Learn about Texas’ paddling trails at this book signing with Bob Spain

Bob Spain a canoe along the Luling Zedler Mill Paddling Trail, a 6-mile stretch of the San Marcos River from the U.S. Hwy 90 crossing to the Zedler Mill. File photo by Kelly West/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN


It’s tougher than you think to paddle a canoe in a straight line.

I know, because I’ve been trying to perfect the skill (sporadically) for a few months now, with the help of a few friends who are experts. Among them? Bob Spain, a local paddler and paddling instructor who will unveil his new book, “Bob Spain’s Canoeing Guide and Favorite Texas Paddling Trails” (Texas A&M University Press, $26.95) at an event at REI’s downtown location this Thursday.

The book, oriented toward recreational paddlers like me and thoughtfully printed on waterproof paper in case you and the book take an unexpected dip, includes a quick history of paddling and its importance in the fur trade, plus information about different types of boats, tips on how to paddle and illustrations of different strokes. A good chunk is devoted to paddling trails around the state, and it wraps up with a few words on conservation and environmental threats to our rivers and streams.

Of particular interest to me? A section on paddling in a straight line, something Bob’s wife, Joy Emshoff, has been working on with me.

“The main emphasis was to let people know about the paddle trails, but you really need to know more about canoeing before you go out there,” Spain says.

Spain, a certified canoeing instructor, started paddling when he came to Austin around 1980. He says he loves the quiet, stealthy ride a canoe provides, which lets him observe wildlife he otherwise wouldn’t get to see.

“It’s just a way of life to me,” he says.

Spain will speak at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Austin Downtown REI, 601 North Lamar Boulevard. Registration is limited. At 7 p.m., he will sign copies of the book. Registration is not required for the signing and anyone may attend. Both events are free.

Balmorhea Pool closed indefinitely because of structural damage

Swimmers enjoy the huge spring-fed pool at Balmorhea State Park in West Texas. AMERICAN-STATESMAN file

The spring-fed pool at Balmorhea State Park in West Texas closed indefinitely this week because of structural failure.

Crews discovered damage to the concrete apron beneath the diving board, which stabilizes the walls of the pool, during an annual draining and cleaning of the 1.3-acre, V-shaped oasis this week, officials said. The pool, located about 400 miles west of Austin, is a popular stop for visitors heading to the Big Bend region.

This photo shows damage to the concrete apron near the diving board at Balmorhea Pool. Contributed by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

Officials are evaluating damage and have not set a date for reopening. The closure comes just as temperatures are heating up and the park’s busy season is about to begin.

“A large section of concrete collapsed in the wall under the high diving board and the remainder of the concrete is in danger of collapsing as well,” said Carolyn Rose, superintendent of the park. “The concrete will need to be removed in order to assess the integrity of the deck that supports the diving board. Once that assessment is made, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department will proceed with any needed repairs.”

The site has long attracted people. Native Americans, Spanish explorers and U.S. soldiers watered up at San Solomon Springs, which pumps out about 15.5 million gallons of water a day, long before the Civilian Conservation Corps turned the desert wetland into a pool in the 1930s. Private concessionaires operated the park until the 1960s, when the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department took it over.

Balmorhea State Park in West Texas on a hot July day. American-Statesman file

More than 153,000 people visited the park between Sept. 1, 2016, and Sept. 1, 2017. On hot summer weekends, the park fills to capacity by noon and cars are turned away.

The enormous pool is 25 feet deep in places, with a natural bottom. Swimming there feels like gliding through a giant aquarium populated by fish of all sizes. It holds 3.5 million gallons of water, and water temperatures hover between 72 and 76 degrees year-round.

The pool has environmental significance, too. It’s home to two small, endangered desert fish – the Pecos gambusia and the Comanche Springs pupfish. Habitats have been created outside of the pool for the protection of the fish and other invertebrates, and officials say they are working to protect the species during the closure.

RELATED: Take a dip in a desert oasis at Balmorhea Pool

The 45-acre desert park’s day use and picnic area will remain open while the pool is closed. The park’s retro, adobe-style 18-unit motor court closed early this year for renovations and should reopen in 2019.

“Balmorhea State Park is a treasured oasis in West Texas that has provided unique recreational opportunities for generations of Texans,” Brent Leisure, director of Texas State Parks, said in a news release. “Our staff is working diligently to address the situation and make sure the pool is safe for the visitors and the aquatic life in habitats associated with the San Solomon Springs.”

For more information about the park, call 432-375-2370.

What’s the real temperature at Barton Springs Pool? Hint: It’s not 68 degrees

[cmg_anvato video=”4130124″]

A jump into Barton Springs Pool raises goosebumps and turns lips blue. That’s what 68-degree year-round water does to a body, right?

Not so fast.

Despite T-shirts that proclaim it, websites that tout it and a Wikipedia entry that boasts it, the water temperature at Barton Springs isn’t 68 degrees, and rarely has it been.

Walker Stone, left, drops a multi-sensor probe into the water near the dam at Barton Springs Pool. Photo by Nick Wagner/American-Statesman

We headed to the pool this week with David Johns, a hydrogeologist for the City of Austin, and his assistant, Walker Stone, to dunk a multi-sensor probe into three locations at the spring-fed swimming pool and let science do the talking.

RELATED: What are the best swimming holes in Central Texas?

Our results? At the fault line next to the diving well, near the main spring, the temperature read 70.6 degrees. But at the surface by the downstream dam, it was 71.6 degrees. It was even warmer at the shallow end of the pool, where it measured 74.9 degrees.

Myth busted, then? Sort of.

David Johns, left, and Walker Stone, right, check the temperature near a spring at Barton Springs Pool. Photo by Nick Wagner/American-Statesman

The pool has, at times, measured 68 degrees. But it’s not all that common, and certainly not during the summer, when most people are taking that polar bear plunge. The temperature varies slightly, depending on time of year and discharge volume. Mostly, it depends on what season rains fall.

RELATED: What do you see if you open your eyes in Barton Springs Pool?

The 68-degree myth has been propagated by the City of Austin website which long stated that the pool water hovered around 68 degrees year-round. Today it reads “average temp of 68 to 70.” Still not quite accurate, but closer than the Wikipedia entry for the pool, which boldly states, “The pool is a popular venue for year-round swimming, as its temperature maintains a stable 68 °F (20 °C) in the winter and summer.” 

RELATED: Have you ever swum naked in Barton Springs Pool?

Want more evidence? The USGS monitors a probe placed in a small opening at the bottom of the pool where spring water comes out, taking temperature measurements every 15 minutes. That’s typically the coolest spot in the pool during the summer, and the temperature there has held a consistent 70.5 degrees there during the last few weeks.

Walker Stone takes a temperature reading (in Celsius) at Barton Springs Pool. Photo by Nick Wagner/American-Statesman

“Some people say it seems colder than that, but it’s still 30 degrees colder than body temperature, so it’s cold,” Johns says.

Still get goosebumps when you leap in? That’s OK. We do too.

“For you and me, it’s still bracing,” Johns says.

Read more about the pool’s temperature in an upcoming story.


How did Austin fare on list of Most Adventurous Cities in America?

We’re a pretty adventurous place, Austin.

Only Anchorage, Alaska ranked higher than our city in Men’s Health magazine’s list of Most Adventurous Cities in America. And they’ve got grizzly bears and icebergs, for goodness sake.

The magazine took into account the percentage of people participating in sports, the percentage of people who engage in vigorous activity five or more days a week, the ratio of parkland to city size, the number of recreational businesses, the percentage of income spent on recreation and more when it compiled its list. It based its calculations on an array of statistical information from the Centers for Disease Control, the Trust for Public Land, the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics.

The magazine cited Austin’s access to the Highland Lakes in its ranking as the second most adventurous city in America. File photo by Rodolfo Gonzalez/American-Statesman

Austin scored points because lots of people participate in outdoor activity here, and do it often. Credit the lakes, too. (Although last time I checked, our lakes were more about drinking beer and lounging on boats than actually doing adventurous things). We do have a healthy community of trail runners, stand-up paddleboarders, yogis, cyclists and kayakers. Plus, we’ve got 227 official miles of trails (and a lot more that aren’t exactly official), nearly 21,000 acres of green space and that awesome trail around Lady Bird Lake.

Men’s Health Magazine ranks Austin the second most adventurous city in America.

Anchorage smoked us in the parkland department. The much chillier city has nearly a million acres of parkland, plus plenty of residents who take advantage of it and lots of businesses that cater to those people.

Boaters gather in Devils Cove on Lake Travis. File photo by Laura Skelding/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The top 10 Most Adventurous Cities in America, according to Men’s Health, are Anchorage; Austin; Madison, Wisc.; Minneapolis; San Diego; Raleigh; Virginia Beach, Virginia; Boston; Seattle; and Fargo, South Dakota.

Austin blew away every other Texas city, too. Fort Worth placed 20th. Other Texas cities on the list? Dallas at 34, Plano at 35, San Antonio at 37, Houston at 38, El Paso at 40, Laredo at 46, Lubbock at 50 and Corpus Christi at 55. (Wait, Plano is more adventurous than Corpus? What about that ocean?)

Birmingham, Alabama came in last, at number 100.

Check out the entire list here.