Day Trips: San Antonio

Tree of life displays feats of clay

Photos by Gerald E. McLeod

Árbol de la Vida: Memorias y Voces de la Tierra towers above the huisache forest on the banks of the San Antonio River like a treasure chest dangling its goodies above our heads. The treats here are shared histories and family stories.

The red steel-tube structure with its branches full of clay sculptures is the work of Phoenix-based artist Margarita Cabrera and more than 700 citizen artists who fashioned their stories in clay. Like an open-air pavilion, the 40-foot-tall and 80-foot-wide tree of life shades the world with a roof of memories.

Over 700 sculptures hang from the steel branches like Christmas ornaments. Begun in 2017 by the San Antonio River Foundation, a nonprofit organization that conducts beautification projects along the river, the mammoth project was unveiled in May 2019. The idea for the sculpture originates from traditional Mexican tree of life sculptures. Usually tabletop-sized, the art form goes back to pre-Spanish indigenous peoples and often has a Bible story or Day of the Dead theme.

The structure shading the hiking path has ornaments of varying sizes that express everything from love of family to support of the San Antonio Spurs. The art pieces were created in a series of community workshops held by arts organizations and schools. It is possible to spend hours admiring the ornaments and enjoying the peacefulness of the riverbank.

Árbol de la Vida: Memorias y Voces de la Tierra is a short walk from Mission San Francisco de la Espada in southern San Antonio, off of I-410. Completed in 1756, the mission is also worth a visit. There is no admission fee for either attraction.

1,454th in a series. Follow “Day Trips & Beyond,” a travel blog, at

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Árbol de la Vida: Memorias y Voces de la Tierra, Margarita Cabrera, San Antonio River Foundation, Mission San Francisco de la Espada

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