Barton Springs: In Good Times and In Bad

If you live in Austin, Texas or even just visited, you have probably been to the famous Barton Springs.  For those of you who don’t know about Barton Springs, it is a naturally fed spring and stays a cool 68 degrees all year round.  To escape the hot Texas summer, it can be an essential destination for local Austinites and tourists alike.  You can find Barton Springs in Zilker Park and admission is just a nominal couple of bucks.  It’s always a favorite spot for people of all diverse backgrounds.

The springs have always been a special place to my husband and me before we ever even met, so it was no surprise it was where we had our fourth date.  I would go far as to say; it has the most diverse and eclectic groups of people you will find in any one spot in Austin.  Not only does the water feel amazing and refreshing when you jump in and feel the cold rush across your body, but it’s also an awesome spot for people watching. My husband and I spent our entire day making up backstories about the interesting characters of people hanging out in the water.

Barton Springs Pool at Zilker Park
People watching from one of our many visits to Barton Springs.

Now that we have children, this swimming spot has become a favorite place to go as a family.  In the summers we try to hit the water at least once a week, and my six-year-old son is just waiting for the day he is finally old enough to jump off the diving board into the deep end.  For now, we have our regular spot where we leave our bags and ease our way into the chilly waters.

A few weeks ago, we decided it was time to take our baby girl, who is now eighteen-months-old, out for her first Barton Springs experience.  It was a Thursday, and we decided to go a little early, so we could ride the train with the children first and then have plenty of time for play on the playground.  We spread out a blanket on the lawn and had a fun picnic lunch, even though the temperature was well into the 90’s and only May.  We put on more sunscreen and ran to the gates of the springs, only to discover it was a ghost town.

In all our years of going to Barton Springs, my husband and I didn’t realize it closes every Thursday.  My husband then remembered there’s the “free” side of Barton Springs, and it never closes.  In my college days, I remember going to the “free” side, because dogs were allowed, beer was in abundance, and the entire outdoor permeated with the smell of weed. As we approached the other side of the springs, I was both happy and terrified things hadn’t changed a bit.

Just like the main side of Barton Springs, there’s no lack of interesting characters.  When our son asked “what’s that smell,” my husband and I just laughed and said funny cigarettes and quickly changed the subject.  Everyone was in good spirits, the dogs in the area were all well-behaved, and our eighteen-month daughter loved the water, and the cold never phased her.

As most days go on the “free” side, there are always dogs.  They were all swimming and fetching and keeping pretty much to themselves or owners.  One dog even swam close to my son, as he was swimming out to some of the deeper waters, and I felt a sense of comfort, as the dog stayed near his side. There was one dog, Whisky…yes, we all knew Whiskey’s name, as you could tell he was the one dog giving other dogs at the springs a bad rap.  His owner was giving a halfhearted attempt to reign him in, but in the long run, all she wanted to do was lay out and tan, so Whiskey went wild.

Poor thing wasn’t a bad dog, but you could tell he lacked guidance. It was forgivable because after all, he is just a sweet dog, but with a clueless owner.  Until the moment I was playing in the water with my daughter and look over, and there’s Whiskey dumping in our beautiful Barton Springs.  I looked around for his sun-bathing owner, and she did let out a weak and unmeaningful “Whiskey, don’t do that.”  But I wanted to stand up and shout, “Dude…get your dog out of the water!”  When you swim in lakes, rivers, springs or any other natural body of water, I think we have all come to terms with the fact that someone 5-feet away is probably peeing, but the dog was squatting and letting it go in the water was too much.  I scooped up (no pun intended) my kids and decided it was probably a good time to go at this point.

We were prepared to only stay in the water for fifteen minutes or even less, but both kids were loving it and had already been swimming for over an hour.  It had been a great day, so Whiskey in no way ruined it, but it was a good exit point.  My husband and I had to pry the kids out of the “free” waters, so we could all go home and take well-deserved naps (and showers).  I know we’ll be going back with the kids again before long, and we’ll pay our couple of dollars for admission to the main springs, or we’ll go back to the free side and see what adventure awaits there. Either way, no matter what side of the springs you’re swimming, it’s probably best to stay upstream!


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