Skinny on Dipping in Texasor
You can leave your hat on,
but youíre going to have trouble with those boots.
10 Rivers, 7 State Parks,
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. |
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.
|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.
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" 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.
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.
St. will become Ranch Road 12 for your trip west to Wimberley
San Marcos Hotels
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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 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
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 |
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.
FALLS STATE PARK|
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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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Towns: Boerne, Comfort, Center Point and Kerrville
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
MEXICO - Part II
Water: Guadalupe River
River State Park, Kerrville-Schreiner State Park
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 Devilís River
Parks: Devilís River State Natural Area
Towns: Brackettville, Del Rio and Ciudad Acuna
from Dallas: Paluxy River, Dinosaur Valley State Park
Included in This Trip
Their Lengths, Sources, and Termination Points
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