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Dive In!: Balmorhea State Park

Written by Melissa Gaskill.

I first met the clear, bracing waters of Balmorhea’s swimming pool on a family vacation decades ago. Wading far into the shallow wing of a pool that stretched nearly the length of a football field, I imagined I stood in the middle of an ocean. Apparently other people had a similar reaction, because in the 1970s, scuba divers began frequenting this remarkable oasis in the desert.

Every day, 19 million gallons flow from San Solomon Springs, refilling the one-and-three-quarter-acre pool completely every six hours. That accounts for visibility reaching 80 horizontal feet—at least early in the day, before divers stir things up. Water temperature remains 74 to 76 degrees year round, so consider bringing a wetsuit. The spacious grounds provide plenty of room for gearing up, and steps into the water facilitate entry and exit.

Twenty-five feet below, among the rocks and plants at the bottom, fine gravel over the pool’s prolific springs resembles tiny, exploding popcorn. Pool residents include velvet-black headwater catfish, endangered Pecos gambusia, schools of Rio Grande tetra unafraid to get nose-to-mask, Comanche springs pupfish, and the occasional crayfish or softshell turtle. Balmorhea offers a leisurely, safe dive experience that is perfect for beginners, and the pool’s shallow, clear waters make this a fun outing for snorkelers, too.

The local dive shop keeps irregular hours, so confirm that it’s open ahead of time, or bring your own gear and air tanks. I like to bring a wagon or dolly to help transport tanks and gear from the parking lot to the pool.

For information about pool hours and fees, call Balmorhea State Park, 432/375-2370; www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/balmorhea. Reach the Funky L’il Dive Shop at 432/375-2572; www.toyahvale.com.

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