Answers to Go with Susan Smith
Q. I like to stop at Balmorhea State Park when I drive to El Paso on Interstate 10. I mentioned that to someone and they said the park is closed. I sure hope they were mistaken.
A. Unfortunately, it was true in early July, but we’d be happy to check again near the departure date for this traveler.
Here’s info from the park’s website which I checked in early July: “June 15, 2018 - The swimming pool is closed for repairs. Camping and lodging are not available due to renovations. Until the pool reopens, the park only has the picnic area open for daytime use, from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., or sunset, whichever comes first. The campground and San Solomon Springs Courts are scheduled to reopen after mid-March 2019.”
I found an update on the park’s Facebook page: “June 1, 2018 - Due to structural failure found during the annual pool cleaning and concern for the safety of park visitors, the Balmorhea State Park pool will be closed until further notice, pending repairs.”
On June 3 they posted this update: “Park staff have been advised that a preliminary time estimate for completion of repairs and re-opening of the pool is 2 to 3 months. Because there are five endangered species in San Solomon Springs, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is also in consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to gain concurrence with the Department’s plan to protect those species during the upcoming pool repairs. We will continue to post updates on our Facebook page as we receive new information.”
We decided to look for an alternative in a recent book, “The Swimming Holes of Texas.”
Balmorhea is the only place listed anywhere near Iinterstate 10 in West Texas. The closest option is Boquillas Hot Springs in Big Bend National Park. The park headquarters is approximately two hours south of Fort Stockton. Aside from the distance from Interstate 10, hot springs don’t sound particularly appealing in the summer.
“Swimming Holes” does include a tip that might still make Balmorhea a good stop. The park has two reconstructed cienegas (wetlands) whose waters are home to several species of fish, including two endangered species, the Comanche Springs pupfish and the Pecos gambusia, as well as turtles who emerge to sun themselves. Cottontails hop out from the surrounding brushland at dusk and dawn.
This book also provides additional information on Balmorhea: “In the center of the pool, twenty-five feet underwater, San Solomon Springs pours out fifteen million gallons of crystal-blue 72-75 degree water every day.
“Developing Balmorhea State Park was a major project for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). From 1936 to 1941, thousands of men lived at the site, sleeping in barracks and eating at a mess hall they built themselves.
“They built the v-shaped 1.75 acre pool, the bathhouse, a concession building, San Solomon Springs Courts, and other features. Low and unobtrusive, the CCC’s architecture blends with the natural surroundings; you can float on your back and enjoy the pristine water and unobstructed views of the Davis Mountains.”
Here’s another appealing break on the way to El Paso. The same freeway exit that leads to Balmorhea continues through the Davis Mountains to Fort Davis. This scenic two-lane highway rises as you begin to enter the Davis Mountains. You’ll arrive in Fort Davis about 45 minutes after you leave the freeway.
The elevation at Fort Davis is 4,892 feet while Balmorhea is at 3,196 feet so the temperature in Fort Davis will be noticeably cooler.
According to www.usclimatedate.com, the average July high is 87 degrees in Fort Davis and 94 degrees in Balmorhea. June is the hottest month. Of course, the humidity is generally low in West Texas.
There are at least two memorable options for lodgings with swimming pools in Fort Davis. The Indian Lodge at Davis Mountains State Park was also built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It has a swimming pool and 4 miles of hiking trails. Hotel Limpia, built in 1912, also has a pool.
Other area attractions include Fort Davis National Historic Site, McDonald Observatory, and the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center.