Take a dip in a desert oasis at Balmorhea State Park

Stay at the park’s simple, retro-themed motel and watch the nightlife come out


Perched on the springy high dive above the spring-fed pool at Balmorhea State Park, I feel like I’m about to walk the plank of a pirate ship.

I trot down the length of the board anyway, launching myself into the crisp waters of San Solomon Springs with a splash. I dive deeper, and a giant aquarium embraces me.

This place looks like Barton Springs, plopped in the middle of prickly, dry desert. The water’s about 5 degrees warmer, though, and that means lollygagging is comfortable even in brisk weather. Twice my husband and I have leaped into this pool on New Year’s Day.

It’s plenty warm outside now, and our only company at the moment is a pair of ducks bobbing on the surface. We swim toward them and they plunge like submarines into waters that are home to two thumb-size species of endangered fish — the Comanche Springs pupfish and the Pecos Gambusia

It’s magical, slicing through glinting water so clear you can see catfish swirling 20 feet below. The site has long attracted people — Native Americans, Spanish explorers and U.S. soldiers watered up here long before the Civilian Conservation Corps turned a desert wetland into a spring-fed pool in the 1930s. In retrospect that wasn’t such an environmentally friendly move, but swimmers and scuba divers today reap the benefits.

Private concessionaires operated the park until the 1960s, when the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department took it over. Today visitors flock from around the state to dip a toe or two into the enormous V-shaped pool with a natural bottom. On hot summer weekends, the park fills to capacity by noon and cars are turned away.

“It’s an oasis in the desert,” says Jacob Barton, the park’s superintendent. “Anytime you have water in the desert it’s going to be a special place.”

The pool is usually a pit stop on the drive back to Austin from Marfa or Fort Davis for me, but this time my husband and I booked a room in the retro, adobe-style 18-unit San Solomon Springs Courts motel, also built by the CCC. Or you can pitch a tent in the spartan-looking campground (RV hookups available).

After our late-afternoon dip, we dry off and settle in for a picnic on the table outside our room, right next to a trickling canal. The springs that form the pool pump out about 15.5 million gallons of water a day, which is diverted by 3-foot conduits to Balmorhea Lake, two miles below, and used to irrigate alfalfa and watermelon fields.

Then we go for a walk.

Native reeds and bulrushes sway in the San Solomon Cienega, a three-acre wetlands restoration built at the park in 1995 to provide habitat for migrating birds and other native species. As the sun sets, we prowl the pond’s edge, catching a glimpse of a kingfisher looking for dinner. Then we wander back toward the pool, where we spot the first of two great horned owls gazing down on us from the treetops.

We’ll get one more heavenly dip in those waters before we load up and roll back to Austin the next morning.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Travel

Monarchs in Mexico allow brush with fragile beauty
Monarchs in Mexico allow brush with fragile beauty

OCAMPO, Mexico — This is a story that must begin at the end. But oh, what an end. I stood on a forested mountaintop in Mexico in late February, mesmerized by monarch butterflies swirling around me, darting in and out of the trees and pockets of sunlight. They were high in the blue skies, clumped by the thousands on tree trunks and branches, clustered...
If you can only eat three meals in Seattle, make sure they're here
If you can only eat three meals in Seattle, make sure they're here

While it's natural to gravitate to Seattle's main visitor draws, you'll discover the city's true charm by exploring its distinct neighborhoods. And in a city where people name-drop farmers and cheesemakers, you don't have to look far for crusty sourdough, sustainable seafood or local wines. The only difficulty is pacing yourself.  Breakfast ...
Vince Gill loves all kinds of guitars (and mountains)
Vince Gill loves all kinds of guitars (and mountains)

“I’m just an overgrown cheerleader for cool, old guitars,” said Vince Gill, the Grammy-winning country star and songwriter. “They shaped my life. They’re my DNA. They’re my whole reason for making me want to be musical.”  That passion led Gill to join the new Songbirds Guitar Museum as ambassador, which...
Trump's cheeseburger in Japan still drawing lines
Trump's cheeseburger in Japan still drawing lines

TOKYO (AP) — Haruyuki Sano traveled 1 ½ hours for a taste of the same cheeseburger U.S. President Donald Trump ate with Japan's prime minister during his visit last week.  "It tasted great, like steak," the pastry-maker said after savoring the 100 percent U.S. Angus beef Colby Jack Cheeseburger at Tokyo's tiny Munch's Burger...
Travel Tips: How to rent a car abroad

Renting a car while traveling abroad means freedom from bus and rail timetables, but it comes with its own set of complications. Rules of the road, manual versus automatic, even permitted blood alcohol levels — not to mention the necessity of car insurance — can vary widely by country. Here are five useful tips for staying safe.  1...
More Stories