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.

	Lake diving is fun, even when it's raining and the water is dirty. I could see just
        enough to make it interesting. Gliding past the dim outlines of boulders, trees and 
        bushes gave me a feeling of flying at dusk. Looking over the edge of a sharp drop-off
        was like looking down into the Black Hole of Calcutta. Floating down through this 
        blackness, I had the sensation of drifting weightless into a void of inner space, 
        and the dim light filtering through from the surface seemed like a million miles 
        away. The wall of the lake was almost solid rock, interspersed with patches of brush 
        and weeds. It dropped downward in a series of ledges. At the 80 foot level the water 
        turned noticeably colder, and visibility increased. The light was so weak that it 
        was almost like diving at night, but it was clear enough to see why Lake Travis is 
        attracting new divers. Under normal conditions it would have a lot to offer. But 
        on this day underwater photography was out of the question, so I started back up to 
        find out how the contestants were doing.

	We surfaced into blinding sunshine. The thunderstorm was over and so was the contest.
        The luckier divers who had found fish were collecting their catch and heading for 
        the weigh-in. Either the bait worked, or these college divers found fish by radar. 
        Considering the condition of the lake, they brought in a creditable catch, and I was 
        surprised that the girls had done almost as well as the men.

	I assumed that the day's diving was over. But, as I packed my gear and prepared to 
        leave, I heard one of the divers say, "Let's go over to Jewitts. I like it better 
        and there's more fish around." The suggestion met with instant approval and a half 
        dozen tossed their gear into their cars and took off. Don Brod tells me that it 
        isn't at all uncommon for these divers to stop by for air re-fills as many as three 
        or four times in one day.

 
 
 

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