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Utopia

Utopia Swimming HoleThe swimming hole at Utopia is punctuated by a large dead tree that supports a genealogy of rope swings- smaller segments of rope are each tied to larger pieces where they broke off. Sisal meets cotton and marries nylon and polypropolene in a literal and figurative family tree. The ladder up the tree is an equally mixed affair- wooden slats meet an welded steel ladder that is occasionally held together with zip ties and electrical wire. But that isn’t the most frightening part. Once at the top, you come to the realization that people must’ve jumped from there.

Twin Falls

Twin FallsOn the weekends, Twin Falls is undoubtedly a hangout for college ages kids and younger. Tattooed, sunglass wearing twenty-somethings with boom boxes, 12 packs of cheap beer populate every niche on the rocks.

Hip hop and cigarette (and other kinds of) smoke waft through the air. But if you wade through the throngs of people and dogs and the falls are superb. There are pockets of limestone just large enough to sit in, make for a natural water massage. The pool below the larger fall is almost always deep enough to jump off of and the quick access from the road means that you’ll be going from roasting to chilling in about 15 minutes.

If you’d like to do a little civic experiment, bring a small trash bag and pick up some trash. You’ll be surprised how well leading by example work- others will soon follow.

On weekdays, the place empties out- like a nightclub turning into a monastery. If you’d like to combine a hike with a swim, start out at the 360 access turn left at the trail and walk about a mile to Twin Falls.

Hunt Crossing

Hunt Crossing
The upper stretches of the Guadlupe river are some of the most beautiful swimming holes in Texas. Most of the river is privately owned and you either have to rent a cabin or know somebody. However, Hunt Crossing is open to the public. It is located a short drive west of Kerrville and a short walk from the historic Hunt store. Nearby are Shumaker Crossing and Ingram Dam to fill out the trifecta of a day.

Hunt Crossing is very rarely visited by those who live farther than Kerrville or Hunt but it is famous among locals. It ticks a lot of the boxes we look for in a good swimming holes: Good shade from tall cypress trees, wooden steps up those trees, a rope swing, free entrance, never fills up so you don’t have to worry about getting turned away, nice flowing water, and a feeling of adventure.

Devil’s Waterhole

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A short hike along Spring Creek reveals the beautiful pink granite boulders quietly baking in the hot sun across the lake. This is the type of swimming hole that embodies the seriousness of swimming holes: leave your towel, backpack and water bottle at the shore and swim across to the pink granite boulders. There are a few things to know about granite, it is sharp, hot and gets slick when wet. Jumping off the rock takes some quick learning. Hopefully, there are some teenagers around that will let you know the best spot to launch from.

Devil’s Waterhole at Inks State Park
3630 Park Road 4 West
Burnet, TX 78611
N 30.739195 W 098.370808

Blue Hole, Wimberley

Blue Hole WimberleySwimming holes in Texas are very popular, and many of them can fill up on a Saturday to the point they turn away cars. Blue Hole is no exception to that rule. The parking lots get full, the sunbathing field gets covered in picnic blankets, the cool water has a lot of heads, the rope swings always have a line. Yet, the place would feel empty without people. People are what makes this place fun. People add to the experience instead of detracting from it. Teenagers running and jumping to catch the ring on the rope swing in mid air. Younger kids holding on to the low swing before inevitably falling off early. The college kids throwing a frisbee. The family wading in the shallow end. The middle age couple floating in the deeper water. The single woman reading a book on the grass.

The crowds at Blue Hole do more than share the space, everybody is a part of the space. Then the space becomes a part of them. We aren’t sure why crowds at one swimming hole make the place feel awful and at another place make it feel alive. Whatever mysterious forces account for that feeling takes Blue Hole has the magic.

Blue Hole, Georgetown

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“I’ve never been there”
-Lifetime Georgetown Resident

There are many great mysteries in life, and why on a Saturday afternoon in the middle of summer Blue Hole will have only ten or fifteen people in it ranks as a real brain teaser. The parking is close. The entrance is free. There are picnic tables under giant oak trees. There is a restroom with running water and water fountains. There is deep water above the dam and shallow water below the dam. The river there stays running through the worst of droughts. There is a nice walking trail that follows the river. It is close to where a lot of people live. If you made a tick list of good swimming hole qualities Blue Hole in Georgetown ticks all the boxes.

It may just be that a swimming hole simply does not fit in with the culture of Georgetown. This is a city that operates six swimming pools. The residents choose to pay money to swim in chlorinated and filtered water in an environment with rules and lifeguards. Meanwhile, a free unmonitored natural water swimming area remains almost deserted. Georgetown is a suburb that emphasises order and conformity. In fact, when you visit Blue Hole there are not signs in the park welcoming you, instead there are numerous metal signs on metal poles warning of all the rules you could be breaking. Signs for curfew in the park are only outnumbered by signs warning you not to jump off the cliffs. Fines for disregarding the curfew or jumping off the cliff are clearly stated. These cliffs have man made stone stairs to the top and are worn smooth from decades of people jumping off of them. Most of those observed swimming can also be observed to also be engaging in non-violent civil disobedience by jumping off the cliffs. Parents can be seen teaching their young children that obeying unjust laws only perpetuates injustice. Every splash becomes not just about the fun and adrenaline of cliff jumping, but takes on larger significance of defiance on impingement of personal freedom.

This attitude of thumbing your nose at authority inherent in Blue Hole may start to explain why the law abiding residents choose to stay away. It would be hard to swim in such a swimming hole and see others breaking the law jumping off the cliff one after the other and to restrain yourself and stay just in the water.

Balmorhea State Park

Balmorhea State Park
When most people think of West Texas they think of hot, flat, and dry. Those people are right. This is the land of cactus and mesquite bushes. In this barren land Balmorhea sits there as an oddity. The world’s largest spring fed swimming pool sits in the desert.

The name Balmorhea is a portmanteau from the name of three land promoters. Balcom, Morrow, & Rhea. They established the town in 1906. Twenty six million gallons of 74F water come out of the ground every day. The pool itself has a capacity of three point five million gallons, which means the water in the pool is entirely replaced 7.4 times per day. The pool itself was built during the great depression of the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corp and remains largely unchanged today.

A trip to Balmorhea is a purposeful one. You will spend many hours driving through the unforgiving desolate expanse of west Texas crammed into the seat of a hot car. After this journey the image of Balmorhea is about as welcome as a cold beer after mowing the lawn on a summer day or arriving home after a long plane flight riding in coach. Since you are halfway to nowhere you will likely want to stay the night at some of the local motels or at the San Saloman Springs courts motel rooms located in park itself. Having a reservation for the night at the park itself also ensures that upon your arrival you can get in even if the day use is full and there is a waiting line.

The first thing the pools make you want to do is to dive deeper and surround yourself with the many species of fish. Mexican tetras, headwater catfish, comanche springs pupfish, and other species. This is not a swimming hole that you want to stay on the surface, though one wing is about five feet deep. Very quickly you are drawn to the rest of the pool which is about twenty feet deep. Bring a set of goggles or even better bring a full snorkel.

Unlike many of the public pools today Balmorhea still has two diving boards. One near the middle of the pool is about one and a half feet high. The other near the end of the pool is 9 feet high. The water below the high dive is 18 feet deep so there is no danger of bottoming out no matter how hard you try.

Barton Springs

Barton Spring Swimmer Photo by Randall Chancellor, Licensed Under the Creative Commons Share Alike 2.0, http://www.flickr.com/photos/jrandallc/5314034863/
Barton Spring Swimmer Photo by Randall Chancellor, Licensed Under the Creative Commons Share Alike 2.0, http://www.flickr.com/photos/jrandallc/5314034863/
Everybody in Austin should go visit Barton Springs. It’s open 7 days a week year round, except for limited hours on Thursdays when they do maintenance. The water is always within a degree or two of 70F, which feels freezing in summer and freezing in the winter. It’s a natural spring with a natural floor but cement sides. The small entrance fee covers the cost of the lifeguards. It’s close to downtown. You can ride a miniature train with young kids through Zilker Park from the entrance. It’s a great place to lay out a blanket under a tree or in the sun.

None of those facts are why people should go visit. Barton Springs is tied up in the identity and soul of Austin. Austin’s culture flows out from the springs. You will never understand Austin until you have visited there. From the perspective of a long time Austin resident, it is a city of blankets on grass. spontaneous drum and guitar circles, the occasional topless hippie woman, dogs and their people playing in the water downstream, college students and old timers, kids all experiencing Austin together. Austin’s most well funded and most successful environmental organization isn’t a national group, it is Save Our Springs. Austin likes local in Austin. Barton Springs is local. When people say “Keep Austin Weird” what they mean is “Keep Austin like Barton Springs”.