Sunday, November 8, 2009

Balmorhea State Park, Snorkeling with Endangered Species

It had been so long since I had donned a snorkel and fins that I wondered what it would be like. As soon as I kicked with my new fins I could feel the power and drive and as I dove below the surface I could see fish everywhere. Silvery flashes were everywhere from Mexican Tetra and I could see a small fish near the bottom. It had a mottled color pattern somewhat like a bass, but it wasn't a largemouth.
We had arrived at Balmorhea State Park after a fairly long drive,(towing our house of course), of about 300 miles. All the way I had wondered about the wisdom of reserving a campsite for four days but it was a needless worry as there was so much to do that we barely had time for it all.
The first day, I took Molly for a morning walk and was rewarded with a black phoebe, drinking water from a canal that drained the swimming pool. Later Renita and I biked to the pool and we were both surprised to see so many fish and ducks swimming around. Now Balmorhea State Park bills itself as the largest spring fed open swimming pool in the world, about two acres in size and it looked big to me. We biked outside the park and almost reached town before spotting a large dog watching us from the middle of the highway.
The afternoon couldn't come soon enough and I could barely contain myself as I readied my new snorkel gear. I had purchased it at a K Mart at Rock Springs where it sat with a 50% off sticker. There isn't a lot of snorkeling opportunities in the cold waters of Flaming Gorge.
We drove to the pool even though it was close as I had too much gear to carry. The pool is 29 feet deep at it deepest and I brought along a life jacket, so I could float above the deep water and watch the fish,(I am a really good swimmer but I am also a cautious one, when it comes to deep water).
We had the pool completely to ourselves as we both waded in. Renita started in the shallow end and was immediately surrounded by a school of Mexican Tetra. I started nearer to the deeper end and dove down testing the new equipment. Everything worked great and I was rewarded with the sight of a Comanche Springs Pupfish, an endangered species, on my second dive.
We both played in the shallow end for a while and it reminded us of the time we were in the Bahamas, surrounded by colorful fish and crystal clear waters. I put on my life jacket and swam to the deepest part of the pool, amazed by the water clarity, I could see all the way to the bottom!.
Large catfish swam among flashing schools of Mexican Tetra and deeper roundnose minnows. I didn't see any green sunfish or Pecos Gambusia, the other endangered species here, but that was ok as I wasn't really sure what they looked like and there is another fish, a largespring gambrusia, that makes it difficult to distinguish.
The next day we drove to the nearby Balmorhea Lake hoping to find more birds. Now the lake is privately operated and you have to pay four bucks each to drive the roads so we payed as it seemed like a pretty cheap ticket for birding.
Driving across the dam we saw a osprey and some northern flickers. A Clark's Grebe was a new bird for us and we had to stop to keep from running over several coveys of scaled quail.
A belted kingfisher sat on a telephone wire holding a fish in its beak, as if it was trying to attract a mate, but it isn't breeding season. We drove further and the roads became rutted but luckily it was dry so we didn't have to worry about becoming stuck.
The four wheel drive road narrowed and soon large thorny bushes were scraping both sides of the truck. Crossing a primitive bridge, made of railroad ties we continued on and met an incredulous local who waved and smiled and said that the road would soon get better.
We took a wrong turn and ended up on the wrong side of a padlocked fence, with no way to get around it so I backed the truck through more thorny bushes and turned down a muddy road. I could feel the tires mushing through the Texas mud but we made it to drier ground and the road became wider and actually had gravel!
We continued our drive past the lake front homes and people waved as they couldn't imagine someone from Wyoming visiting their small lake.It was a nice day and we returned home tired and still sore from our previous days biking and swimming. We have enjoyed it here and hope to swim with the fish again, which seems pretty strange as its November! Clear skies.

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