Miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles stretch out ahead of us down this long, desolate highway slicing southeasterly across New Mexico — and we haven’t even gotten to the Texas state line yet.
Traversing these flat, rolling plains, we pass through eerily preternatural landscapes and such towns as Roswell, with its obvious alien influence, and Carlsbad, where the legendary caverns belch clouds of bats out into the sky nightly at dusk. Our destination calls us to journey onward beyond these plains, so we drive on into Texas and push past Pecos as we approach the Oasis of West Texas, Balmorhea State Park.
The natural San Solomon Springs have drawn humans and wildlife to this spot for centuries. Back in the 1930s during a time of national unity fighting the Great Depression, our country invested time, money, and energy in protecting and showcasing our natural resources through the works of the CCC, the Civilian Conservation Corps, of the FDR’s New Deal programs in the 1930s.
Our personal history in visiting this oasis started when we booked a room in the lodge for 1 night on our way home from a New Mexico camping trip one year. That stay proved so enjoyable, we booked 2 nights the following year, and then 3 nights, and then more, once even booking a full week’s vacation here. Another time, we were so anxious to get there, we arrived a night early and had to find lodging elsewhere that first night.
Generally, it takes careful planning to stay in the lodge — rooms fill up months in advance, and more than once, we have had to give up hope of getting a room. This time, we lucked out in getting a night’s reservation at the last minute due to a cancellation.
But we also lucked out in finding another place to stay in Balmorhea itself, the Eleven Inn, a laid-back little motel with, yep, you guessed it, 11 rooms. It fit our style so perfectly we ended up just hanging around the bench outside our room the next morning, shooting the breeze with one of the owners and a fellow from Dripping Springs waiting for a tow truck for his dead truck.
Nearby destinations include Ft. Davis and the Davis Mountains, an excellent daytripper outing from Balmorhea for us. I’ll tell you about Ft. Davis (Texas’s Mile-High City — take that, Denver!) another time. This time around, we drove up there to eat lunch at the Ft. Davis Drug Store (complete with old-timey soda fountain!), buy some coated pecans from the Ft. Davis Nut Company, and drive up into the mountains near the McDonald Observatory. After enjoying the cooler temps the elevation afforded, we rolled back down across Wild Rose Pass to Balmorhea by mid-afternoon.
The pool itself is the real destination of course. Taking that first plunge into the cool, clear waters each time triggers a gasp bursting upward to the air again. One fun thing to do is to sit around the edge and listen as people jump in and then surface, gasping, yelling, screaming or simply sighing, “Ahhh…”. By mid-afternoon on a summer day, the parking lot and the pool are packed with people streaming in from all directions, some local, some from nearby towns throughout the region, but many passing by and some in tour buses making a scheduled stop.
Truth is, the mid-afternoons get a little too crowded for us, so we tend to stay away until later in the day. We enjoy the late afternoon and evening dips as most people leave the pool to a few day stragglers and us overnighters to close it down.
Then it’s dinner time back at the lodge, perhaps by the little canal that wraps cooling arms around the motor court. With picnic tables set out around the perimeter, families take to grilling on the park pits and enjoying meals al fresco. Each room fronts onto part of the canal, with a covered patio usually inhabited by tiny swallows nesting and raising their own families of little chirpers.
Round about dusk, we’ll take a stroll over to the restored wetland marsh, or cienega. Though the sub-surface viewing windows are now clouded beyond use, there is a viewing station that allows watching turtles and fish swimming amidst the reeds. Strolling through the campground at sunset usually includes finding birds, lizards, and rabbits who frequent the area, as well as distant views of the ring of mountains to the south and west.
The real treat though is to go to the pool first thing in the morning, before too many people arrive. On those quiet mornings, the marine wildlife inhabiting the pool — fish, both small and large and turtles — reign over the watery realm.
Later, they will seek refuge from the human invaders, but in the first hours of the day, the waters come alive with these various non-human swimmers.
So, after a good long overnight rest off the road, we awake and arise, make our way to the springs as human have done for centuries, plunge into the cooling waters, cleanse our bodies and our souls — and then drive homeward, refreshed once again.