Thursday, June 1, 2017


I reviewed The Swimming Holes of Texas (University of Texas Press) by Julie Wernersbach and Carolyn Tracy for Lone Star Literary Life. This is the definitive, indispensable life hack for surviving summer in Texas.

Julie Wernersbach and Carolyn Tracy
The Swimming Holes of Texas
University of Texas Press
Paperback, 978-1-4773-1237-7, (also available as an e-book), 256 pgs., $21.95
May 16, 2017
“It’s the middle of July. Bank marquees and car thermometers clock another 104˚ day. Air conditioners moan. Brooklyn transplants weep.”
The Swimming Holes of Texas by Texas Book Festival literary director Julie Wernersbach, with photography by Carolyn Tracy, is the forty-fourth volume in the University of Texas Press’s Jack and Doris Smothers Series in Texas History, Life, and Culture. A curated selection of more than one hundred recreational swimming sites in Texas, The Swimming Holes of Texas is so much more than merely that; it’s a series of mini-courses in the geography, ecology, history, archaeology, anthropology, and pop culture of the Lone Star State.

Wernersbach and Tracy explored swimming holes (research can be a tough job) from Caprock Canyons in the Panhandle, to Martin Dies Jr. State Park deep in East Texas, to Bandera in South Texas, and on out to Balmorhea and Boquillas Hot Springs in far West Texas. Most of the sites are in national, state, and city parks, but a handful take you places GPS can’t. Divided into six regions, The Swimming Holes of Texas provides a map for each region, with the locales arranged in alphabetical order within each section. Each entry includes information on hours of operation, entrance fees, park rules, camping, local history, details on the swimming conditions, amenities, and “pro tips.”

Pro tips are the life hacks of swimming holes: Cypress Bend Park in New Braunfels is your alternative to Schlitterbahn; reservations are required at Hamilton Pool in Dripping Springs; clothing-optional Hippie Hollow forbids nudity in the parking lot; it’s pronounced “BURN-ee”; no swim areas are specifically designated at Choke Canyon State Park because of the, um, alligators.

Each entry is packed with information. Fun facts include: the Texas State Bison Herd lives at Caprock Canyons State Park; Deep Eddy began life as a “veritable aquatic theater, featuring attractions such as a trapeze, Ferris wheel, and Great Lorena’s Diving Horse”; Krause Springs in Spicewood is listed in the National Register of Historic Places as an undisturbed Native American burial ground; Palmetto State Park is (maybe) home to something called the North American wood ape, aka “The Ottine Thing,” (possibly) the Texas Bigfoot.

This guide is thoroughly practical, offering specific, detailed advice. The authors asked four questions about each swimming hole: “Is this water we want to swim in? Are there reasonable amenities? Do we feel safe and relaxed? And, most important, would we want to come here again?” Included are several Top Five lists for different categories, depending upon your preferences or needs. These are where you’ll find the best choices for families with children, which locales are dog-friendly, which are the most easily accessible, and several additional categories.

Tracy’s photographs had me smiling and feeling peaceful. Special mention is due to the stunning photo of Jacob’s Well in Wimberley, and sunset at Lake Brownwood State Park turning the water copper and bronze.

Whether waxing poetic and philosophical (“Mythic, mysterious, miraculous West Texas … There’s no promise that the Chihuahuan Desert will save your soul, but it will certainly set you to thinking about the vast stars above and the enormous earth beneath your feet”), or discussing purely practical matters such as water shoes, The Swimming Holes of Texas is written with humor and appreciative respect for the land and its resources. It is the definitive, indispensable guide to surviving summer in Texas.

Originally published in Lone Star Literary Life.

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