An oasis in the desert: Balmorhea State Park

KTSM
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POSTED: Thursday, July 11, 2013 - 10:53pm

UPDATED: Monday, July 15, 2013 - 9:04am

Imagine snorkeling with fish in crystal clear waters that stay the same temperature all year round. You may be thinking of Belize, Cancun, or even Hawaii, but this tropical paradise can actually be found just a couple of hours from El Paso.

"There's nothing. It's like you're driving in the desert and it's like are we sure we're where we're supposed to be?" said one visitor.

From a distance, Balmorhea State Park looks like a mirage, but this oasis in the desert is as real as the wildlife in its waters.

"You get here and it's like, oh my goodness. Wow," said another visitor.

Every day, 15 and a half million gallons of water bubble up out of ground and into west Texas' largest swim hole.

Two species of fish, the Pecos Gambusia and the Comanche Springs Puff Fish are endangered and can only be found in a couple of other places in the entire world.

Visitors here can see them up close.

"You can see everything. It's very awesome. You just can't get that anywhere else," said one girl visiting from Houston.

Balmorhea's crystal clear waters make things seem even closer than they actually are.

That's one of the reasons this is also a scuba divers paradise. Thousands of divers are certified here every year.

"Requirements for diving is you have to be able to see the student, so with the clarity of the water, the ability to see the pool part and then transition to an open water environment, it kind of helps the student learn a lot better," said Greg Gonzales with the Texas Dive Club of Lubbock.

It may not be the Florida Keys, but this isn't bad for Texas. Balmorhea's waters stay a constant 72 to 76 degrees all year round.

"I've dove around the world and this is the first place i've seen like this," said Gonzoles. "In the winter time the water's actually warmer than the air. It's like swimming in a tropical environment," adds Jacob Barton, the park's superintendent.

People have been coming to Balmorhea for thousands of years. From early Native Americans to early western settlers, San Solomon springs have been a source of life in this otherwise arid land.

Park superintendent Jacob Barton is from El Paso. He says the first irrigation canals were built in the 1800's to water crops. The pool was built in the 1930's and tourists have been flocking here ever since.

So the next time you need a break from the heat, just step right up and take the plunge.

"It's just a great place to bring a family," said Barton.

It's an addiction that's hard to kick.

Balmorhea State Park is open year round. There is camping and rooms for rent on the property. It costs seven dollars a day to swim in Balmorhea's three and a half million gallon pool, although kids 12 and under are free. To get there, head east on 1-10. The park is located just west of the town of Balmorhea, about three hours east of El Paso. For more information, including directions, just click on the link below:

http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/balmorhea
 

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