A Cool Oasis in the West Texas Desert

Dive into the crystal-clear water of the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool

In July, on a 100-degree day in the desert, 562 miles west of Houston, the San Solomon Springs Pool at Balmorhea State Park in Far West Texas, is a favorite place for many RVers and other travelers searching for respite from the hot Texas sun.

The water is so clear it’s like jumping into a dream. The water temperature hovers around 75 degrees, refreshingly cool in the heat of the summer and comfortably warm in winter. It is, in the opinion of many, the best swimming hole on Earth.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Set against the Davis Mountains where the Chihuahuan Desert transitions into the low, flat Permian Basin, the San Solomon complex of springs gush out 15 million gallons of artesian water every day, feeding a canal system that runs to nearby farms and the town of Balmorhea, 4 miles away.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the mid-1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built walls around the desert marsh to create the pool. Today, more than 200,000 people stop by every year to swim with fish, waterfowl, and amphibians.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The CCC-era structure is the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool. More than 15 million gallons of water flow through the pool each day, gushing from the San Solomon Springs. The 1.3- acre pool is up to 25 feet deep, holds 3.5 million gallons of water with the temperature 72 to 76 degrees year-round.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Several years ago when we stopped by in early spring on our route west to Arizona, we had the park to ourselves. But on summer weekends so many people cram into the park that volunteers improvise parking in open fields.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I always figured Balmorhea was too far away from major population centers, too in the middle of nowhere, to get overrun. I was wrong. In recent years, visitation has surged. For families between Van Horn and Odessa, Balmorhea is the one affordable place within 100 miles to cool off and picnic.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scuba clubs from as far away as Kansas and Arkansas explore the springs on weekends year-round. Fitness buffs motoring coast to coast make detours for a swim.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For almost three months, during the peak summer season, the pool was closed as staff figured out how to fix a collapsed retaining wall below the diving boards.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The closing was sudden and unplanned. During the annual cleaning in early May (2018), Abel Baeza, the manager of the local water district, was directing workers to make repairs in a nearby canal when he heard a noise, then turned around to see the underwater concrete skirting cracking off below the high dive.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 80-year-old pool, like the nearby adobe San Solomon Springs Motor Courts which are closed during a planned restoration, requires constant upkeep. The concrete repairs were an even bigger deal. A dam had to be constructed to hold back water around the damage during the painstaking process.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“There are five endangered species in the pool, and this is the only population left of this species of black catfish,” said Mark Lockwood, the West Texas regional director for Texas state parks.

“We can’t just open up the gates, let the water dry up everywhere, build a wall, and put it back together.”

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In early August, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) announced that pool repairs would begin imminently, with the cash-strapped agency forced to find creative ways to pay the estimated $2 million bill. Apache Corporation, the company doing most of the fracking exploration around Balmorhea, which some locals and environmentalists believe caused the damage, offered a $1 million matching grant through the nonprofit Texas Parks & Wildlife Foundation.

The Garrison Brothers Distillery pledged a portion of proceeds from its small-batch, $59-a-bottle Balmorhea whiskey. Even for a park as popular as Balmorhea, getting things done these days requires the governmental equivalent of a GoFundMe campaign.

This project is only one of the three major developments underway at Balmorhea State Park. Renovations to the San Solomon Springs Courts and campgrounds have been ongoing since 2017. Once these projects have completed, visitors to Balmorhea will have an enhanced park experience at West Texas’ most treasured oasis.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation (TPWF) has established a fund to accept donations towards the structural repairs that are needed to reopen the pool. These donations will help ensure that Texans can continue to enjoy this historic spring-fed swimming pool and unique West Texas destination for generations to come.

The park remains open for day-use only with limited facilities.

The restoration of the San Solomon Springs Motor Courts should be finished by spring. The fallen wall in the pool should be repaired any day now. I’m standing by.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another sunny 70 degree fall or spring day with little wind will do just fine. Odds are, we’ll have the park all to ourselves.

If you wait until next summer, y’all will be waiting in line with the rest of y’all.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

No matter how far we may wander, Texas lingers with us, coloring our perceptions of the world.

—Elmer Kelto

5 RV Trips for 2019

A new year and an empty calendar! Does inspiration know any finer muse?

A new year and an empty calendar! Does inspiration know any finer muse?

When it comes to RV travel, the arrival of January fuels daydreams of adventures and far-flung exploration.

Here we explore five new and evolving travel opportunities across America, everything from a cool oasis in the West Texas desert and the centennial of America’s most famous geological marvel to wildlife adventure. And with the exception of two— Cedar Breaks Wildflower Festival in July and the Custer Park Buffalo Roundup in September—these ideas aren’t tied to a specific date, making them worthy of a trip any time of year.

Start marking up that calendar now.

Balmorhea’s New Beginnings

Expect big changes at Balmorhea State Park in West Texas, which will reopen its swimming pool this winter after major repairs and unveil a revamped motor court and upgraded campground this spring.

Renovations of the lodging facilities had already started when, in May 2018, crews discovered an eroding wall near the high dive in the pool. Officials shut down the swimming hole, dry-docking visitors looking for a respite from the heat.

Pool repairs started in September and should be wrapped up in time for you to take a flying leap into the crisp, fish-filled water by the time temperatures heat up again.

The Grand Canyon

In 2019, the park dedicated to America’s most famous geologic marvel will celebrate its 100-year anniversary with a series of talks, concerts, and special exhibitions throughout the year. And while you can certainly have an awe-inspiring experience without venturing far from the designated lookout points, there’s more to see and experience.

The park becomes extremely crowded when school lets out in June, so plan your visit before then, if possible. To avoid the crowds, plan a trip between May and October to the North Rim: less than 10 percent of the canyon’s 6.2 million annual visitors see this side of the park.

Louisiana

To many, Louisiana is known as the place where jazz music was born, where over-stuffed po’ boys are bountiful, and where the greatest Mardi Gras celebrations take place.

The list of lesser-knowns from this swampy Southern state is deliciously new to the visitor: a steaming hot bowl of gumbo, freshly-made beignets, crawfish, jambalaya, boudin, and crackling. Thankfully, the uninitiated can head down one of Louisiana’s Culinary Trails to acquaint themselves with the candid Creole/Cajun flavors.

But there is more to the Cajun appeal than just the food. Between bites of their tasty cuisine, boredom is never a problem in Cajun Country. Nature experiences are abundant on the Creole Nature Trail, an All-American Road.

Cedar Breaks National Monument

At an elevation of over 10,000 feet, Cedar Breaks National Monument looks down into a majestic geologic amphitheater, a three-mile long cirque of eroding limestone, shale, and sandstone. Like a naturally formed coliseum, the Amphitheater plunges 2,000 feet taking your eyes for a colorful ride through arches, towers, hoodoos, and canyons. The colorful wildflower bloom is generally at its peak during the first two weeks of July, which coincides with the annual Cedar Breaks Wildflower Festival, a wonderful reason to visit the park.

Custer State Park

Custer State Park in the Black Hills encompasses 71,000 acres of spectacular terrain and an abundance of wildlife. A herd of 1,300 bison roams freely throughout the park, often stopping traffic along the 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road. The Annual Buffalo Roundup draws thousands of people to Custer State Park every September. Watch cowboys and cowgirls as they roundup and drive the herd of approximately 1,300 buffalo.

Besides bison, Custer State Park is home to wildlife such as pronghorns, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, deer, elk, wild turkeys, and a band of friendly burros. Whether hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, rock climbing, or camping, you’ll find your adventure along the park’s roads and trails.

Worth Pondering…
From wonder into wonder, existence opens.

—Lao Tzu