Day Trips

Spruced up after a spring cleaning, three iron sculptures watch over the campground at Windy Point Park and wait their turn to be dropped into the lake for scuba divers to explore.

photograph by Gerald E. Mcleod

Windy Point Park
on Lake Travis might be the best inland scuba diving spot in Texas. On the edge of an underwater canyon cut by the Colorado River centuries ago, the lake bottom takes a deep dive of more than 100 feet just off a rocky ledge in the park.

Divers like the spot because of the rapid descent and the clear water, says Richard Barstow, owner of the property next door to Travis County's Bob Wentz Park. Unless the divers are using special equipment, they'll never see the bottom of the lake there, he says. Because the park is next to the old river channel there is a current that keeps the water clear.

To make things more interesting for the divers, Barstow has sunk a car, a motorcycle, a couple of boats, and several iron sculptures on the bottom as it makes its way to the canyon. The iron works were done by a welder and diver in Belton who thought it added to the interesting things for divers to see on the bottom and explore.

The natural beauty of the lake bottom is something few people get to see, except in the case of severe droughts. Large boulders are strewn about like marbles and there is a huge, one-eyed catfish named Charley who likes to hang around the area. "Because we don't allow fishing in the area the fish have learned that it is a safe place to hang around," Barstow says. Among the fish schooling off the point, Charley is recognizable because of his affliction as the result of a successful escape from the dinner table.

The park is a favorite spot for area dive instructors, who bring their classes to do their final dives for certifications. Besides lots of things and places to explore underwater, to aid the new divers there is a staircase and platforms on which classes assemble once they get underwater.

The Austin Fire Department's dive rescue team also trains at the park. In the past, Barstow has opened his camp to handicapped children for scuba diving classes. He says that water sports can be a great equalizer for children unable to walk.

Windy Point is not just for divers, though. It is a beautiful campground with lots of shade trees and open spaces. "We like to say it's cleaner, greener, and quieter [than the county parks]," Barstow says. Barstow's cut of the peninsula is just shy of 13 acres, with about half devoted to the campground.

He admits that the park doesn't accommodate small children very well because of the steep drop. He doesn't allow dogs in the park and cars are left in the parking lot at the gate. He does loan large two-wheeled wagons to carry camping gear to a picturesque spot at the inlet to a long, narrow cove.

Important to divers, the park has an air fill station on the premises to replenish tanks. An outdoor hot water hydrant is something only divers would think of installing. Barstow says every diver appreciates not having to warm their wet suit by bodily function.

Originally from Houston, Barstow's father bought the property on Lake Travis in 1969. Since then he has had both the help and the scorn of the county government. When the Barstows discovered squatters on the property in 1980, the sheriff's department advised them to charge the trespassers admission instead of charging them with breaking the law.

The suggestion gave the Barstows the idea and in 1984 they opened Windy Point Park. Almost immediately they had trouble with their neighbor, the Travis County Parks Department. After years of legal wrangling, the Barstows were allowed to keep their property by the State Supreme Court. Even though there are still hard feelings between the two parks, they coexist by catering to different niches of the outdoor recreation market.

Windy Point Park is at the end of Comanche Trail off of FM620 just before you get to Mansfield Dam. "I tell people it's at the end of the Oasis Restaurant road," Barstow says. For more information or reservations, call the park at 266-DEEP (3337).

Coming up this weekend...

Cotton Gin Festival in Burton fires up the 1925 Bessemer diesel engine and the country fun for a weekend of music, food, and carnival rides, Apr. 18-19. 409/289-FEST.

Smithville Jamboree downstream from Bastrop combines the annual homecoming with livestock shows, tournaments, car shows, and canoe races, Apr. 16-19. 512/237-2313.

Wildflower Day at the LBJ State Park outside of Stonewall points out the flowers in bloom. Also Johnson City Market Days and National Park Week activities in Johnson City. 830/868-7684.

International Festival in Houston celebrates the cultures of the world in a 20-block area downtown. Includes the Art Car Parade on Saturday at 1pm (rain or shine), Apr. 17-26. 713/654-8808.

Devil's Waterhole Canoe Tour at Inks Lake State Park explores the natural features of the park, Apr. 16, 30. 512/793-2223.

Model Railroad Jamboree in the New Braunfels Civic Center is one of the largest shows of its kind, Apr. 18. 830/625-2656. Across town at the First United Methodist Church, the Iris Society will be having their show and sale. 830/625-3260.

Coming up...

Go With Me, an independent film in progress by Chris Haas, will be shown along with documentary footage and a performance by Kristin Gartner (one of the leading actors) at the Paramount Theater in Abilene, Apr. 23. 915/676-9620.

Shots Across Texas at Schlitterbahn in New Braunfels offers free immunization and tickets to the waterpark for children 3-17 years old, Apr. 25. The waterpark is open weekends Apr. 25-May 10 and daily May 16-Labor Day. 830/625-2351.

Watch the archaeologists as they excavate a mammoth near Ruidoso, New Mexico, and upload daily updates and answer questions on the Internet, through May 15.

Day Trips, Vol.2, a book of the second 100 columns, is now available $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, P.O. Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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