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Desert Dispatch Vol. 6

PHOTO OF THE WEEK: Watering Hole by Kirby Warnock. Each week, we'll feature a different image from a listener or staff member. Send your snapshot to photos@marfapublicradio.org.
Kirby Warnock
PHOTO OF THE WEEK: Watering Hole by Kirby Warnock. Each week, we'll feature a different image from a listener or staff member. Send your snapshot to photos@marfapublicradio.org.

The summer heat has finally arrived in West Texas. Last week was all cloudless skies, a bright sun, and dry winds that kicked hot desert dust into everything. Walking down the street, I could feel the heat of the pavement through the soles of my shoes. It’s an early a taste of a specific desert heat that makes me wonder if this place is better suited to the lizards, javelina, and vinegaroons. 

But we do live here, and we must cool down. In this sweltering place, I’m thinking of the only thing that provides sweet relief: swimming pools. 

While we may only be on the cusp of summer, Texas swimming season is well underway. But out here in West Texas, there are some pools that are more a suggestion of relief– pools that remain eerily quiet, filled with tumbleweeds and dust, waiting for a swimmer that will never arrive. These are the ghost pools of West Texas.

The Castle on Waco

The Chinati Pool
Carlos Morales
The Chinati Pool

“Let’s go swim at the castle.” 

According to Eliseo Martinez, that was the constant refrain during hot Marfa summers decades ago, when people would head to the pool on Waco Street to cool off.

The pool was built by the military in the fort-era– so likely in the 30s or 40s. The pool was a gathering place on hot summer days until it closed for good sometime in the 1950s.From down the street, the pool looks like an abandoned medieval fortress, fit with turrets, an elaborate iron gate, and overgrown brush leaning against the white brick.

In an oral history recorded by the Blackwell School Alliance, Martinez talks about the summers he spent swimming at the castle, walking all the way across town to take a dip. He started going when he was about 11, when it cost only a dime to get in.

Courtesy of the Chinati Foundation Archives
Courtesy of the Chinati Foundation Archives

Long after the pool had been closed and drained for good, Martinez came back to the castle. He was working for the Chinati Foundation, which had scoped it out for a potential art installation. 

“This is where I used to come when I was young,” he told his co-workers. Standing at the edge of the empty pool, he said he remembered diving off the board, and swimming from one end to the other. 

A note to readers: this pool is very much closed to the public, and the space is the private property of the Chinati Foundation.

Lobo Pool Party

Just off highway 90, about an hour outside of Marfa, Lobo was once home to acres of farmland. Over time, farmers pumped the water dry, then eventually abandoned the town. 

Years later, after seeing a “town for sale” sign, a group of 10 Germans pooled their money and bought Lobo, throwing regular parties and festivals, injecting life not only into the ghost town, but also the ghost pool on the property.

Via zaigee on flickr under CC BY-SA 2.0 Deed
Rachel Boyce
Via zaigee on flickr under CC BY-SA 2.0 Deed

Sometimes they’d fill it with water, but on other occasions they’d empty it out, string up some lights and have dance parties in the dark. 

Power Wash

Balmorhea State Park Pool is fed by the San Solomon Springs, one of the six natural occurring springs located near the community of Balmorhea. (Texas Parks and Wildlife)

Balmorhea is our only extant pool in this letter. It is our local watering hole, and it’s annual cleaning and closure this past week lead to the theme of this newsletter. 

Located in the town of Balmorhea, the pool is the world’s largest spring-fed body of water. It’s contained by cement and houses a variety of aquatic wildlife– turtles, tiny fish, and algae.

After an annual cleaning, courtesy Texas State Parks Facebook Page 2015
After an annual cleaning, courtesy Texas State Parks Facebook Page 2015

“It's pretty magnifying,” said Park Superintendent Torrey Bonham, who called me from the empty pool in Balmorhea last week.

The park was undergoing its annual cleaning, which entails slowly draining the pool and power-washing the cement part, keeping a few feet of water in the natural spring area as not to harm the wildlife. 

“You don't get a real feeling of the depth until you're standing in the 9 foot deep area looking up toward the main pool steps,” Torrey said. “You're like ‘Wow! When I got in the pool last week, those steps were right there. Suddenly they’re high up and far away.”

The cleaning is now complete, and the pool is full and open to visitors.


Con Safos– This week’s phrase is the once-famous term in Caló, con safos. Safos comes from the Spanish term zafar, which means to get loose, escape, untie or unburden oneself. In Caló, it’s a counter-spell you say in anticipation of a curse coming your way. In essence, it says that whatever ill or evil is wished upon you is dissolved or disassembled even as it’s being said. Unlike the common term in American English, “whatever pox you wish on me will come to you,” con safos means “I put up a spell that’ll render your curse useless against me even before you say it.”Caló is a borderland dialect. You can find more episodeshere.

Other programming:

Local officials in Alpine are considering potential updates to the city's rules on short-term rentals. For more on the ongoing conversations around Short Term Rentals, listen to Travis Bubenik’s conversation with Alpine Mayor Catherine Eaves here.

A wildfire that broke out just west of Alpine in late April is being investigated as a potential case of arson. More on that investigation here

Crews respond to the Roadside Park Fire in Brewster County on April 27, 2024.
Texas A&M Forest Service
Me interviewing Ester Sanchez for Marfa for Beginners

Researchers with the University of Texas at Austin say Presidio County’s border region could be a promising site to generate geothermal energy– a process that captures power from underground heat. More from Annie Rosenthal on that here.

High Five

Here’s five songs for an empty pool party from DJ W. Creeves: 

1. Arroyo Seco – John Carroll Kirby
2. St Tropez – Arp
3. Travelogue – Frank LoCrasto
4. Feel It All Around – Washed Out
5. Washed Ashore – Monster Rally

You can find all of our music shows on our Mixcloud.


Take a hike with a dog!

Davis Mountains Grand Companions Hike
Charlie Ewing
Davis Mountains Grand Companions Hike

Grand Companions of Fort Davis invites the public to hike with a rescue dog at the Davis Mountain State Park every Thursday morning from 9-10 a.m.

Participants meet at the Park’s Interpretive Center and are paired with a dog from the Grand Companions Humane Society for a light morning walk on one of the park’s hiking trails.

For more information, visit Grand Companions.org or contact the Davis Mountain State Park at 432-426-3337.

If you have PSAs you want on the air or in this newsletter, head to www.marfapublicradio.org/psa.

Merch in the Wild

Former Marfa Public Radio General Manager Tom Michael rocking our classic logo tee in the Windy City.

Do you wear a Marfa Public Radio hat to protect yourself from the sun? Do you use your tote bag to head to the pool?

If you wear, use or spot Marfa Public Radio merch out and about, send us a photo to photos@marfapublicradio.org with the subject line "Merch in the Wild.”

And you can get your own MPR merch here!

Zoe Kurland is a senior producer at Marfa Public Radio.