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Summertime in Texas requires a swimming hole. I'm not speaking poorly of God's country; just stating a fact. Whether you're a "dive in head first" kind of swimmer or a "toe dippin' " sort, nothing brings your body temperature back down below 100 degrees better than a pool of cool water.
Fortunately, there are plenty of places to bathe the summertime blues away between the Red River and the Rio Grande, and Central Texas is blessed with a large portion of the best swimming holes. And this year, thanks to El Niño, the occasional weather pattern that redirects winds and rain from the Pacific and has recently turned the northern reaches of the Mexican desert into a green garden, Texas might enjoy stock ponds, creeks, rivers, and lakes that are at least more than mud holes and memories well into the summer heat of August and September. That's something we haven't seen in a couple of years.
Texas has only one natural lake, Caddo Lake in the northeast corner of the state, but it has thousands of streams, creeks, and rivers, most of which have been dammed at least a couple of times in the last 150 years. Of course, we couldn't include every swimming spot in the state, or even in the area, in this third edition of The Austin Chronicle's 101 Swimming Holes Guide. We did try to include the best and most popular spots open to the public, and a couple that are really good and maybe a little illegal (is that like being a little pregnant?). If we left your favorite spot off the list, just be glad that a portion of the 300,000 Chronicle readers won't be converging there this weekend. This list includes some really wonderful places and some not-so-wonderful places, but all of them have water (at least when I visited). It includes beautiful fern-lined springs and sun-baked beaches, secluded water holes, and popular cement ponds. Try a couple dozen of the places on the list before you decide which is your definitive favorite. My favorite? I'm still trying to decide. It all depends on my mood.
Before you jump out of your car and dive into the first water you find, here are a few words of warning. Texas law says that the bed of any navigable stream is public property up to the vegetation line. Where that line is can be open to a variety of interpretations. If the water is deep enough to float a canoe or an inner tube and you're standing in it, you should be safe. But when faced with a gun-toting landowner or a sheriff's deputy forced out of his air-conditioned cruiser, I would be very apologetic and get the hell out of there as quickly as possible. To err on the side of caution, even for the cool relief of a quick dip, is better than spending a sweltering afternoon in the county jail while you're waiting for the argument to be straightened out.
Access to most waterways is at bridges and low water crossings where the public technically has easement rights. More often than not, what the locals will get you for is illegally parking your car along the right-of-way. Even if there's a line of cars parked along the road, it might just mean that the tow truck hasn't been there yet. If there are no other cars parked around, it could mean that the locals know better.
Most property owners get upset about city folk using "their" water because too many before you have left their beer bottles, candy wrappers, and dirty diapers behind. Showing respect for other people's property and the environment will help preserve the natural beauty and whatever good will of property owners that remains. Since our last Swimming Hole Guide, many parks, public and private, have changed their rules to limit alcohol, pets, glass containers, and Styrofoam on their property. With Texas' population exploding and more people wanting to take advantage of the resources and facilities, it is easier to deny privileges to all than it is to control the unappreciative few.
Okay, enough preaching. You know enough to be safe, courteous, and to have fun; let's get wet. The swimming holes are numbered on the centerfold map basically from north to south. The annotated list describes the major features of each spot, with phone numbers and hours listed where available. It is always best to call, if possible, before making a long trip.
Last one in is a rotten egg. – Gerald E. McLeod