In the heart of Austin lies Zilker Park, a 358-acre oasis known worldwide for hosting the annual Austin City Limits Music Festival. It also contains a gem known mostly to locals and lucky visitors – Barton Springs Pool.
Fed naturally by the Edwards Aquifer, it maintains a year-round temperature of 68-70 degrees. It is also a federally protected habitat and home to the endangered Barton Springs Salamander. Roughly 800,000 annual visitors come here to cool off and lounge in the grassy areas lining both sides of the three-acre pool.*
We visited Barton Springs in the middle of an 11-mile bike tour of the city on a 90-degree day. Our guide, Mike, had just finished dragging an entire bachelorette party up a series of Lance Armstrong-worthy hill climbs on steel-framed, fat-tired mountain bikes. Needless to say, we flatlanders were ready for a little cool down.
Barton Spring Pool has concrete sides but a natural bottom, giving the crystal clear water a green glow. We paid the admission fee ($3 for residents, $8 for non), changed into swimsuits in the bathhouse, and nearly blinded the very tan, very toned crowd lounging in the grass with our pale, northern complexions. We claimed a small patch near the end of the pool and beelined for the water. I sat on the side and dipped in a cautious toe. The water felt cold. Surprisingly cold. Easing in would be torture, so the bravest among us (Erin) dove right in. The rest of us followed her lead, yelling from the shock to our systems. It took only a minute for the sensation to transition from painful to refreshing.
We floated, we splashed, we did water acrobatics. Those with long legs ran into a few weeds underfoot. Give more time, we would have surely joined the ranks cueing up to cannonball from the diving board. But Mike had more hills for us to climb. At least they led to open-air beer and barbecue joints.