San Marcos: Aquarena

May 29, 2015
We were driving aimlessly through Texas Hill Country when I looked up nearby sights. The Aquarena and their Glass Bottom Boat Tours was recommended. I was intrigued so I loaded up the directions, we were surprised when we found ourselves on the campus of Texas State University.

Back in the day, Aquarena Springs was a theme park complete with mermaids and a swimming pig named, Ralph. In 1985, this roadside attraction drew 300,000 visitors, but the days were numbered for the park due to competition from Sea World and Schlitterbahn. In 1994, the park was purchased by Texas State University and it shuttered nearly twenty years ago. That's when the focus shifted to conservation and education. This amusement park turned educational center still boasts the glass-bottom boat tours that were the initial draw. The Texas Rivers Center was formerly the Aquarena Hotel, today it holds offices and Discovery Hall on the first floor, which is home to a native fish aquarium and the endangered Texas blind salamander.

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These springs that bubble up from the Edwards Aquifer are what give life to the San Marcos River. These 72-degree waters offer a complex ecosystem that entices students, researchers, divers and visitors alike. Glass-bottom boats provide a unique opportunity to enjoy the natural beauty of Spring Lake. The pristine waters allow clear views of the gardens and life beneath the surface. You can spot fish feeding at the sites where the springs feed the lake, turtles are sure to be seen and you might notice a nutria in the banks. We thoroughly enjoyed the tour. Tours run every 30 minutes, our guide was a student at Texas State. The cost was $9.75 for adults; 9am-5pm, daily.

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