Thursday, September 10, 2009

Barton Springs

When I was moving to Austin my dad kept telling me to "find the fountain." "OK, dad," I said each time. I had no idea what he was talking about. My dad used to be a professor and seems to still use lectures to convey his ideas so I didn't ask him to expound, fearing a drawn-out answer. Well, turns out he was talking about Barton Springs.

In Austin's Zilker Park you will find quite literally, an oasis. Barton Springs is a three-acre natural spring-fed pool that provides swimming pool-like aquatic relief for Austinites on the hottest of days, maintaining a cool 68 degrees temperature. Fun fact: Robert Redford learned to swim there at five years old. (Pshhh I was 3 when I learned to swim.)

Last Monday, Labor Day, I decided to see what all the fuss was about. After a long, hot, boozy weekend I needed some relief. I packed my backpack with cookies, an apple, water, a book, and a towel, threw on my bikini and a cover-up and set out to take the bus to Zilker Park. The bus ride was miserable, requiring a transfer on a detoured bus route downtown running on a Sunday schedule. The compounded effect of transfer x detour x Sunday schedule took a toll and I found myself lost in the middle of downtown in 100 degree weather being misdirected by a friendly, yet clueless police officer. That kind of sucked, but in the end the experience added to my appreciation of the relief that Barton Springs provides.

When I arrived at Zilker Park, I found my way to Barton Springs and paid the $3 entry fee. Right before you get to the pay-entrance you pass a playground, rows of covered picnic tables, and a snack bar featuring sno-cones. I was already thinking about what flavor to get for the way home. I entered the pool area, spread out my towel, and picked up my book but soon found myself just looking around. The pool in some ways looks like any artificial in-ground pool. The water depths are marked on the side and there is a cement sidewalk surrounding most of the area. There are stairs leading down into the water. There is a diving board with a long line of surprisingly old bathers waiting to do tricks off the board. The differences are there is algae floating in the water, there is a slippery bottom of rock and moss, the opposing wall from me that bordered the pool is rock, and it is much larger than any backyard pool I have seen. After taking in the scenery I began to listen to the people around me. In front of me was a French family with a plump mom, a very handsome dad, and three young children. I tried to make out what they were saying but my very elementary understanding of French was no help. To the right of me was a Chinese couple, the woman in a two-piece with bottoms that reached well above her belly-button and the man in a speedo. They too were speaking in their native language. Behind me were two young Australian men. I was surprised at how many countries were represented just within my auditory range.

I quickly got hot and went for a dip in the pool, which was colder than any lake I have been in. It was so refreshing, to be in the cool water surrounded by rock and grass, with hundreds of people young and old all around, and odd too, to at the same time see the tall buildings of downtown Austin not far away. An oasis indeed.

I was getting sunburnt so I dried off and left the Springs after about two hours, stopping for a lemon sno-cone on the way out. Thankfully, the bus ride home wasn't as bad as getting there, although while I was waiting for the second bus a pregnant woman sat down next to me and lit up a cigarette. She looked pretty scary so I didn't say anything.

If it doesn't rain too much this weekend I think I will go to Barton Springs again, only this time with a friend so I don't have to take the bus.

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