Skinny on Dipping in Texas
or You can leave
your hat on,
but youíre going to have trouble with those boots.
7 State Parks, 2 Creeks
and more Springs than an old mattress
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.
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.
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.
Marcos Hotels >
giant caladiums line the riverbanks
Photo courtesy Chia-Wei Wang, August 2006
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"
Marcos listing 29 historic buildings and their histories, including
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
Hotels > Book Here
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.
Backtrack 4 miles and turn right at the T. RR 32 takes you across
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
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
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.
Park that Nearly Wasnít
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.
FALLS STATE PARK
City Hotels > Book
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.
TO MEXICO -
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TO MEXICO -
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Water: Guadalupe River
Towns: Boerne, Comfort, Center Point and Kerrville
|SWIMMING TO MEXICO
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
TO MEXICO - Part II
Water: Guadalupe River
Parks: Guadalupe River State Park, Kerrville-Schreiner State
Towns: Boerne, Comfort, Center Point and Kerrville
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
TO MEXICO - Part IV
Water: Fort Clark and San Felipe Springs, Lake Amistad and
Parks: Devilís River State Natural Area
Towns: Brackettville, Del Rio and Ciudad Acuna
Getting There from Dallas: Paluxy River, Dinosaur Valley State
Rivers Included in This
Their Lengths, Sources, and Termination Points
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