3.17.2010

Getting Wet In The Desert.

I always promised myself that when I went to West Texas on my trip I would take an afternoon to swim in Balmorhea Springs.  So I did.  I started my journey west from my parent's house in San Antonio.  We'd eaten a great dinner the night before at a wonderful restaurant called, Bistro Vatel, in Olmos Park.  I hoped into my old 2003 Honda Element and headed out to highway 10 about 8:30 in the morning.  Six and a half hours later I pulled off I-10 into the tiny, tiny town of Balmorhea and went looking for the springs.  Now, I should preface this by reminding you that I am from Austin.  I swim year round in a heated pool and even on the worst weather days we have anywhere from 15 to 20 hardy swimmers show up for swim practice at seven in the morning.  We also have Barton Springs, where urban rumors tell constant tales of the beautiful sirens who, in the days of Janis Joplin and blotter acid, used to sun topless on the banks of the mystic waters.  Even in the crisp chill of January Barton has it's faithful crowd.

When I got to Balmorhea Springs I walked into the pool area and took a look at a really magnificent fresh water pool.  Clean, crisp water fed in from an underground spring.  The pool is huge and goes to a depth of 25 feet.  Catfish swim lazily along the bottom.  As do black puffers.  And schools of little Mexican tetras zip along and try, enthusiastically but unsuccessfully, to nip at your with their tiny mouths.  But there were no swimmers.  The only public swimming pool for miles and miles in any direction and not other swimmers!  Eventually a tourist came.  Looked at the pool and floated around for a bit before getting out, drying off and heading out for some other adventure.

(Do you see the vicious tetras just under the surface?  They wait to feast on the unsuspecting...well, maybe not.)

I put on a swim suit, grabbed a pair of goggles out of my swim bag and hoped into the pool to swim some laps and spend some time unwinding from my manic drive.  And the surprisingly good latte from McDonald's a couple hundred miles back in Junction.

The water was a pleasant 72 degrees.  No lifeguards on duty.  No teenagers doing cannonballs from the edge.


After a bit I got out and dried off and started taking images for my "project".  I used all three cameras in a short period.  I started with a Canon G10.  No matter how good the new EP-2 and its compact cousins are I just can't give up the G10 yet.  It charms by its industrial design and it's huge and detailed files.  It's the camera to have if you can have only one and you're not allowed to have lenses.  Thankfully, there are no rules like that so you can have any dang camera you want.

I was amazed at the pool.  So clean and clear.  So unused.  The things that make it endearing are the archaic touches light the design of the railings. And the wonderful signs warning against diving in shallow water.


I started out using the G10 and it was good but I segued into using the EP-2 and, in fact, that camera and the humble kit lens account for 85% of all the photos I took on my trip.  The ability to do instant visualizations in the near perfect EVF adds something magical to the process.  It's fun to see, in real time, how the shift of exposure or the change of a color temperature setting will affect the image before you even trip the shutter.

I also used the Olympus e30 and my favorite Oly optic, the 14-35mm lens.  But no matter how alluring the optical qualities I couldn't resist the EP2.

I shot a lot in the afternoon sun and then left to search out the ONLY restaurant in all of Balmorhea.  Don't like Mexican food?  I can only suggest  that you consider driving the 40 minutes to Ft. Davis if you crave some variety.......

After dinner I came back to see how the light looked.  I stayed shooting until the sun tucked under the collaring mountains and the last of the light was extinguished.

At one point a motley crew of scuba divers showed up and spent some time lurking on the bottom.  They seemed to have the same sort of "gear nut" mentality that photographers sometimes evince.  They talked about their tanks and their regulators and how cool their neoprene suits were.  I could tell that the whole process tickled them and made them happy.  One college couple came and walked around the pool making art of each other with their shared point and shoot camera.

It's a long way to go just for a swim but it is one of the nicer and more organic pools I've been in.  If you have to go to Marfa or El Paso or some such city you could do worse than to pull off the highway and cool down a bit.  Just don't expect lifeguards or concession stands.  No lattes after this swim.  Not for another 45 miles at least......
You might notice the ducks in this image from late evening.  They weren't their when I swam my laps but the scuba guys say they are pretty territorial.  I'd hate to say I lost an encounter to a mean duck.....

All the hardware is this kinda crusty, WPA feeling stuff. Overengineered and under maintained.

Of course, I love the square.  That's so cool being able to set the aspect ratio that works for you.





















Once the sun goes down the park shuts the pool.  No night swimming for these people.

After the pool closed I walked back to camping space number 19 and got my bed ready.  I flipped up the back seat and spread out my orange sleeping bag.  Then I started a small campfire in the little cinder block circle next to the campsite.  I sat cross-legged and drank a glass (styro cup) of red wine and watched the giant white stars pulsing against a nearly jet black sky.  The fire burned down to white dusted red embers and the wind picked up.  As soon as the sun went down the temperature dropped like a rock.  I wrapped up in a sweat shirt and a parka shell and finally got up, kicked dirt over the last of the embers and went to sleep.  The wind picked up and, at times, rocked the car.  When I woke up in the morning every breathe I exhaled made white clouds of steam even inside the car.  Damn it was cold....

That's it for day one.  More to come.

4 comments:

Gordon said...

glad to hear you got to Balmorhea. There's a few stores in Balmorhea that do a good generic coffee and ice cream.

Last time I was there, in the 110+F of mid May, the pool was pretty busy :) Just have to go when it gets hot I think.

Poagao said...

I google streetviewed Balmorhea while reading this and was astonished at the beautiful blues of the skies against the white trees in the pictures. Perhaps it's because I've grown accustomed to Taiwanese skies and forgotten the Texan skies of my youth, but they really struck a chord with me.

Francesco Gallarotti said...

I love the way you tell stories... I don't know if you have grandchildren... all i know that you would be the perfect grandpa, telling stories by the fireplace during the cold winter....

kirk tuck said...

No grandkids. My son's only fourteen. Give him a decade......