It was six o’clock on a Friday morning, at least 15 minutes before dawn over the Texas capital, and dozens of vehicles had already piled into the parking lot at Barton Springs Pool, a few miles — and somehow, a world away. — from the illuminated skyscrapers of the city center.
Jeremy Baumann, a local health worker, had already been in the water for an hour, making his daily rounds. As the city settled in for another day of triple-digit heat, a devoted procession that would reach several thousand by evening made its way to the three-acre, spring-fed pool: families hauling plastic floats, workers briefly escaping from offices, longtime friends. and neighbors meeting pool as much to socialize as to swim.
When Austinites talk about Barton Springs, they do so almost spiritually. “It’s a very sacred place,” said Kim McKnight, manager of historic preservation and tourism for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. “I recognize that not everyone goes there, but for those who do, they can’t imagine life without it.”
Part of the Austin landscape since the early 20th century, the pool is so beloved that residents resorted to a near-rebellion to save it from developers in the 1990s. Weddings and funerals are regularly held on its grassy banks. the city boasts on its website that the actor Robert Redford learned to swim there at the age of 5 when he visited family in Austin.
Texas was caught early in a powerful heat wave that has now spread across the South and Southwest, leaving large parts of the country to battle dangerously high temperatures. More than 93 million people were under extreme heat warnings or warnings for the coming weekend as dangerous heat swept across the country from the West Coast to the Gulf Coast and threatened to break records in California, Arizona and elsewhere.
In Austin, where temperatures as high as 107 were expected to persist for much of next week, cars continued to pull into the parking lot at the springs, where the water temperature — winter or summer — averages a comfortable 68 to 71 degrees.
Waiting in the long lines at noon to get into Barton Springs Pool — admission is $5 per person for adult residents — is sometimes the hard part. Cassidy Stillwell, a lifeguard and facilities manager, said those waiting in line were sometimes subjected to heat stress. Patrons are advised to arrive with sunblock and water.
Fed by four springs flowing in from the Edwards Aquifer, the pool, with its natural bottom, concrete sides and deck, and wide expanse of trees and lawns, resembles a lake or river more than a swimming pool – a natural oasis in the middle of. a city that is one of the fastest growing in the United States.
“We love it, especially being so hot outside,” said Cedric Atwood of Dallas, who woke up with his family around 4 a.m. and headed to the springs. Mr. Atwood, his wife, daughter and grandson arrived about four hours later with an armload of pool toys and plan to stay for most of the day before heading back in the mid-afternoon.
Many of those gathered along the banks shared memories of the pool dating back to their childhood.
Lynn Cooksey, the 88-year-old wife of former Mayor Frank Cooksey, said she first started coming to Barton Springs when she was a freshman at the University of Texas in 1953. On Fridays, she wore a floral bathing cap and sat. along with her close friend, Anne Wheat, whose parents first brought her to the pool shortly after she was born in 1957. Ms. Wheat met on a blind date at the pool in the late 1940s.
The two women planned to swim, but, like many regulars at the pool, they also absorbed the tranquility that seems to radiate through the surrounding landscape of Zilker Metropolitan Park.
“It’s such a beautiful natural setting,” said Ms. Cooksey, who gets free entry with her pass for those 80 and older.
The pool is home to a variety of fish and turtles, and is also a federally protected habitat for the endangered Barton Springs salamander. Many of those who came Friday brought goggles and flippers to probe the pool’s 18-foot depths, hoping to catch a glimpse of the invisible life below.
Patricia Bobeck, a hydrogeologist who lives about three miles away, said she often put on a snorkel and swam from one end of the pool to the other.
“It’s fascinating,” she said. “It’s like swimming in an aquarium. It’s like being a guest where the fish live.”