Plunge deep into Texas’ past
If diving into 3.5 million gallons of crystalclear, 76-degree water sounds like a welcome respite from midsummer heat, Texas has just the place to enjoy it. Oh, and it’s 500 miles from the beach.
Bubbling up from the sands of the Chihuahuan Desert just south of I-10 in the Trans-Pecos is a blue oasis full of aquatic life — and history. Balmorhea State Park has welcomed visitors since 1940 (more than 200,000 of them last year alone) to enjoy recreational activities including swimming and scuba diving in its stone-lined, 1.75–acre swimming pool. The draw of the area’s flowing artesian springs goes back even further.
San Solomon Springs, the source of the park’s pool, was likely visited by Spanish explorer Antonio de Espejo in 1583. Centuries later, settlers arrived in the arid region, built irrigation ditches and began farming.
In the early 20th century, Nova Scotia–born irrigation engineer E. D. Balcom saw the potential for development of an area supplied by “inexhaustible springs that never diminish in flow during the long dry season,” to quote a contemporary history volume. Combining his name with those of investment partners H.R. Morrow, Joe Rhea and John Rhea, he founded the town of Balmorhea.
In 1934 the State Parks Board acquired the land and springs. The next year, the Civilian Conservation Corps began construction of a huge double-wing swimming pool at the spring’s headwaters.
Using local limestone and adobe bricks, the enrollees of CCC Company 1856, largely area residents, soon completed roads, buildings, bridges and irrigation conduits throughout the 46-acre park. Among the notable buildings are the caretaker’s residence and the San Solomon Courts, one-story, red tile-roofed, white-plastered adobe brick cabins that had garages in each of the 18 units. (These classic accommodations of the motor court era are slated for renovation starting this fall.)
While the park’s buildings all relied on adobe brick made onsite, pool construction alone used some 30,000 square feet of hand-finished stone.
Today the pool attracts swimmers, scuba divers and skin divers from Texas, New Mexico and beyond. In all seasons, the basin’s open water — as deep as 25 feet above the spring — provides opportunities for bottom time and scuba certification. At the pool’s shallow end you’ll find families splashing, snorkeling and soaking in the desert sun.
Come to camp, picnic, geocache, study nature and bird-watch, too, or stop by on your way to the Davis Mountains or Big Bend. But take some time to explore the long human history behind this jewel among Texas’ public lands.