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Springs Odyssey

Whether your favorite spring feeds a public swimming hole or a clear Hill Country stream, or trickles warm water into the Rio Grande, the reward is worth the journey.
Written by Joe Nick Patoski.

San Solomon Springs supplies the swimming pool at Balmorhea State Park, not far from Fort Davis. (Photo by Erich Schlegel)

Springs feed the life force for humans (and other living things) throughout Texas, and  have done so ever since … well, ever since there have been humans in Texas. Archeologists point to evidence that shows people were hanging around some of Texas’ largest springs more than 10,000 years ago. That’s a long time, especially in a region historically regarded as too harsh and hellishly hot in the summer to support large numbers of people.

At least until air conditioning came along.

Prehistoric human presence at Texas springs is indicated by tangible evidence such as flint Clovis dart points unearthed near San Marcos Springs. For more evidence, consider the extensive rock art adorning the walls of shelters and overhangs throughout the region west of Del Rio defined by the confluence of the Devils and Pecos rivers with the Rio Grande. The more lighthearted modern-day equivalent of those prehistoric clues might be today’s symbols of time spent near springs: inner tubes, fly rods, swimsuits, kayaks, and paddles.

Prehistoric and contemporary evidence both pretty much speak to the same truth: When the heat is on, Texans seek out springs. Immersion in cool, pristine waters forced up to the surface from the depths of an underground aquifer beats air conditioning any day. In my book at least.

Truth be known, springs make their particular pieces of Texas a pleasure any time of the year, because of the way they bring sustenance to vegetation, to wildlife, and to the entire natural world—humans included.

All the springs of Texas together produce 117,000 liters of water per second, according to the late Gunnar Brune, a geologist for the U.S. Soil Conservation Service and the Texas Water Development Board. Brune’s landmark book The Springs of Texas is regarded as the Bible of Texas Springs because it’s the only source of detailed research and information on the subject. Originally published in 1981 as a privately printed labor of love, the book was revised by geologist Helen Besse and published by Texas A&M Press in 2002.

Brune tempered his passion for springs with a prophetic observation in his writing: Numerous springs were failing or had gone dry while the underground aquifers that fed them were being drawn down. Increased human and agricultural use, the spread of impervious cover through development, and a climate trending toward less rainfall were the main culprits.   

The considerable number of communities, schools, churches, and other places across Texas with the phrase springs or spring affixed to them, particularly along the 98th Meridian where the rocky limestone hills meet the blackland prairie and coastal plains, attest to the value Texans have placed on springs for many generations. During periods of extreme drought, like the summer of 2009, springs often become a widespread public obsession—a keystone indicator of the state’s need for water.  

Then there are those of us who pay tribute by simply jumping in.

From the May 2010 issue.

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