“In Russia, we go to Black Sea for swim. But is black and cold. Here, no cold and beautiful water,” he says.
Postnikov walks along the sidewalk between the high and low diving boards.
He stops at the cage where channel catfish school, dodging in and out of the tunnel that leads to the cienaga a few hundred yards away.
Postnikov watches their dark silhouettes from above.
“What species fish, these are?” He asks. He is new to America, a student from Moscow who has just got off the Green Tortoise, a camping tour bus in route from San Francisco to New Orleans.
Postnikov pulls himself out of the pool, his green Speedo trunks odd among so many boardshorts. He drips on the hot sidewalk. Some heads turn as he looks for shade under the Mulberry, Poplar, Cottonwood, Oak and Ash trees.
It’s 106 degrees. People walk with towels over their heads, some pulling carts with ice chests as children laugh and jump into the cool waters. Reflecting the temperature of the underground rocks the spring waters flow through, a nearly constant pool temperature of 72 to 76 degrees is maintained. The San Solomon Spring, an artesian spring, bubbles naturally to the surface from its quell, limestone strata aquifers several hundred feet below, that are recharged by rain run-off from the Davis Mountains.
The Civilian Conservation Corp, a federal make work project from the Roosevelt Administration, built the pool between 1934 and 1941. The 1.75 acre pool employed over 500 workers, but takes only 4 hours to fill. The velocity of the San Solomon Spring normally runs a million gallons an hour. Once the water leaves the pool, it winds through the park and into the newly rebuilt cienaga before departing for the town of Balmorhea, where a series of cement channels take it through downtown, discharging finally in Lake Balmorhea, another 3 miles to the east.
The original cienaga was destroyed during the construction of the pool, but in 1996, the Texas Parks and Wildlife and a number of other state agencies, including prisoners from the Department of Criminal Justice, started rebuilding the cienaga. Today, three acres of desert marsh teem with wildlife.
Coots and blackbirds perch on cattails while in the crystal clear waters below, a Spiney Soft Shell Turtle takes in air at the surface. Round Nose Minnows school around it. A dry wind gusts and dragonflies flutter against it. A horned lizard moves nervously across the bank and now stops abruptly at a cluster of browned cottonwood leaves.
“I like these lizards. Never seen before such,” Postnikov lights a long unfiltered cigarette. The aroma is strong, like burning grass. “You like? Take.” He taps one out of a package labeled “Cecil.”
Postnikov and I tour along the trail and wooden bridges of the San Solomon Cienega. A sign informs us that the cienga is the home to two endangered fish species; the Pecos Gambusia and the Commanche Springs Pupfish. Another sign gives a long list of birds that can be seen at the park, including Vermillion Flycatchers and Black Phoebes.
We come to the “window wall”. A sheet of thick glass framed into a concrete wall, cut below the surface, giving optic to the underwater world of a desert oasis. But today the window wall is covered in algae.
“Come, we go back to pool,” Postnikov says.
Guest cottages with barrel tile roofs and white stucco walls glimmer in the afternoon sun. We walk across the camp grounds and the asphalt park road where tar bubbles and then through the gate into the pool area.
Postnikov climbs the ladder of the high board. He stands on the fiberglass plane, testing the texture with his toes while his Russian white skin screams against the blue sky. He shouts something in his mother tongue, then yells “Best pool in world!” and swan dives into its waters.
More info about the park and pool…
Balmorhea State Park is located off Hwy 17 about an hour from Marfa. These springs have a long history; Native Americans watered their horses there and Mexican farmers hand-dug the first irrigation canals.
The Civilian Conservation Corps took on the project of making the spring and surrounding area into a State Park between 1936 and 1941 as part of Roosevelt’s New Deal. The biggest attraction in the state park is San Solomon Springs, a large spring fed swimming pool ranging in depth from 3ft to 25ft.
If you go, be sure to stay the night at San Solomon Court in the park, and bring snorkle gear and underwater cameras for added fun. Blankets, picnic food, basketballs, and frisbees are also a must. Go for the day or stay for the weekend and hike in the rest of the park or visit it’s other natural features. It’s not a mirage, it clear and pure spring water perfect for a hot summer day.
Images by Paul Lowry