It’s a true oasis in the middle of the west Texas desert.

When planning my trip out to west, I had a whole list of places I wanted to go.  Balmorhea wasn’t one of them.

I looked at the map, studying small towns along I-10 on the way to Marfa.  I saw Fort Davis and Fort Stockton and a few others on my wish list, but then I saw Balmorhea State Park.

Hmm…how do you even pronounce that?  I looked it up on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department web site and, much to my surprise, Balmorhea moved up to the top of my list.

It’s a tiny town about an hour north of Marfa in west Texas.  It’s in the middle of the desert, surrounded by mountains, and home to San Solomon Springs and the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool.  (Among other surprises.)

Balmorhea is the perfect place to make a refreshing stop for the night on your way to or from Big Bend Ranch State Park or Big Bend National Park.


I drove in from Austin and arrived in Balmorhea around 4 p.m.  The scenery just kept getting better and better.  I couldn’t believe the beauty of the mountains and the ever-changing evening light.  I had to pull off the road a couple times to breathe deep and take a few photos, like the one above.

After I checked in at the park office and received my camp site number, I set up my tent, still marveling at my surroundings.



The park has camp sites with water, electricity, a fire pit, grill and covered picnic table.  It also has a couple of options for rooms, suites and group facilities.  (Click here for accommodations.)

I made a quick fire, ate some dinner, cleaned up and drove to another one of the unexpected sights the little town has to offer.

Calera Chapel, also called Mission Mary, is about a 10 min. drive west of Balmorhea State Park on FM 3078.


It’s a small, white, adobe chapel that was originally built in 1902 by the people of the small farming community of Calera, TX.  Father Nicolas Brocardus, a thirty-four year old Dutch priest, traveled to that region often to perform baptisms and marriages.  The church was built by the community in his honor.

The chapel fell in to disrepair in the 1940s, when the community dispersed and it couldn’t maintain a congregation.  Then, in 2002, the Calera Foundation was founded and made it their mission to restore the building.

It’s an amazingly beautiful place with nothing around for miles.  I set up my camera to capture the chapel at sunset and twilight.  (Click here to read about light painting and how I got these images.)


Since the restoration, Calera Chapel is a fully functioning place of worship.  You can go inside, where there’s an alter, pews and candles.  Outside, prayer rocks left by visitors line the foundation.



It was a very interesting place to be.  The church, especially inside, felt haunted.  I never felt afraid, but I never felt alone, even though I was clearly the only person there at the time.

After the sun had set, I returned to my camp site and enjoyed the fire for a little while before going to bed.

My tent was set up on the back edge of the site (the flattest spot), and as I drifted off to sleep I wondered if I should have moved it closer to the road.  I heard coyotes yipping in the distance, then woke a few hours later to hear them much closer.  All of a sudden the durable nylon material of my tent seemed more like a delicate cotton candy shell with me being the tasty nougat on the inside.

Eventually I fell back to sleep and woke (unharmed) to a beautiful morning.

I had been there for 15 hours and had not yet enjoyed what I came for.  I ate some breakfast, put on my swim suit and set out to explore the springs.

There’s a small wetlands area between the camp sites and suite buildings.  It has fish and plants and turtles and a viewing area.


I watched the turtles for a little while, then walked over to the springs.

At first glance it looks like a very large, public pool.  There are restrooms and changing areas, picnic tables, steps in to the pool, a couple diving boards, etc.



Then, when you get closer, you see fish swimming around in the crystal clear water, and rocks and sand lining the deeper areas of the pool.


It’s spring-fed, so the water is between 72 and 76 degrees year-round.  The pool has a range of depths, from three feet all the way to 25 feet, making it perfect for families.  The shallower areas have a concrete bottom and a few less fish.

I took my underwater camera for a swim to see what I could see.






I took my mask and snorkel and swam in the water for a while, but I had to get out every 20 min or so to warm up.  It was only about 80 degrees outside that day.  Luckily there’s plenty of space by the pool to lay out in the sun and enjoy the mountain view.

When I’d had my fill and felt refreshed, I returned to my camp site, at a late lunch, took a shower (yes, they have showers at the camp site area), and was on my way to my next adventure.

Balmorhea was just lovely.  It’s perfect for families or weary travelers, or just people looking to get away for 24 hours.  It’s pretty good for snorkeling and diving too!

Here are a few links to help you plan your trip:
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department – Balmorehea State Park (accommodations, park map, fees, hours, etc.)
Toyahvale Desert Oasis Dive Shop (a dive shop right next to the park)
Calera Foundation (for info on Calera Chapel/Mission Mary)
Landis Images light painting blog post (for info on how to get cool night shots of Calera Chapel and other things)

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