From the bustling cities to the Piney Woods and West Texas deserts, no state has as much to offer travelers as Texas. I keep an ever-growing Texas To-Do list; here’s one of my many entries.
Last May, cranes lifted a 480-ton theater out of the San Marcos River. It was the last remnant of the Aquarena Springs theme park, a fifties-era tourist attraction that famously featured underwater shows starring the Aquamaids, a mascot named Glurpo the Clown, and Ralph the swimming pig. In the early nineties, it was purchased by Southwest Texas State University (which we now know as Texas State University) and the submarine theater and the theme park, which had been struggling to lure in the hundreds of thousands of visitors that it once did, was shuttered. Sadly, watching the Aquamaids in their mermaid tails swim in perfect synchronicity is an item that will be never be crossed off of my Texas To-Do List. (I can still, however, buy my own copy of “Aquarena and Ralph,” a documentary of the diving pig, for $19.95.)
But luckily, the university has preserved one of the theme park’s best attractions: the glass-bottom boat rides, which give visitors the chance to peer into the crystal-clear waters to see the spring-fed world below. In addition to the thousands of springs themselves, which burble up from the sandy lake bottom, you can keep your eyes peeled for the eight endangered species that live here, like the Texas blind salamander and the fountain darter, or one of the volunteer divers who helps tend this underwater garden.
The boats go out every day, rain or shine. And because the artesian springs, which are the second largest west of the Mississippi, have never gone dry, you don’t have to worry about drought conditions. As fun as the boat rides look, though, I’m now also considering taking one of Aquarena’s glass-bottom kayaks out for a whirl (the one- or two-hour tours must be booked at least 72 hours in advance). Just one more thing to add to my Texas To-Do list!
Photo by kellyv (via Flickr)