Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine   


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Magic in the Desert

Finegan Springs provides significant streamflow for the Devils River.   

At Devils River State Natural Area, hikers can hear the springs before they see them. And when they see Finegan Springs, they’re looking at some of the cleanest, clearest water in the state. In most cases, they’re even standing in it.

Finegan Springs gushes out from the base of a cliff for almost 200 yards — a series of eight small areas and one large area of flow. The trail basically disappears and becomes limestone rock overrun by spring water.

“Seeing Finegan Springs is something that’s just absolutely special,” says Park Superintendent Beau Hester. “It’s magical.”

Part of the magic comes from the contrast between the remote, arid Southwest Texas desert surrounding the river and the lush oasis of springs teeming with mosses, ferns, trees and vines.

“I tell folks all the time that if you’ve never walked along a trail and seen water bubbling out of the limestone hillside, you can see it here on the state natural area,” Hester says.

Finegan Springs produces 12,000 to 22,000 gallons of water a minute, and that flow combined with the flow from the springs at nearby Dolan Creek provides 60 percent of the base flow of the Devils River, Hester says.

The springs are fed by groundwater from the Trinity-Edwards Aquifer and are positioned along the aquifer’s western edge.

The Devils River is one of the best remaining examples in Texas of an ecologically intact river system, with the cleanest water in the state. It is considered one of the last wild rivers in Texas, and the most pristine.

The river flows over rapids and riffles and through rugged canyons in a stunning and remote landscape.

The Devils River State Natural Area Del Norte Unit emcompasses almost 20,000 acres at the intersection of three ecological zones, with about a mile and a half of Devils River waterfront (the downstream Dan A. Hughes Unit on the Devils is still under development). It was established to help protect the Devils River and the springs that feed it.

Approaching the Devils is a challenge. Visitors must navigate 19 miles of dirt road to reach the entrance of the park, located between Sonora and Del Rio. Access to the river requires a 1-mile hike through the desert. Once at the river, it’s another half-mile upstream to reach the springs.

“Finegan Springs is one of the iconic resources of our state. It’s a bucket list-type trip,” Hester says. “And hey, then you get to swim.”

A report by the Texas Water Development Board called “Major and Historical Springs of Texas” says Finegan Springs previously contained at least 25 springs, including a waterfall higher on the cliff during strong spring flows.

The pristine waters of the Devils River harbor several rare fish, reptiles and freshwater mussel species. Finegan Springs hosts its own special biodiversity in this arid land. A Texas Parks and Wildlife Department report on the river highlighted the springs: “Specific focus on Finegan Springs, including its cave microfauna, spring run fauna, flow and water quality are critical to understanding the aquatic dynamics of the Devils River.”

It’s a cascade of crystal water, an oasis in the desert. It’s hard to get to. But it’s a treat. 

 Maegan Lanham | TPWD

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