Mission: The Sequel

Missions, Photography

A quiet beauty, hidden away on an Army base.

We didn’t plan on making back-to-back mission trips, but Susie and I had to swing by LA Hearne in King City for some ranch supplies and decided to travel about 45 more minutes south to the Mission San Antonio de Padua.

We left King City on Jolon Road (G14), which is a lovely ride through California countryside and incidentally, would make a great trip on the bicycles. There is one pretty steep climb along the way, but then gently rolling hills all the way south to Hwy 101.

You need to enter Fort Hunter-Liggett to access the mission from this way, and you need to be prepared to show an ID, auto registration and proof of insurance to enter the base. But not always. On this day, there wasn’t anyone at the gate and we just drove onto the base, which is the most uncommon encounter you’ll probably ever have with a base security detail.

The California missions were all isolated and remote when they were built, and Mission San Antonio has remained that way. It sits on an open plain surrounded on three sides by hillsides of scrub oak. Adding to the isolation is the bright sunlight and parched landscape, aggravated by an unprecedented drought situation. It reads like the quintessential remote outpost that the dusty travellers make for in any one of a hundred westerns.

The isolation adds to the calming that naturally comes to me when I visit the missions, even more so here. It’s just you and the 200 year old mission. No stores, restaurants, bars, traffic or other contemporary distractions just outside the gate. Save for a few secure Army buildings a quarter of a mile away, it’s you and this mission on the frontier.

We started this visit at the museum, which for a small entrance fee, gives you access to a solid collection of displays that help frame the mission in its historical context. Entrance to the church and gardens are free, but donations are accepted and you would be remiss to simply enjoy the beauty and tranquility of the grounds, all maintained by its small congregation, without contributing in some way.

After a short visit to the gift shop (more on that later) we wandered through the rose garden (gallantly maintained by an 88 year-old parishioner in these insanely dry conditions) and into the main sanctuary.

There is a common thread to all the mission chapels. Very much the same, yet each an enchanting variation on a theme. It’s fun to compare the pictures we took today to the pictures from Mission San Juan Bautista. We’re especially fond of the handpainted floral decorations and patterns that line the walls throughout the sanctuary.

Much of the outlying grounds are historically intact. You can still see an aqueduct that carried water from a hillside pond into a mill. The mission webpage includes an excellent video that explains the history of the mission and the archeological work being done on the grounds today.

So we toured the buildings, the rose garden and the grounds and on our way out, decided to make the obligatory quick stop by the gift shop. We’re very glad we did.

Let’s just say that Susie and I are not shoppers. Cannot stand the mall and generally loathe the entire retail storefront experience. Committed to avoiding it completely.

But we will make an exception to our retail exclusions for the gift shop at Mission San Antonio. It is as much a gallery as a gift shop. While well-stocked with a delightful array of spiritual items, its shelves also include inspired creations by regional artisans, many of which are represented exclusively here at the mission.

Kid Factor: (+) History museum, grounds to run around on.  (-) !! Things to break!!

Fitness Factor: Not really applicable here.  If you’re not in good enough shape to walk these grounds, go into the chapel and pray for devine fitness intervention.

Photo Factor: If you’re a building nut, this is a no-brainer. You’ll want a tripod and be ready to crank up the ISO.  Think smaller aperture (f16 and above) and maybe self-timer, because the exposures will be long. Bracketing for HDR might be handy too. For heaven’s sake (pun intended) please be sensitive to other guests in prayer. This is a church. It’s never that crowded and your picture can wait a few minutes.