Sunken Japanese Garden + amazing San Antonio bike tour

3/1/22

Wow, what a day! I got a personalized bike tour by a local force of nature named Rohn (rhymes with John) Bayes. I found Rohn on the Warmshowers website. I’m already being hosted here by another wonderful couple, so I didn’t reach out to Rohn for hosting, but his “reviews” by former guests indicated that he gave really great bike tours of the area, so I thought I’d reach out and see if he’d be interested in meeting up for that.

Thankfully, he was willing and available.

Of course the Japanese garden here in San Antonio was high on my list of priorities to see, so we agreed to meet there.

Admission-free and open to the public, it is also known as the “sunken garden,” and for good reason: it is built into a former quarry. I am coming to understand that the Austin and San Antonio areas are geologically very interesting, rich with limestone. I think I may have mentioned in some of my Austin posts that I found several of the local parks to have very rocky and uneven ground. At Cibolo Gardens yesterday, I learned that limestone quarries surrounded the property, and a crater from a spent quarry served as a lake on the property.

Today, I was struck that the entire sunken garden was filled with rocks, built into stairs (many more than these photos show) as well as pathways, bridges, and buildings. The limestone from the quarries is in high demand for cement and road paving (and quite possibly other uses I’m not aware of.) Rohn also pointed out to me that limestone is rich in calcium because of the bones of the fish who used to live in the areas that used to be underwater thousands of years ago. The fishes’ skeletons were eventually calcified into limestone. It had never occurred to me to wonder about that connection, but it made sense when I heard it explained like that.

The koi pond, of course, took up most of the space in the garden, with various walking paths through it. Of course koi ponds are usually focal points of most Japanese gardens, but this was the first time I had seen a garden that consisted primarily of its pond.

The shape of the arched stone bridge suggested a dragon, and after crossing it, one encounters a beautiful tall waterfall.

At the top of the garden, on the opposite end, stands an open stone building with a roof that reminded me of some of the roofs from the structures at Cibolo Gardens yesterday.

The day was off to a good start.

Next, I told Rohn that I was wanting to see San Antonio’s iconic river walk. We didn’t make it to the most central and touristy section of it (I do plan to see that, possibly tomorrow) because it is narrow and crowded, and therefore not suitable for cycling. But we rode a long stretch of the northern section of it, and it was delightful and not very crowded at all. We passed one section with cool fish shapes dangling from an overpass. The river walk was originally constructed in 1941 as a WPA project. (I mused that in that year, it must have been one of the last. Checking now, I see that the agency was dissolved in June of 1943.)

Then we headed into the downtown area, and saw the Alamo and a beautiful cathedral. (Apologies for the minimal photos; I try not to upload more than about a dozen photos each day, to avoid overwhelm, but that is very challenging today because we passed so many beautiful places. Perhaps I’ll do another post that is simply a “photo dump” of the various murals, buildings, fountains, and trees we saw.)

Rohn took me past numerous colorful murals, in all sorts of nooks and crannies, including a rather thematically complex one that we spent some time studying. Take a look, if you like, to see all the details in it.

We also passed the Tower of the Americas—vaguely reminiscent of Seattle’s space needle—which Rohn told me was built for the San Antonio World’s Fair of 1968. (Again, I wondered if this had been one of the last World’s Fairs. Checking now, I see that the last World’s Fair was held in New Orleans in 1984.) Surrounding the tower were more beautiful trees, fountains, and large and beautiful wall art.

We attempted to get a late lunch/early dinner at a vegan Mexican restaurant I had hoped to try, but sadly we arrived after they had closed. But we went around the corner to a different Mexican restaurant, with lovely shaded outdoor patio seating, and had a very interesting conversation—including the waiter, for parts of it—about many esoteric aspects of life and purpose.

After the meal, we meandered back on our bikes towards my hosts’ neighborhood, stopping on the way at San Pedro Springs Park. The large pool in the park used to be spring-fed, but sadly the city has overtaxed its aquifer to the point that the springs (described, perhaps in exaggerated fashion, by the conquistadores as “shooting as high as a man on a horse,” Rohn told me) have run nearly dry. The pool is now fed by municipal water sources, but the surrounding park is lovely.

These photos, and my descriptions of our travels, do not adequately convey how full this day felt. It was a remarkable experience, and I have a new appreciation for the history and magic of the city of San Antonio. If you’d like to learn more from Rohn’s encyclopedic mind, you can take a look here, here, and/or his Vimeo channel.

More adventures await me here tomorrow; stay tuned!

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