Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine   


The Apple of Your Eye


Rooted in History

Goliad and its state park
embrace the past.

PEERING THROUGH the canopy of a centuries-old anacua tree, I watch the morning sun illuminate the white stucco walls of Mission Espíritu Santo, and I realize that I am standing on hallowed ground. It’s the first time I am humbled by the rich history and natural wonders of Goliad, and it certainly won’t be the last.

Although I’m only two hours away from my home in Austin, I feel like I’m in another world at Goliad State Park and Historic Site. More than an escape from city life, my weekend stay promises an expedition into the past.

Our guide at the park, Kersten Berry, explains that my shady respite has a surprising backstory of its own. Although the anacua was not alive when this mission was built by the Spanish in 1749, it took root among the ruins and was later relocated by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which arrived to reconstruct the site in the 1930s.

It’s quite a reconstruction. I feel transported back in time as I stroll through the priests’ quarters, through the granary and into the chapel where Berry lets me ring the church bell. A low toll reverberates through the surrounding parkland.

“There are some other missions you can visit in Texas, but none of them have that feeling that you get here, where it’s a lot easier to picture what it would have been like to live in this area because there’s not a lot of modern infrastructure,” says Park Superintendent Jared Ramirez.  




Ramirez tells me that people often come to the park for either the historical offerings or outdoor recreation activities, but the two are impossible to separate — and best experienced in tandem. So after exploring Espíritu Santo, my boyfriend, Miles, and I are eager to hike the nearby Aranama Nature Trail, a which proves to be a productive birding area. Although the trail is a short, 0.33-mile loop, there is a lot packed into this small space. After nearly 10 years working at the park, Ramirez still encounters new plants regularly.

The Aranama begins with a descent into an old riverbed, where black-winged dragonflies flit between yucca leaves. We identify our first bird, a black-crested titmouse,
perched atop an old stone kiln, which mission inhabitants and the CCC used to construct Espíritu Santo. From there, we follow the trail high above to an arid limestone bluff where the biodiversity is everything Ramirez promised.

Next, Miles and I take on the San Antonio River Trail, which is as plentiful in pecan and persimmon trees as the river is in gar and catfish. Although we came prepared with our own fishing gear, the park headquarters also offers supplies for impromptu anglers. About midway through the 1-mile riverside path, we spot the perfect place to set up shop: a quaint dock overlooking the water. Though kayaking’s not in our plans today, we note that our spot doubles as the takeout point for Goliad’s 6.6-mile paddling trail.

After our break on the banks, we follow the trail back to our car, eager to scout the park’s satellite destinations: the El Camino Real de los Tejas Visitors Center, which pays homage to the 2,500-mile trail connecting former Spanish territories, and Mission Rosario, an archeological site containing the ruins of Espíritu Santo’s sister mission. Though Rosario is mostly reduced to rubble, a glass etching at the site suggests its former appearance. I’m struck by the flora that has sprung up among the remains — time marches on.   






AFTER ALL that exploration, Miles and I are more than ready for lunch. We head into Goliad’s historic town square and park by a gnarled tree in front of the courthouse, hoping to grab a bite of the award-winning cream of jalapeño soup at the Blue Quail Deli across the street. Patti McCraney has been running the deli for about 18 years and is on a first-name basis with her regulars, so she spots us as tourists right away. Although she jokes that she can’t tell me what’s in the soup — the recipe is top secret — she offers to show us a collection of local memorabilia in the back room, including a large Bloody Arm Flag commemorating Texas' independence movement.

McCraney also tells us that the tree we parked by is the infamous Goliad Hanging Tree, where death sentences were carried out back in the day. Though it’s haunting, it’s remarkable how close the town holds its history — even the dark and tragic sides.   


 Earl Nottingham | TPWD



AFTER LUNCH, we’re ready to learn more about Goliad's history at the place where a lot of it happened: Presidio la Bahía, which will double as our lodging for the evening. Located across the river from the park, the fortress is the site of the 1836 Goliad Massacre, where more than 300 Texian soldiers died fighting for independence from Mexico. The massacre inspired the rallying cry and local motto: “Remember Goliad!”

And even today, the presidio is unforgettable. As we arrive, we poke around the on-site museum and chapel before checking into our room in the former officers’ quarters. The woman at the front desk hands us a key and tells us that we will be the only people on the property after hours. We have license to explore the grounds inside the fort, and are told that the cat that roams the presidio may even visit us for treats.

As we unlock the heavy wooden door to our spacious stone-floored suite, I imagine what these walls might have seen 180 years ago. Without TV or Wi-Fi, the quarters are a much-needed getaway. Miles says, “It’s just us and the ghosts!” and apparently he’s not wrong. There’s a guest book on the coffee table, where previous visitors have jotted down plentiful tales of strange noises and happenings after nightfall. Though we have no ghost stories of our own to report (save the occasional spine-tingling gust of wind) the presidio truly immersed us in Goliad’s history, giving us a unique appreciation for what came before.

In the morning, Miles and I wake up early to watch the sunrise from the nearby Angel of Goliad statue, which honors a Mexican woman who showed mercy on Texian prisoners after
the massacre.

From her monument, we walk the 2.5-mile Angel of Goliad Hike and Bike Trail back into the park. Though our hearts are heavy with history, the sun on the mission is somehow even more brilliant today.  



BEFORE DEPARTING, we stop in town to shop for souvenirs. Miles scores an armful of old National Geographic magazines at Hanging Tree Antiques, while I’m overjoyed to explore Goliad’s massive plant nursery, The Garden’s Path. We even stop by an unexpected spiritual store, The Soul Emporium, before grabbing morning coffee at Dwell, where our barista Brenna Brandes gets to talking
with us.

Brandes grew up across the street from the presidio, and has more than a few scary stories to share. She suggests that we also check out the haunted Yorktown Memorial Hospital, a 15-minute detour from our route home. That’s a whole other experience. Let’s just say these small Texas towns have plenty of stories and hidden secrets.

It got me thinking about all the times I drove past Goliad on my way to visit family along the coast — without knowing how much the relatively small park and town had to offer. It’s an easy mistake, but one I could never make again. In fact, I’m already planning my next pit stop for a cup of cream of jalapeño soup when Goliad’s famous wildflowers are in bloom this spring.  


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