Barton Springs Like a Cool Sapphire on a Hot Afternoon
By Greg Fieg
Perhaps the most striking, unforgettable image when one first beholds the magic of Barton Springs on a sunny, summer afternoon is the glimmering color of sapphire; pure, translucent and seductive from the pool's sparkling surface all the way to the natural limestone substrate 16 feet below. Large fish languish in the cool, clean aquamarine water while children and adults of all ages enjoy what for many is a God-given respite from the sometimes merciless Hill Country heat at the outskirts of the state capital of Austin.
The springs are among the most spectacular in Texas, pumping out 26 million gallons a day at a constant, year-around temperature of 68 degrees. They are a beacon not only to vacationers and swimmers but to a wide range of wild animals and acquatic life that populates Barton Creek and the green sanctuary of Zilker Park, named for the family that donated the land for public use during World War I. The springs are named for the William Barton family, pioneers who settled the area during the days of the Republic of Texas nearly 175 years ago.
Virtually pristine at the source and self purified every 100 feet, the creek makes its way to Town Lake and the Colorado River. The waters are home to the protected Barton Creek salamander, which is found nowhere else in the world.
Camping and Recreational Vehicle parking is available. When they're not enjoying the 900-foot pool, children may ride the miniature train that winds its way through the park. Children can also climb a fire truck static display, frolic beneath the expansive shade of magnificent cottonwood and pecan trees, scamper across grassy knolls or feed the ducks and geese while parents hike or sunbathe. Biking is permitted along the trails, and leashed pets can join in the fun.
The natural pool has been modified with concrete walks, a native limestone bathhouse divided for men and women and a diving board. Nude sunbathing is permitted within the roofless bathhouse walls.
Because runoff after rains has the potential to introduce pollution, water quality is constantly monitored for fecal coliform and on rare occasions the pool is designated off limits for immersion. Water condition reports are available by dialing 512-476-9044. The park is open from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily throughout the year.
Near the diving board is a flat place called "Philosophers' Rock," where a statue of three men recalls years past when it was a meeting spot for folklorist J. Frank Dobie, historian Walter Prescott Webb and naturalist Roy Bedicheck, a 19th century pioneer who came to Texas as a child in a covered wagon.
Bedicheck, who died in 1959, was the author of 10 books yet despite his prolific output, cautioned that a certain amount of one's time on Earth must be devoted to tranquility in such places as the banks of Barton Creek.
"A month of days, a year of months, 20 years of months in the treadmill," wrote Bedicheck, "...slays everything worthy of the name of life."
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