairly aimlessly through the park trying to find the sunrise viewpoint recommended by our hotel, Yavapai Point. Fun fact Yavapai Point is not right next to Yavapai Lodge. Eventually we found a public parking area with a trail sign leading to the Rim Trail. We scurried along the path reaching the canyon’s rim just in time to see the sun rise on the horizon! Though we didn’t make it exactly where we meant to, the view from the Rim Trail was perfect for us.

 

The second morning we aimed higher, we wanted to reach one of the further out viewpoints to watch the sunrise, Lipon Point. Waking up late (again), we raced to get to the National Park before the sun rose. We had much better luck this morning. We ended up stopping before our destination at Grand Trail View Point worried we wouldn’t make it all the way to Lipon point. We walked around and watched the first hints of the sunrise before heading the rest of the way to Lipon Point.

Arriving at Lipon Point, it quickly became my favorite spot to view the Grand Canyon. There is a fantastic panoramic view with the Colorado River winding through the Canyon. We could also spot the Desert View Watchtower in the distance! With the entire place to ourselves we watched until the sun rose high into the sky.

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If you are planning to see the sunrise here are a few things to note:

  1. Get there early! You can find the sunrise time easily online but that’s the time the sun actually peeks over the horizon. To see the full transition arrive to your viewing spot about 30 minutes early.
  2. It is cold! With the Grand Canyon’s high altitude, it is very cold before the sun rises. For us visiting in December the temperatures were below freezing, around 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit

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I hope these tips help you see the sunrise, it is a Grand Canyon experience I’m glad I didn’t miss!

 

Visiting Horseshoe Bend in Page, Arizona

When planning our Arizona road trip, there was one photo that kept popping up during our research that we couldn’t resist, the beautiful Horseshoe Bend! Horseshoe Bend is a piece of the Grand Canyon near Page, Arizona where the Colorado river “bends” in a U shape. Since we had already planned to visit Page to hike the Lower and Upper Antelope Canyons, we were excited to learn that Horseshoe Bend was only 5 minutes away!

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Horseshoe Bend is actually relatively easy to find. It lies just off of route 89 between mile marker 544 and 545. Take the exit lane onto a small dirt path and you’ll find a dirt parking area complete with public restrooms. We went in mid December around sunset and the lot was fairly full, so parking may be difficult in the peak summer months. The best part about visiting Horseshoe Bend is there was no entrance fee!

After you park there is still a 0.5 mile hike on slick sand to reach the cliffs edge of Horseshoe Bend. The trek does have a good amount of uphill portions and is slow going due to the sand. If you get tired, there is a pavilion to stop and rest in about halfway to the cliffs. After the short hike, you’ll finally be able to see the bend in the Colorado river from the cliffs 1,000 feet above it.

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Wandering the cliffs above you’ll see that Horseshoe Bend is breathtaking. There are no guard rails obstructing the views so be very careful around the edges. Many other tourists were taking great risks climbing out on rocks to take the perfect photo and they almost gave me a heart attack!

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Visiting Horseshoe Bend was simple and free. If you are in the area Horseshoe Bend is a must see natural phenomenon!