Senior editor Joe Nick Patoski, writer-at-large Suzy Banks, and others tell the story behind this month's cover story, "On the Water Front."
texasmonthly.com: Why did you choose your particular topic to write about?
Suzy Banks: I love the allure of a great hotel pool. After a day of traveling, nothing can reinvigorate you like a dip in a pool—even a simple, clean motel pool—that someone else has to maintain.
Jennifer Olsen: I decided to volunteer for the tubing section of the story because my fondest summer memories are of the Guadalupe River, and I wanted to investigate other, less populated river stretches.
Joe Nick Patoski: I chose swimming holes because there’s no purer, simpler form of water recreation in Texas, and there’s something about immersing one’s body in fresh, clean spring water. Mother Nature blows away any pool designer on the planet, plus she left chlorine, insurance regulations, and lap lanes out of the plans.
Katy Vine: I like to swim laps, so I picked pools. And I practically grew up in a lake, so I was pretty well suited for that one too.
Eileen Schwartz: I volunteered to do water parks because I think they’re a riot.
Patricia Busa McConnico: I grew up near the beach, so beaches and windsurfing were natural choices.
texasmonthly.com: How long did you work on this story?
KV: Like most stories of this nature, it took months to find and visit the places, and less than an hour to write them up.
SB: For the measly 22 listings I wrote, I drove 4,700 miles over about a month and a half.
JNP: About two months, racking up more than 1,000 miles on the Accord.
texasmonthly.com: How did you come up with your list?
ES: The water parks were basically a matter of deduction since there are only so many. I ended up going with the more family-friendly places in the end, rather than those that possibly offered more thrills but also more gimmicks.
SB: For hotel pools, I relied on my faulty memory and suggestions from Texas Monthly staffers. For lakes, I searched through Web sites—from TPWD and the National Park Service to the LCRA and local Chamber of Commerce sites. I pored through books like Splash Across Texas, The Official Guide to Texas State Parks, and other guides. Then I hopped into my trusty Subaru and went exploring. You should see the Texas map where I charted my drives: It looks like the flight of an insane one-winged bee.
JNP: For surfing, I talked with numerous surfers and did a lot of reading. Waves on the Gulf tend to lack form and fall apart quickly, so I was certainly looking for spots noted for producing waves with form and shape.
texasmonthly.com: Did you try to visit every place on your list? Why or why not?
KV: There were a couple of places that were on our list that got thrown out. In one case, for instance, one of our pools that sounded nice on paper turned out to be considered “awfully scary” by several town natives.
texasmonthly.com: What was your biggest disappointment once you got there? Why?
ES: The day before we were supposed to see the Balmorhea pool, the temperature dropped from the sixties to the forties, and this was late April. We were expecting it be hot and were looking forward to cooling off there.
PB: When my mother and I drove to Boca Chica Beach, we went to the end of the beach, where the mouth of the Rio Grande spills into the Gulf. I was expecting a huge river pouring into the water. Wrong. At the time, parts of the river had dried up. In fact, the Border Patrol had to monitor it all the time because you could literally walk across the border.
texasmonthly.com: What was your biggest surprise? Why?
KV: One of the lakes had posted a sign with a long list of warnings, including a sign that read “Health problems may develop from swimming in nonflowing bodies of water.” It also specified “no diving,” which seemed like a no-brainer since the water was about two inches deep. Needless to say, that lake didn’t make the cut.
SB: My biggest surprise was finding the pool at the Omni Houston Hotel (which didn’t make the list although it’s a great pool) twenty feet under flood waters!
JO: My biggest surprise was how incredibly beautiful and tranquil Balmorhea pool was. It surpassed all my expectations.
texasmonthly.com: What was the strangest thing you saw while you were researching this story?
KV: On one filthy beach, displayed next to an assortment of dead fish, was a stick drawing of a somber-looking bunny bearing a spear while riding atop an anteater. It was mystifying. I didn’t know whether to take a picture or run away with a sense of impending doom.
JO: I saw a roadrunner in West Texas. Not that strange, but I’d never seen one before.
texasmonthly.com: What did you like most about working on this story? Why?
SB: Driving around. Because if I didn’t enjoy it, I’d be in a lunatic asylum right now.
texasmonthly.com: Why do you think people will want to read this story?
KV: Because if they’re like me, they hate wasting their time and money going to a lame park or pool.
JO: If you are going to be outdoors in the summer in Texas, water is the only option.
texasmonthly.com: What was the criteria for picking “the best” spots? Who decided?
KV: We wanted a good geographical mix, but the place had to be truly outstanding, not just nice. We decided as a group to vote pools and lakes in or out.
JO: We wanted to recommend only places that had something that made them distinct. Every town had something like that, but we wanted only the places that really stood out across the entire state.
texasmonthly.com: If you would pick one place from the whole story to go to this weekend, what would it be? Why?
KV: Balmorhea, because I still haven’t been there.
ES: Blamorhea State Park and nearby Fort Davis. Water, mountains, desert—what more can you ask for?
SB: I’d probably go to the Warwick Hotel in Houston because I’m in need of a little glamour.
JO: Balmorhea State Park. The landscape and the surrounding areas were truly inspiring and incredibly relaxing.
PB: I would go to Malaquite Beach. I went to South Padre Island last weekend.
JNP: I’d go to Edgar’s Hole on the Frio. It’s my ideal swimming hole.