What comes to mind when you think about the United States' colonial history? Is it Captain John Smith? The thirteen colonies? Stories of England's colonies usually take center stage—but it was the Spanish who first arrived from the Old World. Their colonies were established earlier, lasted longer, and are often considered the most successful in the New World.
Today, San Antonio Missions National Historical Park in Texas plays a key role in telling the story of Spanish colonialists and Native Americans of the Southwest. The park preserves the largest intact concentration of Spanish Colonial buildings in the United States today, including exquisite mission churches with their Romanesque, Moorish, and Spanish baroque designs, dating as far back as 1720. More than 1.2 million people visit San Antonio Missions National Historical Park each year.
All four mission churches—San Jose, Concepcion, San Juan, and Espada—are still active Catholic parishes and churches. They represent an unbroken connection from present day hustle and bustle of the seventh largest city in the country, to the time when San Antonio was part of the sparsely populated northern frontier of New Spain.
In addition to the churches, the park protects one of the last known surviving ranches from the mission era: Rancho de las Cabras. The iconic American cowboy traces back to ranches like this one. But farming culture has a rich history here, too: One of the site's most impressive attractions features the oldest grist mill in Texas, at Mission San Jose. Created in 1794, the grist mill was restored in 2001 and is operating again, grinding wheat on its original set of millstones.
—Felicia Carr & Suzanne Dixon, NPCA
Like most of the parks of the National Park System, the national parks of Texas face serious challenges as we move toward the National Park Centennial Year of 2016. These include the need to acquire adjoining, threatened lands, air and water pollution, under-funding and under-staffing, inappropriate use of off-road vehicles, and the challenges of Texas's location on an international border