Brendan Gibbons / Rivard Report
Sometimes when I venture out, I know exactly where I want to go. Other times, I simply open up a map and click around the green spaces.
That’s how I found Tom Slick Park, off of Texas 151 near Loop 410 on the West Side. I thought to myself: A trail that follows around a pond made from a former quarry? Looks nice. A playground, basketball courts, and two dog parks? Seems promising.
But wait, what’s this? A Google Maps picture showing a metal sculpture of the Loch Ness monster poking up out of the pond? What’s that about?
That’s how I stumbled on the story of one of San Antonio’s most influential sons of wealth and his multiple expeditions in search of Nessies, yetis, and other mythical creatures.
Some San Antonio residents might not have heard of Thomas Baker Slick Jr., but they’re likely familiar with the institutions he founded. In the 1940s, the inventor, businessman, and philanthropist founded what became Southwest Research Institute and Texas Biomedical Research Institute on land that was once part of his 4,000-some-acre Cable Ranch.
Nowadays, SwRI is well-known for its involvement in everything from space exploration to power generation. Texas Biomed also has a vast array of research, but it’s probably best-known for its colony of research primates, including chimpanzees, baboons, macaques, and marmosets.
Here’s what fewer people know: Slick spent much of his free time tracking mythical beasts. It turns out that he was not only a leading philanthropist, but also San Antonio’s most famous cryptozoologist.
“He’s the 1940s version of the most interesting man in the world,” said Tim Martin, director of cooperate communications for Southwest Research Institute.
Slick’s father, Tom Slick Sr., was at one point the world’s biggest independent oil producers, often called “King of the Wildcatters.” He discovered the Cushing field in Oklahoma in the 1910s, around the time his son was born. When he died in 1930 at age 46, his two children became millionaires.
The younger Slick had plenty of talents of his own right, and his formal education included studies at Yale, Harvard, and MIT. He was a cattle breeder who helped develop the famous Brangus breed, according to the Texas State Historical Association.
His collection of modern art is now part of the McNay, though SwRI has some of it, including Picasso ceramics, that are on display in SwRI’s archives building. You can arrange to see Slick’s art and other memorabilia by emailing SwRI archivist Anissa Garcia at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SwRI also has an homage to Slick directly inside its entrance. A few hundred feet behind its front gate, a metal silhouette of a yeti emerges from the tree line. I had never noticed it until SwRI staff pointed it out on my last visit.
Slick always took seriously the idea that strange beasts were lurking in the dark corners of the world, waiting to be discovered. One of his first monster expeditions involved a hunt for Nessie in Scotland while he was still a young man studying at Yale, said Slick’s niece Catherine Nixon Cooke, a local author and consultant.
Later adventures took Slick to the Himalayas in search of the yeti, or abominable snowman, according to a book that Cooke wrote about her uncle titled “Tom Slick: Mystery Hunter.”
“Any idea that anyone brought him, he was open to hearing and thinking maybe yes instead of probably no,” Cooke recalled in a phone interview. “It was just his personality. … It was part of him forever, that openness.”
Like his father, Slick also died at age 46, perishing in a plane crash in 1962. Cooke was only 12 years old at the time.
“He was so imaginative and we all loved being around him,” Cooke said
Since the book’s release in 2005, multiple film studios have expressed interest in adapting it into a movie, Cooke said. She said one idea for a comedy would have involved Nicolas Cage playing a buffoonish version of Slick bumbling through the mountains on a yeti hunt.
“We were all kind of heartened when that didn’t happen,” she said.
Maybe one day we’ll all get to see Slick on a big or small screen. Until then, you can at least go visit Nessie at the park named after him.
Like SwRI and Texas Biomed, Tom Slick Park was once part of the Cable Ranch. Besides the pond that’s formed in what was an old stone quarry, Slick Ranch Creek also provides some water.
The park has few trail miles, with only about ¾ of a mile of concrete trail around the pond. There’s roughly 1 mile of dirt trails winding through the woods off the main trail.
The lack of mileage is made up for by other amenities like the two dog parks. The larger dog park near the 151 entrance is about an acre and has play equipment like tunnels and ramps where your dog can scamper.
San Antonio Parks and Recreation project manager Sandy Jenkins warns not to swim in the pond, though. Not long ago, some dogs drank the water and got sick, she said, so think twice before allowing your pet to drink out of it.
Fishing at the park is allowed, though the Trailist recommends catch and release.
The park is set to have some work done in 2019, Jenkins said, including changes to a low water crossing over Slick Ranch Creek and other work to improve drainage and take some downstream homes out of the flood plain. They’re also planning to remove invasive Ligustrum trees and reseed the forest with native plants, she said.
You’ll have to wait until drier times to see Nessie. Right now, recent rains have filled the quarry pond enough to put the sculpture underwater.
“That’s what I think is so unique about having the Loch Ness monster where it is,” Jenkins said. “It comes and it goes. As the water recedes, she’ll come back.”