The Desert in Bloom – Part 2

Over the past three years since we began to travel primarily by RV, we have discovered that we need to spend a night in a particular park to fully appreciate it.  Seeing a park in the softer golden morning and evening sunlight helps to see any location at its best, and this was certainly our experience at Balmorhea State Park on our most recent trip, not to mention how wonderful it was to finally see this little oasis in the desert when everything was green from recent rains.  After several day visits here over the past few years in the winter, we finally spent one night here last week for the very first time, in hopes that we might also be able to swim with the fish in the world’s largest spring-fed pool, but the cool and rainy weather on Friday morning changed our swimming plan.

The RV sites at Balmorhea State Park are great.  We were surprised at how many other RV campers were there on a weeknight like we were, and several of them were likely winter Texans spending a bit of time in this area before heading further south.  We opted for a site with water, 50 amp electric and cable television.  Yes, this tiny little park offered several channels of cable television with our $17 site.  Since we had cable television here and at our next destination, we were able to just leave our satellite dish at home this trip.  While we were not terribly impressed with the restroom and shower facilities in the campground, the showers in the building by the pool were much better.  I suspect that is where most campers shower anyway, and it is an easy walk to the pool area from the campground.

We arrived at the park in the early evening hours just before the pool closed for the day, and we took a nice sunset walk with the dogs around the entire park before enjoying a late dinner back at the RV.  The next morning, we also enjoyed a magnificent sunrise from our campsite, just before breakfast.  And even though the weather did not cooperate for a swim, we enjoyed one last walk around the park in the morning to take a few pictures before we left on our short drive to Fort Davis for the rest of our trip.

I will let the photographs tell the story of this unique little park for us on this particular trip.

The Davis Mountains and some impressive storm clouds to the south of the park
A beautiful sunset over the cienega
Canal by the historic cabins in the park
Canal by the historic cabins in the park
Gorgeous trees in the park
Entering the San Solomon Springs, the world’s largest spring-fed pool
San Solomon Springs sunset
San Solomon Springs sunset
Historic pool building with showers at San Solomon Springs
San Solomon Springs sunset
Davis Mountains to the south at sunset
Sunrise from our campsite
Sunrise from our campsite
San Solomon Cienega
Trail to San Solomon Cienega
A cute little cotton-tail bunny at our campsite

 I previously wrote about this park at Springs in the Desert at Balmorhea, if you would like to also read that post.  While this park is small as compared to most Texas state parks, it is full of history, beauty and fun for those that like to swim or scuba dive in the clear spring waters of San Solomon Springs.  We enjoyed our overnight stop here very much and hope to stay here again and again as we return to this area in the future.

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The Desert in Bloom – Part 1

When I think about visiting a desert location, I do not think about seeing green landscape everywhere I look, and I certainly do not think of beautiful flowers that are so prevalent in the landscape that they literally change the color of it as you gaze across it from a distance.  This was our experience as we visited the Davis Mountains of far West Texas for the first time in a non-winter month this past weekend.  We had such a fabulous time, and I will share more about our brief time there in a series of upcoming posts soon.

Wild yellow daisies turned the Davis Mountains into carpets of green and gold.

We had the happy task of introducing two of our favorite state parks, the quaint town of Fort Davis and the famous McDonald Observatory to two special friends for the first time this past weekend, and I believe they fell in love with this area just like we did three years ago when we made our first visit in our new-to-us RV in the last week of December in 2011.  Honestly, it would be hard to not fall in love with this place when it is absolutely gorgeous like it was during this trip, especially since the fall monsoon rains were quite generous to the area this year.

The hills were alive with yellow daisies near the entrance to Davis Mountains State Park.
On top of Skyline Drive, the scenic and colorful views were just amazing.
It feels like you can see all of far West Texas from the top of Skyline Drive.

Over the past few years, my love and appreciation of this mountainous desert area has grown as we have spent more and more time there, and seeing God’s unique handiwork in this region is always such a treat.  It is a very popular place to visit, and we have to plan further out to reserve a spot for the RV now than we did just three years ago.  If visiting by car, having a hotel reservation in advance is an absolute must most of the time, especially on weekends and holidays.

I have previously written about this unique part of Texas, even though both of those posts told about our experience in winter months.  We love this area even in the winter, and those first posts have a lot of good information in them for potential visitors, which I will try to not repeat in this post and upcoming posts.  I would still encourage everyone to make this area a bucket list destination at least one time in the appropriate season of your choice.

Winter in the Davis Mountains (2013)

Springs in the Desert at Balmorhea (2014)

Normally, we escape chilly winter weather in the Texas Panhandle for the more moderate climate in this area in the winter months, but I suspect we will now likely add yet another yearly visit in the fall.  We may even try a spring trip sometime, as the scenery is supposedly beautiful then, too.

Seeing the Davis Mountains region at a peak time of beauty really cinched my love of this place, for sure.  And as strange as it may sound, a few views on this trip reminded us of the mountains of Kauai from our trip back in May, especially on Friday morning when the weather was very cloudy and a bit rainy as we drove across Wild Rose Pass between Balmorhea and Fort Davis.

It felt like we were back in Kauai for this beautiful drive over Wild Rose Pass.

If there was a slight disappointment for us on this trip, it was the fact that we saw very little wildlife as compared to the winter months when mule deer and javelina roam freely around the campground every day.  It was only a small disappointment, and the beautiful scenery more than made up for it this trip.

Visiting two iconic mountainous areas in four weeks has certainly been a blessing for us this year, as we just visited Rocky Mountain National Park for the first time over Labor Day weekend and loved every moment of our time in that area, too.  In fact, I think we may likely look back on this particular travel year as one of our best ones ever, even though the year started out quite rough in that respect due to bad weather and my mother’s bad fall in late January.  I can already feel that “look back” post coming later on after the year is done, too.  😉

In my next post, I will share more beautiful detailed photos of Balmorhea State Park.

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Springs in the Desert at Balmorhea

A few days ago, I wrote an introductory post about our recent trip back to far West Texas, specifically about our overnight stop at Monahans State Park entitled “Camping in the Sand.” This is the second post in this series that I would like to share about far West Texas, a unique and beautiful area that I just adore, specifically about Balmorhea State Park and a magnificent drive on Texas Highway 17 between Balmorhea and Fort Davis.

Feel free to see any photos in a larger size by clicking on them.

We left Monahans State Park around 10:30 am and drove west on I-20 to the Flying J in Pecos for gasoline. The huge Flying J is a great place to stop if traveling by RV because it is an easy “off-and-on” from I-20, and it has two dedicated gasoline lanes just for RVs, along with separate lanes for larger diesel rigs and trucks. They also sell propane, which is located in the left RV lane, and they have a big convenience store and a restaurant on site. After filling up the gas tanks in both the RV and the car, we left the Flying J, turned south on two-lane Texas highway 17, and proceeded to drive south toward the mountains in the distance.

Our next stop was Balmorhea State Park, just four miles past Balmorhea. The tiny town of Balmorhea is home to this small and unique park that draws visitors year-round to its natural warm spring swimming pool that is large enough to hold many happy kids and adults at the same time, but in the winter there are far fewer visitors. We opted to enjoy a leisurely lunch break in the park, since we could get in for free with our Texas State Parks pass, and we also wanted to show the park to our son for the first time. The park is located right on Highway 17, with the park entrance literally just off the road on the left just a few miles out of Balmorhea.

PDF map of Balmorhea State Park

The huge pool at Balmorhea State ParkSan Solomon Springs Pool
Click on the picture to see this three photo panorama larger.

Official You Tube Video – TPWD

As I mentioned, the main attraction at Balmorhea State Park is the historic San Solomon Springs pool. It is a huge spring-fed pool with a natural rock bottom that was constructed by the CCC, and it remains a constant temperature year-round of about 72 to 76 degrees.  Twenty million gallons of fresh spring water flow up from the pool springs each day, and subsequently run off into a canal system into the surrounding area.  Parts of the pool are as much as 25 feet deep, and a few adults were testing out their scuba gear as we strolled around the pool just before lunch.   Yes, there are live fish in the pool for both swimmers and scuba divers to enjoy!  I took a series of three photographs from the far side of the pool and merged them in Photoshop into the panorama photo shown above, as I could not capture the entire pool in just one photo, even with my wide-angle lens.

The pool house has large restrooms and changing areas for both men and women, as well as a concession stand that is open during the high season. Big trees and picnic tables are nearby, in addition to the day use picnic area on the other side of the building.

Pool house at Balmorhea State Park
Pool house at Balmorhea State Park

The Texas State Historical Marker is posted on the wall just as you enter the pool house area.

Historical Marker at Balmorhea State Park
Historical Marker at Balmorhea State Park
San Solomon Spring Historical Marker
San Solomon Spring Historical Marker

According to an article on the park’s website, San Solomon Spring “has provided water to travelers for thousands of years.” It is an interesting article and worth the quick read.

Balmorhea State Park has level RV spaces with some of the nicest covered tables that we’ve seen in any state park, and this park would be a great option for a quick overnight stop, since it is right off of Highway 17. Some sites have water only, some have water and electricity, and some have water, electricity, and cable television. There are also both pull-thru sites and back-in sites.  We hope to actually stay here in the RV for at least a night or two on a return trip to the area in warmer weather and finally go swimming here. I love to swim, and that big pool is just “calling my name.” Even though I have a picture of my own below, this picture better shows the RV campground in the non-winter months when things are greener.

RV Campground at Balmorhea State Park
RV Campground at Balmorhea State Park

The park also has several historic cabins to rent that were built in the 1930’s by the CCC. However, a note was posted in the office that all of the kitchen equipment will be removed from the cabins by April, which will no doubt disappoint some people who have stayed there and enjoyed having a kitchen available, but there are some dining options in Balmorhea, as well as at least one grocery store. The cabins are located in a very pretty area of the park, and they are also adjacent to the RV camping area. Both the cabins and the RV campground are within an easy walk of the pool, too.

San Solomon Springs Court Cabins
San Solomon Springs Court Cabins

These historic cabins sit along a canal that leads to a restored wetland area, also called a cienega. According to the park website, there is an underground window at the cienega to view the underwater wildlife, but we still have not taken the time to check it out while on our stops there.

Lodging options are also available a few miles away in Balmorhea. On my first trip to this area several years ago, I actually stayed in a small motel in Balmorhea for a quick overnight stop when no lodging was available in Fort Davis that night, and I would stay there again, if needed. I learned a valuable lesson on that trip, too. Always, always have a confirmed lodging reservation when visiting Fort Davis. Always. I will never make the mistake of traveling to Fort Davis without a reservation again, even for a campsite.

We parked the RV in the day use area in the park, and we enjoyed dining outside for lunch on one of the covered picnic tables nearby, which had a scenic view of the mountains in the distance and the pool next to us. This area was also a good place to walk Girly Girl and let her stretch her legs, even though she was not permitted in the pool area.

Day use picnic area at Balmorhea State Park
Day use picnic area at Balmorhea State Park

One special memory from our lunch stop here was pulling out the Christmas cookies that were leftover from my holiday baking escapades. After we ate a sandwich, we enjoyed a few cookies as well, especially the lemon cookies which were so amazingly good. We then discussed how to ration the lemon cookies that were left, so that we would have some for the rest of the trip. It was pretty funny, as we had plenty of the other cookies left. The battle for the remaining lemon cookies was officially on! Somehow, we managed to ration the lemon cookies over the next few days, leaving one last cookie for our son to enjoy on his birthday on Saturday. He was quite proud to officially claim that last cookie, and I also took his picture holding his “birthday” cookie.

We have only visited this small park in the winter months on our way to Fort Davis, but I have also seen pictures and videos of it during the warmer, greener months, and it is quite pretty, especially if the area has received some beneficial rains. It is truly a little oasis in the desert. Even in the winter, though, I love the uncrowded beauty of this unique and remote area.

After enjoying an hour-long stop here, we then drove out of the park and back onto Highway 17, straight into the Davis Mountains, over the top of Wild Rose Pass, and on to our destination at Davis Mountains State Park. The drive from Balmorhea to Fort Davis and back is one of the prettiest drives ever, and I look forward to driving that particular stretch of road on every trip. If traveling to this area, I highly recommend that travelers driving either direction from Balmorhea to Fort Davis on Highway 17 make this drive during daylight hours to see the magnificent views. I personally think the best time to make this drive to maximize its scenic beauty is when the sun is high in the sky around noontime to properly illuminate the mountains and unique rock formations all around. It is also beautiful during golden hour just before sunset, but it is also more difficult to see the interesting and unique detail in the mountains. I always love a good sunset drive, though, and this one is pretty epic.

I was driving the car on our most recent trip, so I could not take pictures. Below are some of the pictures of this beautiful drive that I have taken on two previous trips over the past two years, including the somewhat famous view of the mountains from Wild Rose Pass, as seen on the return trip from Fort Davis back to Balmorhea. These pictures can’t begin to do justice to the impressive views, but I gave it my best shot.

Texas Highway 17
Leaving Balmorhea, driving into the mountains shortly before sunset on a previous trip.
Texas Highway 17
The sky tosses golden hour hues on everything at sunset.
Texas Highway 17
Occasionally meeting another car, this a scenic and memorable drivel
Highway 17
Driving at sunset, the mountains become silhouettes against a pink and blue sky
Highway 17 h
Right at sunset, the vast open sky steals the show away from the mountains
Texas Highway 17
The detail of the mountains and rock formations are best seen when the sun in high in the sky.
Texas Highway 17
A red mountain against a blue sky
Texas Highway 17
The somewhat famous view traveling back north on Highway 17 from Fort Davis to Balmorhea, coming down from Wild Rose Pass. It is worth it to make this drive just for this view alone.
Highway 17 c
One of many interesting rock formations along the drive
Texas Highway 17
More interesting rock formations

Thanks for stopping by and watch for more posts here on this unique and scenic area of Texas!

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