Swimming Holes-Top 10

Here's my 2005 Texas Top Ten Swimming Holes, as published in the July State of Springs issue of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine.
It's worth getting a copy for the excellent photographs and all the pertinent service information on swimming holes, and the best writing you'll ever read about water in these parts. Joe Nick says Five Stars. Copies at Barnes & Noble, Borders, Hastings, Academy, BookStop, HEB, Fiesta Mart, Brookshires, Rite Aid, Wal-Mart, Walgreens, Krogers, and all the usual suspects, or at your local state park. Of all the features that define natural Texas, nothing speaks to the soul quite like springs do. As the source of water in its purest, most pristine form, springs are the basic building block of life. They present themselves in a manner as miraculous as birth itself, gestating in the womblike darkness of an aquifer deep underground until pressure percolates, pushes, and forces it up through cracks, fissures, and faults in the limestone cap until it bubbles, seeps, sometimes even gushes to the surface, magically turning everything around it lush and green. Springs feed creeks, streams, and rivers, and nourish sustain plant and animal life. Springs are why Texas has been inhabited for tens of thousands of years.

As far as Iím concerned, though, the greatest thing about springs is that they create swimming holes, which are the very best place to be in Texas in the summer. The greatest concentration are clustered in the Hill Country, where human activity around San Marcos Springs, the second largest springs in Texas, has been traced back as far as 14, 000 years. Like me, the ancients must have figured out that immersing in cool artesian spring water was a pretty smart way to survive a hot day in August.

I fade the heat gladly when Iím close to a spring-fed swimming hole. The endless string of broiling days and sweltering nights that wear down the spirit and sap the want-to and can-do in even the hardiest of soulsóthatís my favorite time of the year. Springs are why.

The great spring-fed swimming holes of Texas run the gamut from wild and unsullied to tamed and civilized. All of them promise a shady place to cool off, cool down and cultivate the lazy streak that resides within us all. The swimming hole is my church, a holy place to splash in water clean and clear enough not to have to worry, with at least one big rock to lay out on and jump off of, and ideally a rope swing hanging from a tree limb. Settings like that are compelling evidence there's a higher power.

I have written about swimming holes on numerous occasions for several publications. I live where I live for the swimming hole, which all of my family enjoys in the summer. I plan road trips around swimming holes. Iím always on the prowl to find new ones. Some are so special and fragile that Iím not inclined to share them with readers.

There are literally hundreds of these liquid jewels scattered across Texas, many of them known, some secret, all defying the logic of geography, geology, climate, and progress. Without springs, none would exist. Without springs, I would not be here. Without springs, I donít think Texas would either.

Having to select my ten favorite swimming holes is not unlike having to choose among your children, knowing Iím leaving out sweet spots like Mankinís Crossing on the San Gabriel, Lake McKenzie in Tule Canyon near Silverton, Tonkawa Falls in Crawford, the state parks at Colorado Bend, McKinney Falls, and on the Guadalupe River near Boerne, the entire Medina River, Burgerís Lake in Fort Worth, the Paluxy River in Glen Rose, Possum Kingdom Lake west of Mineral Wells, Chain-O-Lakes near Cleveland, Hancock Springs in Lampasas, Las Moras Springs at Fort Clark in Brackettville, the Slab in Llano, the 7A Crossing in Wimberley, just to name a few. These ten are chosen at my own personal peril and risk, ie. theyíre just my opinion. You likely have your own top ten. Either way, we should all quit arguing and jump in, feet first, eyes closed. Biggest cannonball splash wins.

Balmorhea State Park, Toyahvale
Back in the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps lined the banks of San Solomon Springs, the biggest springs in West Texas, with native stone and built a classic bathhouse to provide easier access to 78 degree water that is Caribbean-clear and brimming with pupfish, tetras, catfish and turtles. Those features and its picturesque location in the Chihuahuan Desert with the Davis Mountains on the horizon conspire to create the finest natural swimming experience on earth. [see the complete article in the April issue of Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine]

Barton Springs, Austin
As development has sprawled beyond the pool and the creek upstream all the way to its headwaters some 30 miles away in Hays County, Barton Springs is more remarkable than ever. There are times when the water is so clear itís as if nothing has changed in the last hundred years. I derive a great deal of pleasure watching friends get hooked the same way I did at Bartonís more than thirty years ago. Two recent converts I know begin their mornings at 5 am in the springs, with downtown skyscrapers and the moon providing all the illumination they need to navigate the dark waters. Thatís a little too extreme for me, but they know like I know there is no better urban swimming hole on Earth. Period.

Landa Park, New Braunfels
The 1.5 million-gallon spring-fed pool at the Landa Park Aquatic Complex on the Comal River in New Braunfels is a compact version of Barton Springs without the crowds, fed by the biggest springs in Texas. A few hundred yards downstream on the Comal River is the Prince Solms Tube Chute, a cheap thrill ride that inspired the nearby Schlitterbahn, consistently rated as the Best Waterpark in America. Snorkelers and divers do the entire mile-long stretch of the river and its constant 73 degree waters year round.

Krause Springs, Spicewood
An intimate swimming hole consisting of several pools on Little Cypress Creek fed by a small waterfall tumbling from springs on the exquisitely manicured bluff above, the privately-owned Krause Springs is a sublimely picturesque natural swimming environment. Overnight camping permitted.

Sewell Park, City Park, Rio Vista Park, San Marcos River, San Marcos
The San Marcos River begins at the bottom of Spring Lake, an impoundment where the second biggest complex of springs in Texas pumps out thousands of gallons of pure water, spilling over two small dams before winding swift, crystal-clear, and cool (70 degrees year round) on a short, two mile run as a semi-tropical waterway ideal for tubing, snorkeling, or wading, with a small dam to slide down to keep things interesting. The flow in some spots is so strong, you can point upstream and swim in place, getting a good workout among the turtles and fishes in the wild rice without going anywhere.

Nealís Lodges, Concan/Garner State Park, Rio Frio, Leakey
The whole stretch of the Rio Frio between Leakey and Concan is made for tubing and splashing. But these two historic spots dating back to the 1920s on the banks turquoise-tinted Frio, one of the most gin-clear bodies of water in the Southwest, are a cut above the rest when it comes to swimming and floating between the cypresses.

Hamilton Pool, Hamilton Pool Nature Preserve, Travis County
Thirty miles southwest of downtown Austin, Hamilton Creek transforms into a 50 foot waterfall that tumbles into a steep canyon shaded by a near perfect cave overhang with a nice sandy beach at the opposite end of the natural pool. Access to this idyllic grotto is limited.

Schumacherís Crossing to Ingram Dam, Guadalupe River, Hunt
This storied hole on Highway 39 was popular long before Hunt became a favorite Hill Country destination for wealthy families from Houston and San Antonio in the early 20th century. Deep holes and the acquired sport of dam sliding are two reasons Schumacher remains popular today

Devilís Water Hole, Inks Lake State Park, Burnet
The red granite cliff, a Highland Lakes landmark, is rife with small falls fed by Spring Creek following heavy rains and offers a high 25 foot promontory from which to jump (feet first, of course) into this dammed portion of the Colorado River.

Blanco River State Park, Blanco
A sentimental pick, mainly for the sweet pleasure of pulling off the highway just after sunset at the end of Labor Day weekend last year for a swim in the gathering darkness, the parkís hole is created by a low dam spanning the river with a small pool area below the dam for that cement pond swimming experience.

San Felipe Springs, Del Rio
This hole on San Felipe Creek in the city-owned Horseshoe Park is an ideal oasis on the edge of the desert. Flanked by improved banks of native stone, shaded by stately pecan, elm, maple, and mulberry trees, lined with a hard limestone bottom, and fed by Texasís fourth largest springs, the hole is shallow enough near the banks for kids to stand in and long enough to swim laps.

*Blue Hole, Wimberley
This storied hole should bust back into the Top Ten next year when it reopens as a city park. The hole is in the process of being purchased by the Village of Wimberley aided in no small part by a $1.9 million grant from Texas Parks & Wildlife after being saved from development by local resident Peter Way.

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