Day Trips

Everywhere you go in the Balmorhea State Park you are reminded of the 20 million gallons of water a day pouring out of the springs. In the dry, low lands of the Chihuahua Desert west of Fort Stockton where cacti are the primary vegetation, San Solomon Springs turns the West Texas park into an oasis.

By Texas standards, the 46-acre park is not very big. Since it was completed by the Civil Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1938, the park has been mainly known as the home of the "world's largest spring-fed swimming pool." The 13/4-acre pool is still spectacular 60 years later.

The pool was built in a giant V shape with a 200-foot circle around the spring and two 389-foot arms. The water stays a constant 76 degrees with depths varying from three to 25 feet.

The pool area has a tree-shaded picnic area and a bath house for swimmers. There is also a scuba diving shop next to the park and restaurants in Balmorhea.

In the 1970s, when Comanche Springs in Ft. Stockton dried up, a small canal was built in the park to protect the last of the Comanche Springs Pupfish and one of two populations of the Pecos Gambusia.

The reconstructed desert cienega (wetland) has made the oasis even more a natural treasure. Before leaving the park to feed over 10,000 acres of farmland, another canal filters through the cienega that was completed this year. Besides providing habitat for a variety of plants and animals the restored wetlands were constructed with viewing areas.

When the Mascalero Apache Indians inhabited the area the cienega surrounded the springs for miles. White settlers began arriving around 1875, and by 1906, land promoters -- Balcolm, Morrow, and Rhea -- arrived and combined their names to give the town its name. Over the years a series of canals from the San Solomon Springs and a 600-acre reservoir were built.

When the CCC began work on the pool in 1935, Balmorhea had one old hotel, so a cluster of 18 cottages was added to the campground. Made of white adobe with red Spanish roof tile, Solomon Courts still provides basic comfort with central heat and air and 10 units have kitchenettes for $40 per couple. The covered back patios of the cabins open to the Pupfish canal filled with schools of the one- to two-inch long fish begging for pieces of bread and tortillas.

Use Balmorhea State Park as a home base to explore the other sites in the Davis Mountains. The park rangers offer guided tours of nearby Phantom Cave on Saturday mornings by reservation. The park also hosts the Frijole Bean Cookoff on Labor Day weekend.

To make reservations for the campsites or San Solomon Courts at Balmorhea State Park, contact Central Reservations at 512/389-8900. For more information on the park, call 915/375-2370. For local information, contact the Balmorhea Chamber of Commerce at 915/375-3207 or Fort Davis Chamber of Commerce at 800/524-3015.

Coming up this weekend...

Bluegrass Music Festival along with arts & crafts show fills Robinson Park in Llano, Aug. 8-10. 915/247-5354.

Vintage Auto Racing at Texas World Speedway in College Station brings out the unusual and rare cars, Aug. 10-11. 409/690-2500.

NIOF Pari-Mutuel Race Meet at the Gillespie County Fairgrounds on TX16 south of Fredericksburg offers a weekend of horse racing with post time at 1pm, Aug. 10-11. 210/997-2359.

Coming up...

Summer Movies at the Orange Show in Houston offers a selection you won't find anywhere else including "Mondo Elvis," "Gates of Heaven," "Folk Art Found Me," and "Salvation Mountain," Aug. 17-18. 713/926-6368.

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