Editor’s Note: Since this article was written, the increased popularity of Jacob’s Well has led to Hays County deciding to close the Natural Area to swimming starting on Tuesday, September 2nd until Spring of 2015. Jacob’s Well will still be open to the public for “nature activities”.
I’m a list maker. Granted, after having kids, it becomes harder and harder to actually cross anything off any of my given lists, but when I do, it’s quite a feeling. That’s why I was intrigued by Catherine’s idea to come up with an Austin Bucket List for 2014. This wouldn’t be a list of all the things my kid needed to do before kindergarten, or all of the places to take your kids around the world before they grow up (yes, I own that book), but just a short list of things I want to get out and do this year. One or so per month. Set the bar low — isn’t that the hallmark of parenting?
As a native Austinite, I am always surprised when I hear about a place I have never been to in the thirty-ish years I have lived here. Truth be told, I like to feel as though I’m an Austin expert. So, when I heard stories about Jacob’s Well, a swimming hole near Wimberley, I knew it would end up on my Austin Bucket List.
I completely understand why the allure of swimming holes is lost on families with small children, or even moms trying to keep their eyes on multiple kids in a body of water. Slippery spots are common, the water can be a little murky at times and the depth is variable. When you add in a long-ish drive from central Austin and a more-than-the-stroll-to-the-neighborhood-pool walk lugging all the necessary accoutrements, it’s no wonder that many families stick to the “swimming holes” which have chlorine and kiddie pools.
All that said, I now have an 8-year-old, confident swimmer who is up for trying out new places, so I’m not as worried these days about where I take him. In fact, I decided one Friday afternoon in July that we would head to Jacob’s Well the next morning, in time for the advertised 10am Saturday tours. Part of what motivated me was this video on the Jacob’s Well Facebook page. The problem was, the following Monday we were heading out of town, and when I woke up the next morning I just didn’t have the get-up-and-go in me that would be required to get the family ready and out of the house by 9am. So, my trip got put off until the week my friend was in town and my son was at camp during the day.
It was a solid one-hour drive from my house in north central Austin to Jacob’s Well, and I knew we’d want to hang out there as long as possible, so we picked up some prepared salads and snacks from the new-ish Trader Joe’s and hit the road.
Although Jacob’s Well was acquired by Hays County in 2010 from the Wimberley Valley Watershed Association, Central Texans have been visiting the swimming hole since the 1850s. From what I could find online, most of the visits were unregulated in recent years, although the Well was no longer such a secret. The natural area’s master plan includes the removal of the shell of a former RV park, adding hike and bike trails and renovating an interpretive garden. Hays County hosted a grand opening in May of 2014 to showcase some of the improvements.
When I had called back in July to ask about the tours, the Parks employee who answered mentioned that there was a new entrance for the park. So, we followed the directions, even passing a sign which clearly read “Jacob’s Well”, only to end up at a spot with absolutely nothing. So, we circled back and followed the signs into a parking lot. By then, it was about 11:45am. I had read that it was good to arrive by 9am to avoid crowds, but I just couldn’t swing that on a weekday, and I didn’t really want to head down in rush hour. So, the small parking lot we pulled into probably had a dozen other cars. So much for my fantasy of having the whole place to ourselves.
We started going down one path until we noticed a couple walking in another direction who looked as though they knew what they were doing. We knew we were on the right track when we noticed a sign with the list of rules. I should also mention that there were portable toilets by a house which looked as though it might be for Parks employees, and I made the mistake of stopping there. Lesson learned: use the restroom before you leave.
After a short walk down a path which mysteriously branched and with no signage, we followed the noise of our fellow visitors out to the Well. The area was much smaller than I was expecting. If you have been to Blue Hole in Wimberley, the swimming portion of Jacob’s Well is probably about half the size. I’m guessing there were probably 30 people there when we arrived, so we did our best to find a spot to put down our stuff and had lunch before we got into the water. On the side where you enter, there is a limestone ledge which extends to the end of the property (there are clearly marked signs which show where private property begins, which some visitors paid attention to better than others). You can get down to the water that way, although it’s easier closer to where the Well itself is located, which makes for some congestion in that area.
The water is chilly, although perhaps not as frigid as Barton Springs, so we eased ourselves in. My friend remarked that it would have been nice to have tubes with us to lounge in the water, but with no floating devices we made our way over to a shallow ledge and sat there and relaxed. We both wondered aloud what it must be like on a weekend, guessing that it wouldn’t be great to go unless you arrived super early. It was tempting just to watch a never-ending parade of folks jumping off the ledge and into the water, but it was also nice to just sit a little bit away from the action.
As I have noticed at other swimming holes, there tends to be one adult coaching the kids who were jumping, to make sure they jumped into the deeper Well area, which was so shockingly small that it made me nervous to watch. There was also a ledge closer to the water which some kids and adults were jumping off of. A narrow man-made ledge next to the Well was full of onlookers, and a wide, substantial-looking board provided another way for folks to get across the water, as it seemed as though there might be a picnic table on the opposite side (not sure if that was part of the Natural Area or not).
The other visitors ranged in age from younger kids to adults, with a good number of high schoolers. Due to the slippery conditions and unsure footing in spots, it would definitely be difficult to be carrying a child or to bring someone along who is not too steady on his or her feet. I was also wishing I had some kind of water shoes, as it would have made for easier going getting in and out, although we did just fine. At one point, someone asked us if we had seen any glass, as a friend had cut her foot. We had not, but I tried to walk more carefully after that.
After a few hours, it was time to head back to town to pick up my son from summer camp. My friend and I had a nice time, and we were both glad we went, but I think the crowds and the drive definitely took away from the experience. I described the entry system at Hamilton Pool to my out of town friend and we both agreed that it would probably be better if the Parks Department limited the number of visitors to the Well and perhaps even charged an entry fee to keep the area protected. I cringe just thinking of returning with my family if my son wanted to jump (which apparently is against the rules, but which no one seemed to be paying any attention to). Complaints aside, I’m happy to say that we came, we saw, we swam and I have another item checked off my Bucket List!
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.livemom.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Nicole-Basham-Sara-Marzani-Photography-livemom.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]A native Austinite and soccer-playing mom, Nicole uses her 8-year-old son as an excuse to rediscover her hometown through his eyes. In Thoreau’s words, her mission is to “suck out all the marrow of life”, or in her son’s words, to cultivate in him a love of “advenchers”.[/author_info] [/author]