Day Trips

San Solomon Springs in Balmorhea State Park is just one of several ancient springs still active and still attracting swimmers during the Texas summers.

photograph by Gerald E. McLeod

Swimming holes around the state are as important to Texans as oil wells, longhorns, and Cadillacs. Even the mega-theme parks realize that you can't attract vacationers to the carnival rides without also providing a chance to get wet.

As vacation time draws near, it is time to be thinking about somewhere to go that has appeal to the whole family. Here are a few suggestions that should cover a wide spectrum. The theme parks are included only for informational and comparison purposes. In no way does their inclusion constitute an endorsement.

Balmorhea State Park and its historic San Solomon Springs-fed swimming pool is one of the all-time great swimming holes in Texas. In West Texas, far enough from anywhere to make a trip there an excursion, the area around the park will not disappoint. Fort Davis, the McDonald Observatory, and the Davis Mountains are a few miles south.

The V-shaped pool is formed with a 200-foot circle over the springs which pours 23 million gallons of water per day out of the earth's surface. Two 389-foot tangents offer plenty of swimming room; one with a diving board, the other with a shallow end. The park was built in the 1930s and includes a set of tourist cottages. A cienega, or desert wetland, was reconstructed to provide habitat for endangered fish species. For information, call the park at 915/375-2370.

San Felipe Springs in Del Rio has been important to travelers since the Native Americans began migrating around the state. Pumping 90 million gallons of water a day, the springs is surrounded by Moore Park. A lush oasis on the South Texas desert, the spring water meanders through grass-lined channels in the park.

Besides picnic areas and playgrounds, the park has a swimming pool and golf course. While you're in the area, visit Val Verde Winery, the oldest winery in Texas, and Ciudad Acuña, across the Rio Grande. For information on the area, call 830/775-3551.

Up the road from Del Rio, Fort Clark Springs in Brackettville is a frontier fort turned resort. Established in 1852, troops from the fort protected settlers from Indians and Mexican bandits.

The resort's giant spring-fed swimming pool is just the right thing for the sweltering days. Spend the cool nights in the former soldiers' quarters that will make you feel like you're on a movie set (800/937-1590 for reservations). In fact, the fort was used in several movies. If you want to visit one of the biggest and oldest movie sets in Texas, drive seven miles north to Alamo Village where John Wayne filmed The Alamo in 1959. For information, call 830/563-2580.

North of Uvalde, the Frio River has remained unspoiled compared to places like the Guadalupe River outside of New Braunfels. Garner State Park is but one of the many campgrounds and lodgings available on the river. Not only is the water wonderfully cold, but the valley is amazingly beautiful. Call the Uvalde Chamber of Commerce for a list of what is available at 830/278-4115.

The Reef is a privately owned park little known outside of Houston even though it has been in operation for more than 18 years. The park has a
20-acre, spring-fed lake that is ideal for canoeing, kayaking, scuba diving, and, of course, swimming. At 4800 Schurmier Rd., 713/991-3483.

Okay, I promised a list of water theme parks because you promised the kids that this year you would take them some place that doesn't have fire ants. Admission prices range between $10 and $20 at each of the parks.

Summer Fun USA in Belton has a 725-foot "Lazy River" with rushing rapids, a 40-foot slide that ends in a pool, and beaches. 254/939-0366.

Splash Town in San Antonio at 3600 N. I-35 has 18 acres of slides and pools. Admission is cheaper after 5pm and on some Friday nights they show movies. 210/227-1100.

SeaWorld has added a "water adventure paradise" with slides, a wave pool, beach, and rides. 210/523-3611. And Fiesta Texas has 15 water rides, so take your bathing suit. 800/473-4378.

Six Flags Hurricane Harbor is the state's largest water theme park. Across from Six Flags Over Texas on I-30 in Arlington. 817/265-3356.

NRH2O in North Richland Hills between Dallas and Fort Worth is the only city-owned water park in the state. 817/656-6500.

WaterWorld in Houston is a companion park to AstroWorld at 9001 Kirby Dr., 713/799-1234.

SplashTown in Spring, north of Houston on
I-45, has 50 acres and 40 rides, slides, and pools. Discounts begin at 4:30pm. 281/355-3300.

Moody Gardens in Galveston is primarily an atrium of exotic rain forests, but they have added Palm Beach with white sand beaches, whirlpools, and swimming lagoons. 800/582-4673.

Coming up this weekend...

Tejano Conjunto Festival at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center in San Antonio brings the best of the genre together along with food, games, and dancing, May 14-17. 210/271-3151.

Navasota Blues Festival in Mance Lipscomb's hometown is a mixture of down-home blues and Texas soul at the K.C. Hall on Manley St., May 15-16. 409/825-3527.

Springtime Festival in Columbus features home tours, music, a bike ride, and special events around the courthouse as the town celebrates its 175th anniversary, May 15-17. 409/732-8385.

Rabbit Fest in Copperas Cove welcomes spring with a long list of activities, May 14-17. 254/547-7571.

Oleander Festival in Galveston celebrates the city's official flower, May 16-17. 409/737-5435.

Coming up...

Johnny Rodriguez Concert at Garner State Park brings the native son home to his summer stomping grounds, May 23, 4pm. 830/232-6131.

National Polka Festival in Ennis is one of the biggest concentrations of Czech music and food in the state, May 22-24. 888/366-4748.

Texas Fiddlers' Contest Reunion has happened on the last Friday in May since the 1930s in Athens, May 29. 903/675-2325.

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.

365th in a Series. Collect them all.

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