Memories by John McElligott , Don Patteson and Mike Morris
Head out to Pecos and down to the mountains. There you will see lots of irrigation canals and the largest swimming pool ever. This is where a 7 year old kid became Starman.
Balmorhea, the pool, is where we would would float down the canals all the way to the town of Balmorhea. Walking all the way back was hard, but worth the trip since my mom had sandwiches made and ready to eat along with a jar of jalapenos.
My mother’s family (McCutcheon) were ranchers in the Davis Mountains.
My grandmother and grandfather owned the Toyahvale Mercantile across the highway from the Balmorhea State Park. He was the store manager and she was the Postmistress. After he came back from the war, my dad became the butcher. We moved to Lovington, NM when I was a little fellow, but I spent many a summer there and floated (surfed when the water was flowing strongly) those canals many times.
Back in the day, before they closed it off, there was an outlet from the pool under the decking around the pool at the end by the high diving board. The spring produced a lot of water and the current through that opening (which fed the irrigation canals) was very strong. The big deal in those days was to float through with the current and then be able to swim back against the current strongly enough and hold your breath long enough to make it back into the pool. No doubt, Starman could have done it!! Unfortunately, someone died trying to do it and they fenced it off so you couldn’t do it anymore.
I still have a cousin living in Ft. Davis. He owns the Paisano Hotel in Marfa and the Lodge in Cloudcroft, NM. It is always a treat to get back to the Davis Mountains – such fond childhood memories!
Like Don said, there was a channel at the diving board end where, if the current was just right, you could take a very deep breath and swim back in there and, we had heard one could even see catfish lingering back in the depths of the channel.
One summer, me and three of my friends, Louis Holiman, Bill Abbott and Dan Bristow, (class of ’58), took the long, hot (no air conditioner back then in a black (!) 48 Plymouth coupe) trip there to “hunt” those catfish. We all made gigs from broomsticks and coat hanger wire that we were just sure would allow us to snag us some good tasting catfish for dinner that night.
We had all bought those big, round goggles and a pair of swim fins, and had practiced holding our breath with a target of reaching two minutes or longer. We learned how to hyperventilate so all of us could go up to 2.5 minutes, just sitting there, so we were ready! Also, we had waterproofed and tested our flashlights and we’re positive they would not fail.
It was almost sundown when we slipped into the ice water of that spring-fed pool. Louis went first and I followed. We had gone in no longer than a minute when, in an instant, rather than having Lou’s flippers in my face, all I saw were two giant eyeballs in a face mask rapidly swimming past me back to the pool! Of course, all of us swam back, following his lead, wondering what the heck!
First of all, Lou always reminded me of Don Knots, so you can picture this along with the rest of this story. Back on top, Lou removed his mask and he was spitting and panting as he told us he had seen a catfish that was “bigger than I am, and it scared the sh*t out of me!”. We all had a good laugh, but were all sufficiently
convinced that we didn’t want to go back in there to see if there were any “attack” catfish back in “the cave”. So we went to our cabin and caught fish and turtles from the canal that was right behind the cabin. Great time…great memories, great friends!
A very good article, and response from Mike.I got to go there twice.. The first time, as a kid, we stayed in one of the rock cabins that had a canal in front of it.. Loved it. The second time I had taken my young family on a vacation from Corpus Christi to Fort Davis then Big Bend. We drove down to Balmorhea one morning, but the pool had not yet opened for the season (April??). l
Great memories and loved the pictures. Bob Ittner