Welcome to the final article of a three-part series for StreetCred Labs that takes us to the heart of Texas.
A crystal-clear, spring-fed pool that’s 70 degrees every single day of the year.
It’s one of the most famous places in the city and has been for generations. You may be wondering, with my strong insistence on checking out areas less travelled in endless diatribes all over the Internet, why end at the number one tourist destination in town? As I recently exclaimed in my own weekly publication while defending Central Park, top destinations are often so for good reason. Visiting them doesn’t need to be mutually exclusive with taking the back cuts either.
Barton Springs is the living epitome of this.
Emerging from the ground and therefore maintaining its perfect temp year round as stated above, Barton Springs is comprised primarily of a giant freshwater pool (which is located within the greater Zilker Park, home of Austin City Limits). The pool and its retro visitors center are iconic, evoking images of the classic American summer: lifeguards on duty (think Wendy Peffercorn in The Sandlot), old-timer regulars swimming laps, and even a diving board to match. Robert Redford learned to swim here, and my native Austinite friend Rob who’s guided this trip along was fascetiously “baptized” by his irreligious parents here every Sunday growing up.
While I didn’t go for a full-on swim (it’s February so I’m hoping I can be forgiven for forgetting to pack my swim trunks), I did hang over the edge and dip my head in. The locals’ claims were true, it was warm indeed! Like the mild weather with which my first day in Austin was greeted, the warm water left me wanting more of this Texan town in the final hours of my stay. The lone man who was swimming was in regular board shorts; no wetsuits needed here.
Barton Springs is only the beginning of a 12 mile long greenbelt of the same name. The Barton Springs Greenbelt filters down along Barton Creek from the Hill Country and ends at the pool in Zilker Park. It’s so beloved by Austinites that many folks simply call it “The Greenbelt” despite their being many more in town.
After Rob and I had wandered around the pool and the park for a bit we jumped back in the car and headed farther up the creek into another section of The Greenbelt. Rob parked us on an unassuming street with a small easement between two homes with a trail leading down a hill. At first the trail seemed like many others I’d encountered in dry areas of the Southwest: sagebrush, oak trees, weeds and thistles that I’m not qualified to identify. Then, slowly, the trail became more and more verdant. Within a hundred feet what had started as a dusty gap in parcels unfolded into an enchanted world of greens and sandy browns. Then I heard it….
What at first sounded like a casual stream grew in volume, until, rounding a rocky corner, I saw it. I stood with Rob before an entire series of turquoise and emerald pools, linked by rougher sections of the creek that polished over the limestone rocks found in the ravine. There wasn’t just one pool either. The system of interconnected pools and rapids went on as far as the eye could see.
“Miles and miles”,
Rob said, my eyes lighting up as he surveyed land he’d already mapped out a million times before in childhood. We both stood quietly for awhile, taking it in as the Texan sun slowly faded over the Hill Country in the distance. My inner child wanted to map this Davey Crockett landscape in its entirety, but after days of scouting out this incredible town,
I thought I’d leave it to you.
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