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SWIMMING TO MEXICO

by John Troesser

The Skinny on Dipping in Texas

or You can leave your hat on,
but youíre going to have trouble with those boots.

10 Rivers, 7 State Parks, 2 Creeks
and more Springs than an old mattress

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In 1968 I saw a movie with Burt Lancaster, actually I never met Burt Lancaster, let alone saw a movie with him. I mean he was starring in a movie I saw called "The Swimmer", based on a short story by John Cheever.

Basically, it was Burt showing up at peopleís doors asking to use their pool. He had figured that his friendsí houses formed a chain of pools that would eventually reach his house. After being treated coldly, rudely and scornfully by mostly former friends, he discovered what we all know which is "you canít swim home again". He shows up to an empty house and we piece together that he was a rich executive who had mistreated wife, mistress, daughters, friends, and pets and was now getting his comeuppance. The final scene shows him huddled in an empty pool with terminal goose flesh no longer able to keep reality at bay. One day, after not taking my medication for two days, I was staring at a map of Texas and I noticed that one could follow in Bertís wet footprints and swim not home, but to Mexico. No shirt, no shoes, no problem.

Not only would this be a great way to keep cool, but thanks to the state parks and rivers conveniently spaced along the way, you wouldnít even have to knock the door of former friends to ask to use their pool. So I suggested this to my wife and she happily went about getting ready. Two days later we were on our way.

McKinney Falls State Park
McKinney Falls
Photo courtesy Chandra Moira Beal
McKINNEY FALLS

Although we live considerably east of Austin, close to Lake Inferior, we planned our trip with Austin as a point of departure. We didnít include Barton Springs, (as Yogi Berra allegedly said, "Itís so popular no one goes there anymore."), and Lake Travis has too many jet skis. Our idea was to swim tranquilly to Mexico.


After a hearty breakfast of tacos at Anitaís Restaurant in Bastrop we headed to McKinney Falls. Austinites who have been there can skip this stop if they want. The reason we include it is "The Statue of Liberty Syndrome", which is a tendency not to visit nearby attractions because "theyíll always be there". Another reason is that at the park or nearby Parks & Wildlife Headquarters one can buy a Conservation Passport for $50. This will enable you to enter as many State Parks or State Historic Sites as many times as youíd like for an entire year. Since our trip includes visits to at least six State Parks and a nearby State Historic Site, you can see that this Conservation Passport will or nearly will pay for itself on this trip. For information on all parks, call 800-792-1112. For all rates and reservations, call 512-389-8900. Day use does not require reservation. For your convenience, the Passport can now be purchased at Wal-Marts, Academy Stores, and any other places selling hunting and fishing licenses.

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Hays County Tx Onion Creek
Onion Creek, FM 165 south of Henly
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson
SAN MARCOS RIVER

Youíll be in San Marcos before you dry off from your Onion Creek dip (sounds like it could be marketed). Iím not going to tell you how to get to San Marcos because if you canít get to San Marcos from Austin, just turn around and go home and watch the Terminator for the 16th time, because youíre not going to survive the trip.

Exit 206 and turn right onto Aquarena Springs Drive. About half a mile on your right youíll see the entrance to Aquarena Springs. A historic park open to the public seven days a week, the San Marcos Springs are the source of the San Marcos River and their year round glass-bottomed boat rides (for a small fee) are a thrill for those that havenít done this before. Our idea of a thrill is glass-bottomed elevator rides.

Aquarena Springs has been in the hands of Southwest Texas State University since 1992. If you have dismissed the Springs as just another roadside attraction, reconsider. Silver Springs in Florida is perhaps a little grander and yes, the Tarzan movie underwater scenes were filmed there. But you also stand the chance of being mugged by overly aggressive squirrels, and Aquarena Springs is 1200 miles closer. Besides, weíre swimming to Mexico, not Cuba.

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San Marcos River, San Marcos, Texas
Abundant giant caladiums line the riverbanks
Photo courtesy Chia-Wei Wang, August 2006
SAN MARCOS

Aquarena Springs Drive will become C.M. Allen Parkway. Continue past Sessoms and University Drive. On your left before you get to Hopkins is the San Marcos Convention & Visitors Bureau. 888-200-5620. The bureau has an excellent "Windshield Tour" of San Marcos listing 29 historic buildings and their histories, including the 1908 Beaux Arts Hays County Courthouse which has just undergone restoration. On the southeast corner of the square is an exception to the rule that all courthouse annexes must be monstrosities.

Behind the bureau is the 1893 Old Fish Hatcheries Building and before you say "I thought they only hatch young fish", be advised everyone says that. Thereís also a footbridge with an excellent view of the San Marcos River which connects to the City Park.

Continuing on C.M. Allen Parkway youíll cross the railroad tracks and then a second set further on. Immediately after the second tracks make a left into Rio Vista Park and continue through the parking area until it dead-ends at a basketball court. This area offers a nice canopy of cypresses and a little island reached by a footbridge. Abundant giant caladiums line the riverbanks. Here we watched swimmers greet a lone canoeist as he drifted leisurely downstream with his dog.

The river with its constant temperature of 71 degrees is the only place known where Texas wild rice grows. Two rare species of fish dwell here, as does a large 10-12 inch prawn. I read it in a book; Iíve never seen one, so Iím not sure if it means thereís just one prawn thatís 10-12 inches or if thereís hundreds of thousands. Swim here and look for the prawn.

For Type A personalities, San Marcos is host to the Texas Water Safari every June. A marathon endurance canoe race against time (100 hours) to reach the Gulf of Mexico.

Hopkins St. will become Ranch Road 12 for your trip west to Wimberley and/or Blanco.

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BLANCO RIVER

WIMBERLEY


Follow RR12 to Wimberley. As for our tour, this is the first weíll see of the Blanco River. The water is crystal clear and the view serene, however, public access is very restricted.

Another unusual thing about Wimberley is one wonders where the locals live. Are they bussed in? Comfort, Boerne, and Llano all have residential neighborhoods that you can wander through so you can get a feel for the town. If you like Wimberley youíll love Eureka Springs, Arkansas. If youíve been to Eureka Springs you may want to go straight to Blanco.

BLANCO

Backtrack 4 miles and turn right at the T. RR 32 takes you across the Devilís Backbone to Blanco. An unusually scenic drive, you will pass several roads leading to Canyon Lake and after 33 miles will intersect with Hwy 281 a few miles south of Blanco. Weíre now getting to a point on our trip where the crowds are thinning a bit.


THE LAST TIME WE SAW BLANCO

The last time we saw Blanco was January 2nd 1996. It was about 36 degrees, and very windy. The bleak and deserted square contained a small weathered two-storey building that Andrew Wyeth wouldíve loved to paint. I donít mean on canvas, I mean this sad building needed some latex exterior bad! There was something about it that resembled a courthouse, but it took a lot of imagination to imagine that.

Our party of six sought refuge in The Pecan Street Cafť, one of two businesses opened that day. We mustíve looked like hikers on the moors entering a Scottish pub after an all night bout with werewolves. You may think Iím exaggerating, but youíve never seen my in-laws. Since there was no roaring fire to stomp moor-residue off our boots, we just sat down and ordered tea. After a few minutes, a black man with a Caribbean accent got up, started playing steel drums and hawking his latest Reggae CD. Just your average day in Blanco. (October 1999 update: On our recent trip to Blanco we were sad to learn of the closing of the Pecan Street Cafe.)



Our recent visit couldnít have been more different. No Reggae. 90 degrees and a beautiful gem of a building shining like a new penny over a scorched square that seems to have shrunk as much as the courthouse grew. The county seat was moved to Johnson City in 1890, and this building by architect F.E. Ruffini served as a bank and a hospital after itís brief 5-year stint as a courthouse. With its recent restoration, it is now perhaps the finest example of a former courthouse in the state. This and 37 other buildings are in the National Register of Historic Places.

Blanco activities include Market Day the third Saturday every month from April through November, and holiday events through the month of December. Thereís also no shortage of specialty shops and Bed and Breakfasts.

Blanco Chamber of Commerce: 210-833-2201.
The Park that Nearly Wasnít

In the 1960s Blanco State Park was nearly taken off the rolls due to poor attendance. It my be a State Park to you and me, but itís also a city park to Blanco, being a mere two blocks from the town square.

Besides swimming, fishing is popular here as well, with the Parks and Wildlife Department releasing rainbow trout each winter. Take a dip in the river, explore the town and make plans for a future visit.

PEDERNALES FALLS STATE PARK

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From Blanco you head North on 281 to Johnson City. Shortly after entering the city limits, the first intersection you come to is 2766, look to your right for the sign to the park. The park entrance is approximately 8 miles.

During the drought of '98, the water at "the falls" was a trickle, and the Pedernales River canít be entered from the first 2.5 miles below the falls. The park map and signs will direct you to a much closer access, but whether you visit the falls, the river or both, itís a bit of a hike.


SWIMMING TO MEXICO - Part II >
Click here to continue:
SWIMMING TO MEXICO - Part II > next page
Water: Guadalupe River
Towns: Boerne, Comfort, Center Point and Kerrville
SWIMMING TO MEXICO
Introduction

SWIMMING TO MEXICO - Part I

Water: McKinney Falls, Aquarena Springs, San Marcos, Blanco and Pedernales Rivers
Parks: Blanco State Park, Pedernales Falls State Park
Towns: San Marcos, Wimberley and Blanco

SWIMMING TO MEXICO - Part II
Water: Guadalupe River
Parks: Guadalupe River State Park, Kerrville-Schreiner State Park
Towns: Boerne, Comfort, Center Point and Kerrville

SWIMMING TO MEXICO - Part III
Water: Medina, Sabinal, Nueces and Leona Rivers and Rio Frio
Parks: Lost Maples State Park, Garner State Park
Towns:Medina, Vanderpool, Utopia, Concan and Uvalde

SWIMMING TO MEXICO - Part IV
Water: Fort Clark and San Felipe Springs, Lake Amistad and Devilís River
Parks: Devilís River State Natural Area
Towns:  Brackettville, Del Rio and Ciudad Acuna
Getting There from Dallas: Paluxy River, Dinosaur Valley State Park

Rivers Included in This Trip
Their Lengths, Sources, and Termination Points
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