School starts soon and Labor Day will eventually herald the unofficial end of summer. But as Houstonians know, the sweaty season lasts well into fall around here. There's still time to dip your toe in a stream or two, so Texas Traveler presents to you five unusual waterin' holes. Don't forget to pack your goggles.
About 20 miles south of Houston off 288, Twin Lakes boasts more than 30 acres of clear, aquifer-fed water. It's a popular spot for first-time divers finishing their open-water certification, but it's also a good spot for refresher dives. The water is mostly warm, and clear even to depths in excess of 30 feet. Fauna include bass, catfish, turtles and perch. Limited camping is available, plus there are barbecue pits and picnic tables for day-trippers.
Underwater, divers can find a variety of different "wrecks", including a Bluebird bus and an Airstream trailer.
Entry is $15 a day for divers and $5 for non-divers. Fishing and swimming are allowed for non-divers, but fishing is catch-and-release only.
It's not the prettiest scenery, but Lake Somerville, just north of Brenham, is a close drive from Houston than the many famous Hill Country holes. Swimming is allowed at the Birch Creek and Nails Creek units, which are linked to each other via 13 miles of the Lake Somerville Trailway.
The water here isn't a clear or refreshing as Twin Lakes, but one thing Somerville has going for it is it's less crowded than many other local lakes, and pretty much every park activity, from horseback riding to camping to fishing, is allowed. The park is also a must-see for wildflower blooms, especially the ubiquitous bluebonnet.
If Barton Springs eventually closes for repairs, you can always head the grotto known as Hamilton Pool. The pool, just outside of Austin, is a large sinkhole formed after erosion from an underground river caused the surface to collapse. Cold, clear water falls into the hole from a height of about 50 feet, and behind the waterfall is a hollowed-out grotto which provides perfect shade.
Surrounding the pool is a short hiking trail which descends into the canyon. The trail and the pool are part of a Nature Preserve home to several native and endangered flora and fauna, including some rare plants. As a result, admission is limited to 75 cars at a time -- the site often fills up early during the summer months.
Entrance is $8 a person. Call (512) 264-2740 for water conditions and more information.
Who can resist a Mid century-era tourist attraction that once featured a diving pig and underwater mermaids?
Years ago, Aquarena Springs (actually part of the San Marcos River and the Edwards Aquifer) was one of the happenin'-est summer resorts in all of Texas. Vacationers could stay at the Art Deco-inspired hotel overlooking the headwaters, take glass-bottom boat tours and bathe in the restorative spring.
In 1994, the site was purchased by killjoys at Texas State University, who claim that the river is home to several endangered species. Swimming is no longer possible at the spring, except by special arrangement, and plans are underway to restore the spring to it natural splendor. But the glass-bottom boats are still around after more than 60 years and remain the best way to explore the spring. The hotel has been converted into an educational center which includes an aquarium featuring local and endangered species.
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It may not be your ideal summer destination, but Abilene is home to the only scuba dive-able missile silo in the world.
Built to house (and withstand the deployment of) nuclear-capable Atlas Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, the silos were decommissioned following the Cold War, and later sold. Family Scuba Center in Midland, TX, owns the Valhalla MIssile Silo, which is now dive-able thanks to groundwater that has seeped into the 60-foot-wide column over the years.
Valhalla is said to be the largest deep-dive training facility in the world. To get inside, you enter through a door that seems to stand alone in the middle of a field, descend a staircase onto a floating platform around 60 feet underground, and start your dive there. It's mostly used for deep dive training, cold water training, Nitrox diving and other advanced diving techniques. The water is 60 degrees all year long and is said to have excellent visibility.
Unfortunately, Valhalla is open only by reservation, and only for scuba divers. Contact Family Scuba Center for more information.