Surrounded by Solitude: Espada Park


Photo by John Hamilton

John Hamilton , Staff Writer

After a group outing was washed out by a deluge in the hills near Medina Lake Park on Saturday, a quick solo trip through the heart of downtown more than made up for any missed time on the water. Sunday’s travels began with a plan for Padre Park, a beautiful piece of wilderness amid an urban setting. The city’s downtown architecture sat against a beautifully canvassed sky as I passed over the I-10 and I-37 interchange, leading me to a hidden gem among the businesses and hotels strewn along Probandt Street. The vibrant colors of San Antonio were  on display, boasting the city’s culture and paying homage to the Spurs’ days of old. Passing a mural with the original “Big 3” summoned a sense of pride and served as a landmark for the venture onward. 

Drawing closer to the parks, the San Antonio River becomes more apparent, its white-water rapids rushing over rocks and along the bending tree lines. Padre Park was understandably closed for public health concerns over Labor Day weekend, but a five minute drive to neighboring Espada Park offered a chance to explore a different area. 

When I arrived at Espada for the first time, I saw that the park had ample parking overlooking the river. The incoming crowd headed toward the banks as sunset approached, revealing a diverse assortment of people there to enjoy the rest and relaxation. There were families, couples, people young and old, businessmen in slacks and ties, and everyone in between, each person looking for the best place to wet a line. Others geared up to bike or walk along the paved trails that winded through the forested areas, dense with oak trees and accompanying vines. Friendly faces greeted me as I lugged my kayak down the embankment, which offered a place to set off.

Paddling the river was enchanting, and knowing you are in the middle of a city lends to a unique aura. The wilderness blends seamlessly with the man-made aspects of the park, highlighting the underlying historical importance of the river. The crowd was friendly, swapping stories and fishing tips with me as I paddled along the banks. Fathers guided their sons and daughters on how to cast and reel. Hearing several catches brought in, it was tough to tell who was prouder. 

The cranes stood in groups along the shallows and in the tree lines like statues all facing the same direction as they watched the approaching storm. The diverse wildlife in the water and along the shores made it even more difficult to believe I was in the city. One warning to be heeded concerns the water moccasins, dangerous and poisonous snakes that live here and in many other lakes and rivers. They are common, very well camouflaged and can grow well past four feet long. If you happen to see one, do your best to steer clear. 

Exploring the river brought me to bridges and water stairs that looked like an image taken from a postcard. Spinning in circles at the bottom of the steps to get a picture was probably a spectacle for other visitors, but it was well worth documenting the rare setting of these connected parks. 

Further along, the water brings unexplored wonders that do not disappoint. A previous trip to Padre Park took a fellow kayaker and me even deeper into the inner workings of the city, leading us to underground water runoffs that can be walked for miles. Little gems like this add to the character of our parks, complimenting the wonders of nature with human engineering.

This trio of parks is a great labyrinth of connected trails and waterways worth exploring. Espada Park connects to Padre Park and others along the water, including Acequia Park and Mission Hike and Bike Trails, offering an enormous area for relaxation or recreation. 

Espada Park is open from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. and offers open parking and extensive paved trails. Padre Park is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., has a beautifully designed pavilion for public use at its entrance and extends the trails along the more curved parts of the river. Entry to both is free of charge, and they are great spots to take friends or family for a day trip. Swimming is prohibited, but the scenery along the water is almost too idyllic to disturb anyway. Whatever you endeavor in, the blend of the wild and the urban is truly unique, and the San Antonio River holds incredible intrigue as part of our city’s great and storied history.