There’s nothing like a blistering summer day in Texas to make me start looking for the nearest exit. Fortunately, it is possible to get out of the heat without ever leaving the state. I know a getaway where a three- or four-day weekend is like a breath of fresh air: the Davis Mountains, the one place that stays cool while the rest of the state swelters.
Actually, this coolest spot in Texas used to be hot millions of years ago, when two volcanos blew their stacks and restructured the countryside into the Davis Mountains. What keeps the West Texas range from becoming high and dry like the taller Guadalupe Mountains to the north is a vast network of sparkling springs that turn into nourishing little creeks. Fragrant pinons with breezes blowing through them are all I can think about as I motor west along Interstate 10 on a mercilessly hot summer day, when the sun’s scorching glare can burn your legs and arms through the car windows. Just ahead I see the shadowy contours of the Davis range mounding at the horizon; relief lies less than an hour away.
Balmorhea State Park, just outside Balmorhea on the edge of the mountain country, is my first stop. The white-stucco, red-tiled San Solomon Springs Courts look refreshingly pert after hours on the road. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1940, the park was one of the last places the U.S. Cavalry bivouacked before World War II made horses obsolete. The cavalrymen were supposed to be preparing for desert warfare, but they must have enjoyed the joke: Only on a map does Balmorhea look as if it’s in the desert. In real life, however, it’s an oasis that thrives on the bounty of San Solomon Springs. Water from the springs pours into the world’s largest outdoor spring-fed swimming pool here at the rate of 22 million to 26 million gallons a day. As I trundle a huge rented inner tube to the U-shaped pool, the 72-degree crystal-clear water looks alluring. Turtles, crayfish, and—infrequently—harmless water snakes think so too, so don’t be surprised by an occasional nibble. A canal from the springs winds through the park, bubbling over dams, under bridges, and around the motel’s courts.
After I make my splash, it’s time for the thirty-minute southward commute on Texas Highway 17 to mile-high Fort Davis. The road heads straight up into the bluish haze of the mountains, then meanders alongside Limpia Creek