Skin Diver Magazine - December 1968

[In 1968, Bill Barada, special assignment editor for Skin Diver Magazine, traveled the United States covering local dive spots.   He came to Texas and covered the central Texas area.  He did an article on Lake Travis and Canyon Lake and called it "Texas Virgins" in which he described the beauty of this area.  Mr. Barada covered a spearfishing contest of the University Underwater Society on Sunday, April 21, 1968 at Windy Point on Lake Travis in Austin, Texas. Several photographs of club members ( Larry Carroll, Celia Green, Preston Hunt, Paul Johnston and others) appeared in the article in Skin Diver , December 1968 issue, Volume 17, Number 12, Page28-31 and Page 60.  Skin Diver was gracious enough to allow us to reprint this article so that club members could read about one of our club's past activities.]

Texas Virgins

BY BILL BARADA - Special Assignments Editor

Celia Green and Paul Johnston, University Underwater Society Spearfishing Contest; Windy Point, Lake Travis; Austin, Texas.

Celia Green and Paul Johnston

Windy Point, Lake Travis

These virgins don't wear mini skirts, put their hair up bouffant style, or walk with a wiggle. They use clear blue water, lovely green forests, and rolling hills to attract attention. The two Texas virgins are Lake Travis and Canyon Lake, situated in the southern part of the state, near Austin. Both are man-made lakes, formed by dams built for flood control, and their location in the hill country of south central Texas produced the most beautiful and scenic settings I have ever seen in over 3,000 miles of lake hopping all the way from California. In this area, clear diving water is about as rare as orchids in Alaska. Even the ocean on the Gulf Coast is a delta, with muddy water extending as far as 50 miles out from shore. Travis and Canyon are two of only three lakes in all of Texas with water clear enough for diving. Possum Kingdom, the other lake, is so popular that a diving club has built a club house on its shore. Under these conditions, it seems strange that these two lovely lakes should remain virtually unexplored.

Lake Travis is fifth in a chain of six Highland Lakes, formed by dams along the Colorado River, (Texas Colorado, that is). They start at Buchanan Dam 200 miles northwest of Austin, near Llano, and stair-step down to Miller Dam at Austin. Lake Travis is formed by Mansfield Dam, on Hwy. 620, about 15 miles from Austin. It is the largest of the chain. The series of lakes above it serve as settling basins, filtering out mud and debris before the water reaches Lake Travis, and, except for periods of unusually heavy rain, it offers divers visibility averaging 20 feet. The lake is 65 miles long, has 270 miles of shoreline and a maximum depth of 225 feet. Most of the shoreline is private property, with access limited to a few public campgrounds, or through privately owned lodges, marinas, fishing camps or boat docks. However, the water surface is con trolled by the Lower Colorado River Authority, with public access assured to all parts of the lake once you are out on the water in a boat.

Canyon Lake is 60 miles south of Travis, about 17 miles from New Braunfels. It is a new lake, only three years old, formed when the Army Corps of Engineers built Canyon Dam across the Guadalupe River. Both the lake and the shoreline are controlled by the Corps of Engineers, with parks, campgrounds, marinas and concessions operated by the government agency. No private property or private ownership is permitted. Access to the water is limited to seven Corps of Engineers parks, five of which have boat launching, camping and trailer space, and two have boat docks and marinas under construction. No hotels, motels, cabins or lodges exist on the shoreline, and vacationers who do not camp or pull a trailer must stay in nearby Canyon City, or in New Braunfels.

Canyon is, a small lake, with only 80 miles of shoreline, but it is 193 feet deep, and is already clear enough for good diving during most of the year. At present visibility averages around 15 feet, but as the lake matures and sediment settles it should be as clear as any lake in Texas.

Right now a diver working from a boat has both lakes almost to himself, where he can explore isolated coves, islands and bays far removed from the hazards. of boat and water skiers. There are underwater caves and caverns along the face of submarine canyons cut by the old river bed; submerged, forest covered islands with water logged trees still standing erect; and secluded coves and sloughs where the carp and buffalo have never seen a skin diver. On the surface there are white boulder strewn beaches and sun drenched rocky points, where you can picnic next to the water, with a forest of tall green oaks and cedars at your back. These are the Texas Virgins as I saw them, a beautiful scenic wilderness surrounding virgin waters that invite exploration They are lakes that demand a boat for full enjoyment of their potential, and only small portion is ever seen by local divers.

The Texas virgins won't remain unexplored much longer. I was attracted to the area by a letter from Don Brod, an enterprising skin diver who has opened a dive shop at each of the lakes, and his enthusiasm already has a large section of the local population exploring underwater. His Asco Dive Shop #1 at Lake Travis has only been open a little over a year, and Asco #2 at Canyon Lake a few months, but Don said that last year he pumped air and rented equipment to almost 5,000 skin divers. His customers are mostly students from the University of Texas at Austin, but word is spreading rapidly, and students are showing tip from other universities, including Texas Tech at Lubbock, 390 miles away. Don's problem is in arranging for skin diving boats to give them access to some of the really good diving, in the lake. So far, the students lug their tanks down a cliff and flipper out from shore, but they are so enthusiastic about skin diving they will put up with almost any conditions just to get into the water.

My introduction to the situation came when I first pulled my trailer up to Don's shop at Lake Travis and asked him where I could take some pictures of divers in action. He pulled out some maps and pointed to three areas at Lake Travis, and two at Canyon Lake and said, "These are the only places they go." They were all small public parks or picnic grounds, with no boat launching ramps or other facilities. When asked if diving was any good at other spots on the lake, his comment was, "Sure they are. Some great ones! There's an island with underwater caves you can swim clear through, and off the Highland Boat Docks, an underwater swimming pool, still intact, is lying in 50 feet of water. I know where there's a 24 foot cabin cruiser and 100 yards of railroad track on the bottom within easy diving depths. Both of these lakes have places no diver has ever seen. But we need a skin diving boat to show the people where,to go. I've got boats ordered, but until they get here, the kids will keep on diving from the beach."

That Saturday I joined a local group for a fun dive off the beach at L.C.R.A. public park at Lake Travis. This is a beautiful point, set up with picnic tables on the rocks right at the water's edge. The place was crowded in spite of heavy rain the night before. Around the tables, diving tanks, wet suits, masks and flippers were intermingled with fishing gear, picnic baskets, dogs, cats and kids in diapers. Lucille Stathos, a 19-year-old university student, was instructing a class of high school and college students in their first open water scuba diving experience. Betty Glass and Barbara Berrey, 21-year-old divers of two months experience, were testing their new found skills, along with other independent divers from the university. The lake was high, due to unprecedented heavy rain, and visibility was limited to four or five feet, but the kids were having a ball. Dressed in full gear, they waded enthusiastically into the dirty water and, with boats and water skiers buzzing the area like mosquitos around a campfire, they slipped underwater and disappeared from sight. At any time during the hours I spent in the area I could see bubbles erupting on the surface in a dozen different spots. This kind of enthusiasm can't be turned off. Give these divers a little more time, access to a boat, and there won't be a virgin area left in the lake.

Spearfishing contestants launch boat at Windy Point, Lake Travis.

Left to right: Celia Green, Larry Carroll,?,Warren Schneider(wearing hat),Bobby Tarpley, Paul Johnston Windy Point was a small island to the left due to high water conditions.

The next day was even more enlightening. At the invitation of Larry Carroll, President of the Underwater Society of the University of Texas, I joined his club in a spearfishing competition off Windy Point on Lake Travis. The club members hunted fish with a speargun, and I hunted club members with a camera. We started the day in the middle of a thunderstorm, slopping around in the mud under a deluge of rain. But the club divers were not bothered a bit. Fifteen members turned out, about half of them girls, which at first I thought were spectators. Not these young ladies. They piled out of their cars, hunted for a rock or gravel bed to stand on as a dressing platform out of the mud, and donned wet suits and tanks in preparation for the dive. Preston Hunt, one of the more experienced club members, dragged out a heavy paper bag labeled "Purina Chow" and began passing out its contents. Each diver received a double handful of brown cubes, about an inch square, of a compressed substance that looked like it could have been dog food, fertilizer, or even a quick energy lunch. My curiosity was aroused, and Preston explained that they were range cubes of compressed cottonseed meal, used as cattle food by the farmers. He bad heard that cottonseed was used as chum to attract fish around the docks and barges of fish camps, and had decided to try it on carp and buffalo. The club members all agreed that it works great. They said it is so effective that fish start coming around 30 minutes to an hour after the bait is "planted". I have known divers to chum for fish with everything from sea urchins to canned sardines, but this was the first time I had ever heard of baiting with cow food.

While I was pumping up my Avon inflatable boat so I could follow the progress of the contest with it, each club member made it a point to apologize for the condition of the lake. The dam was built primarily for flood control, not recreation, and the level of the water depends upon the volume flowing in the river. Heavy rains had caused the lake to rise 30 feet above its normal level. Most of Windy Point was inundated, including the road leading out to the end where the diving was best. The rain had muddied up the water, and all of the divers said visibility was the worst they had seen in years. Because of the high water, my boat floated over the road before I got out to the point. My companions and guides were Nick Williams and David Murphy, professors at the university, and when we dropped into the water, I found out why the divers were apologizing. A fine, brown silt made it impossible to see more than four or five feet. The only advantage of spearfishing in this kind of water is that any fish you see is close enough to shoot. In fact, I saw a couple that came so close we practically bumped heads.

 

Top; Divers at LCRA Park: Middle; Celia Green: Bottom; Preston Hunt.

High water covering road to Windy Point and western cliffs of Windy Point, Lake Travis.

Celia Green & Paul Johnston

This kind of enthusiasm is bound to be contagious, and, if Don's plans mature, boats will soon be available to work the entire lake instead of a few spots close to the dam. Right now divers with a boat can have two of the most beautiful lakes in Texas practically to themselves. But you had better hurry! The Texas Virgins won't remain unexplored much longer.

 
LAKE TRAVIS
	The following resorts have overnight facilities, boat docks and boat rentals:
 
Highland Lake Village Boat and Fishing Docks 
Rt. 1, Box 176-A 
Leander,Texas
 
C. Michael Carter 
Emerald Bend 
P.O. Box 1667 
Austin, Texas 
Emerald Bend, Inc.
 
The Triangle 
Rt. 8, Box 393 
Austin, Texas
 
Mr. & Mrs. M. C. Martin 
Lakeway Inn and Marina 
101 Lakeway 
Austin, Texas
 
Gulfmont Hotel Co. 
Rocky Ridge Cottages & Marina 
Rt. 7, Box 714 
Austin, Texas 

Ray C. Sharp 
High Line Marina & Park 
Rt. 7, Box 693 
Austin, Texas
 
Hershel Murray 
E. H. Johnson 
Beacon Lodge Lake Club 
Rt. 7, Box 586 
Austin, Texas 

W. R. Carrington 
Three Point Bar & Bait House 
Rt. 7, Box 545 
Austin, Texas
 
J. & L. Spiller-Rose 
Lake Cliff Condotel Apts. 
P.O. Box 6867 
Austin, Texas 

Mr. & Mrs. J. B. Jones 
Lake Travis Lodges 
Rt. 7, Box 670 
Austin, Texas 
Jesse James


Copyright - 1968 - Skin Diver Magazine

Skin Diver gave permission to reprint this article so that club members could read about one of our past activities.

University Scuba Club - The Early Years