Balmorhea,Texas: Swimming with the Fishes

Just off of I10 and about 190 miles east of El Paso, lies the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool.

In the shadows of the Davis Mountains is Balmorhea State Park and its famous swimming pool. Technically the park is in Toyahvale, but the closest town with groceries and a gas station is Balmorhea, just four miles away. Perhaps the term “famous” is giving the 1.75 acre pool a little too much credit. As a native West Texan, I know about this place, but I’d be willing to bet most Texans don’t even realize it exists.

Balmorhea

With water at a constant 72-76 degrees, it’s one of the best ways in West Texas to beat the heat. There’s nothing more refreshing than jumping in the fantastically clear water on a 100+ degree day. And in the winter when snow and freezing temperatures are common in the area, steam rises off the pool.

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Balmorhea State Park was built as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal by the CCC during the Depression from 1936-1941. Although the park was opened to the public in 1968, there’s evidence that these waters were vital to the existence of the people and animals of the area for hundreds of years. Indian artifacts have been found and Mexican farmers watered their crops by hand digging irrigation canals.

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Now this 45.9 acre state park is a place for wildlife lovers, campers, scuba divers, and swimmers. The San Solomon Springs feed this pool, and 22 to 28 million gallons flow through it each day. It holds more than 3.5 million gallons of water and reaches a depth of 25 feet.

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The pool is open all year from 8:00 am until sunset, and in the summer months, it can get quite crowded. In this sparsely-populated region of the state, crowded is a relative term, however. If you arrive early enough you just might get the entire place to yourself. When the parking lots are full, there will be no visitors admitted without a reservation. Additional people will be allowed into the park once others exit.

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Jumping in the pool at Balmorhea State Park brings new meaning to the phrase, “swimming with the fishes.” From the common catfish to endangered fish, you’re liable to have something brush up against your leg. Turtles and assorted other creatures live in the crystal-clear waters, too. There’s also an opportunity to get a peek of life underwater through a window built below ground. But marine life isn’t the only kind of wildlife you’ll encounter. Throughout the park, you’re likely to see deer, various birds, and javelinas. A word of caution: Avoid the javelinas. I don’t care how cute you think they are.

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Because of the depth (25 feet) and the clearness of the water, the pool also attracts SCUBA divers. In fact, classes of want-to-be SCUBA divers take to these waters often. If you’re already certified, you’re welcome to dive, but you must bring proof and another diver. Individual diving is allowed using the buddy system, and night diving is permitted.

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The calm and soothing water is seductive and relaxing. As large as the pool is, it’s easy to find your own bit of heaven. There are no lifeguards on duty, and visitors are warned to swim with caution. Also, swimmers under the age of 18 must be with a parent or guardian or have their written permission.

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Throughout the grounds surrounding the pool are picnic tables available for visitors’ use. For those wanting to spend the night in Balmorhea State Park, there are camping facilities with restrooms and showers, cable television, and electricity.

If you’re not the camping type (me), there are motel-style accommodations called the San Solomon Spring Courts available. Starting at $65 you can get one of the 18 adobe rooms located just yards away from the pool.

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Balmorhea State Park isn’t something that’s just happened upon. Since it’s located in such a remote part of Texas, you really have to make it a point to visit. The park and its pool have flown under the radar of most Texans for decades, but one hot summer day swimming in these pristine waters will have you burning up I10 to get back.

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And just when you’ve thought you’ve had the best day ever, the molten-hot sun slides behind the mountains, the winds calm, and the heat dissipates. The stars wink at you as if they know a secret. The sounds of animals, some of which you’ve never heard of, speak to you. All of a sudden, everything is silent, and you’re the only person in the world. Now you’re certain that you’ve had the best day ever.

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36 Comments
  • Robin
    July 3, 2012

    I think I’ve read about this in one of my dive magazines! Leah – is this the one that’s used for a lot of check out dives or am I confusing it with something else that’s large and spring fed, lol? This is pretty deep for a pool, isn’t it? I’ll read your blog – maybe you’ve already addressed this!

  • Anonymous
    July 3, 2012

    Yes, Robin, there are lots of divers that come here to get certified, do night dives, and just to explore. It’s 25 feet deep!

  • Leah Travels
    July 3, 2012

    I think it’s worth the miles, too. It’s been several years since I’ve been, but remember that time like it was yesterday. It was a weekday morning and we practically had the place to ourselves. I could hear the fish flipping around in the water and the sun was just starting to blaze. I refused to wear sunscreen because I was working on my tan, which is not smart for this pale, freckled girl. This place is a treat and so unexpected.

  • Laura
    July 3, 2012

    This place certainly flew under this Texas Girl’s radar! Thanks for spillin’ the beans and sharing this place. But the last word I eould ever use to describe a javalina is “cute”. Yikes! The very idea of encountering one makes me shiver.

    • Leah Travels
      July 3, 2012

      Oh, yeah. All the best places are hidden, aren’t they? Some people think the baby javalinas are cute. They look like little footballs with thorns. Have you ever smelled a pack of them? Oh my…it’s simply awful. They are terrible, awful creatures that breed like crazy and tear up the land. But some people just gotta get a closer look. LOL!

  • lola
    July 5, 2012

    this is SO cool! i love to be near a body of water. not sure how i feel about the fish “brushing up” against my body, though. never been a fan of that! your ending description is lovely. it is so beautiful to have the stars *wink* at you 🙂

    • Leah Travels
      July 5, 2012

      I’m very passionate about West Texas. It’s such an under-appreciated area. It’s raw and rustic beauty reminds me of Palm Springs. It’s easy to close my eyes and write something like that last paragraph. It’s how I feel when I’m out there.

  • Great spot…I bet that 72 degree water feels pretty good right about now.

    • Leah Travels
      July 5, 2012

      Imagine it, D.J., NO HUMIDITY! One hundred degrees, no humidity, and that water is 72. Sounds like heaven to me. 🙂

  • @mrsoaroundtheworld
    July 5, 2012

    OK, you know I will be going to Texas, and I will want a dip in the pool.. but can we have one without fish? that worries me slightly. And obviously not camping 😉

    • Leah Travels
      July 6, 2012

      I’m sorry, Mrs. O, we cannot quarantine the fish so you can swim without them. However, there are several fabulous and rustic resorts in the area that can cater to you when you visit. I’ll make sure and set your spa appointments. 🙂

  • The World Wanderer
    July 5, 2012

    Wow, this place looks amazing! I love that you can swim with the fish in what appears to be a normal swimming pool. Also, is it bad that I had to look up what a javelina is?? 😉

    • Leah Travels
      July 5, 2012

      Yes, it does appear to be a plain swimming pool, doesn’t it? No, it’s not bad that you had to look up what a javelina is. I wish I didn’t know myself. They’re terrible creatures. Just nasty.

  • Tawny- Captain and Clark
    July 5, 2012

    Count me in! I’d love to be there right now! Seattle’s “summer” has just now started to kick in. I’d love to grab some sun and cool off in these natural pools.

    • Leah Travels
      July 5, 2012

      With your olive complexion you’d be just fine, but Captain? Ahhh…he and I are similar creatures in regard to our pale skin. While you’re basking away in the sun, we’ll be under the trees. 🙂

  • the lazy travelers
    July 5, 2012

    i just googled “baby javelina” and found a picture of one cuddled up to a stuffed dog annnnd now i want one to walk around manhattan.

    • Leah Travels
      July 5, 2012

      The problem with baby javelenias is that they grow up to be adult javelenias. Now, if you can start a trend in Manhattan to carry around baby javelinas, then I’ll import them and we split the profits. Just know that we’ll need to open up a restaurant that serves nothing but wild boar shortly there after.

  • I’m definitely keeping this on my list of places to visit 🙂

    • Leah Travels
      July 6, 2012

      Yes, you must, Samuel. For a backpacker like yourself, West Texas offers loads of unusual and beautiful places to visit. I’ll be writing about some of those later on. I swear you’ll feel like you’re in another time and often the only person on earth. But those are for another week. 🙂

  • John
    July 6, 2012

    Very cool that you can be swimming with the fish there! Being able to see where they are certainly makes the idea a little easier to grasp.

    • Leah Travels
      July 6, 2012

      Yeah, John, it does help when you can see them coming, but unnerving at first. If I remember correctly, the further you go towards the middle the more fish there are. I still freak out when a turtle swims by me. I’ve also found that the more alcohol I drink the less I care. Just sayin’

  • Pola (@jettingaround)
    July 6, 2012

    Very cool. Texas has all these interesting places nobody talks about. Enter Leah! 🙂 Thanks for sharing, your TX Tuesdays are fun.

    • Leah Travels
      July 9, 2012

      I kind of like that nobody talks about some of these places. We don’t need them overwrought with visitors. You’re ok, though. You’ll be with me. 🙂

  • Traveling Ted
    July 6, 2012

    What an awesome place. I would love to take a dip in this place on the way back from Big Bend National Park. Looks really cool!

    • Leah Travels
      July 6, 2012

      A lot of people hit this place either on the way or coming from Big Bend. Have you been to Big Bend? I’ll be writing about that area pretty soon.

  • Mateo
    July 7, 2012

    Makes me want an asado burrito from Balmorhea Grocery. Nice write up as always.

    • Leah Travels
      July 9, 2012

      Mmmm…those are so good, although I prefer the green chili ones. They know how to make burritos in West Texas, don’t they?

  • Craig Zabransky
    July 7, 2012

    Reading this all I can think about is there a cenote in Texas? In the Yucatan, you can find so many of similar natural pools, sink holes, etc… they contain the same water temp as you mentioned and also have wildlife and are extremely clear…… very cool to realize such a pool exists north of the border too.

    stay adventurous, Craig

    • Leah Travels
      July 9, 2012

      Very cool, Craig. I’ve never heard the term “cenote” before. I imagine there are several of them along the Texas-Mexico border. Might be something to look into.

  • Leah Travels
    July 10, 2012

    Yes, it’s certainly interesting, but not for the squeamish or jumpy. It’s not like the fish are constantly on you, but it’s easy to forget that you have company in the water. Then when one does brush your leg, it’s startling. I think it would be really cool to SCUBA dive there, but I’ve yet to do it. I do hope you get a chance to visit. There are lots of great places in the area.

  • Sabrina
    July 11, 2012

    I love this park. We’ve been twice – for scuba diving 🙂 The tiny turtles are the cutest and all the fish really are so used to people that they go all around you. While kind of pool-like, it’s still fun. One time we stayed in the cabins, one time we camped out. I preferred the cabins 🙂 Love the Texas Tuesdays! Also… is there a way to add your feed to my Google Reader? Maybe there’s a follow button, but I could only find the one for the Outlook feed and that’s a little less convenient.

    • Leah Travels
      July 12, 2012

      You got to SCUBA, Sabrina! Now, I’m officially jealous. I think I would prefer the cabins as well, but luckily I stay in Fort Davis for free. 🙂 I’m so glad you are enjoying the Texas Tuesdays. I need to direct others interested in learning more about the Lone Star state to your site. You have such a different perspective being an expat. As for the RSS, click on the orange RSS next to all my other icons in the upper-right corner. You can choose Google from the drop down menu. Let me know if you’re able to get what you need. I might need to use another widget otherwise.

      • Sabrina
        July 16, 2012

        Somehow it only ever gives me the Outlook option. Might be my computer maybe? And yes! I looove scuba diving. You should give it a try! It’s so much fun!

        • Leah Travels
          July 17, 2012

          I’ve been SCUBA diving, but never in Balmorhea. I’ll need to get certified or go with a class to do it there, I suppose. As for the reader, try a different browser. I tried it with Safari (I think), but then switched to Firefox and got the option.

  • London4Travelers
    July 27, 2012

    As far as I know swimming with fishes is very useful for health of travelers. I think that many people will find this activity interesting and enjoyable.

    • Leah Travels
      July 27, 2012

      I wouldn’t be surprised if it does have health benefits. At the very least it’s relaxing and that releases stress. And judging by the crowds, it is quite enjoyable, too.

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