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July 2009 cover image Hamilton Pool

Laughing Water

No matter what the season, waterfalls transform a landscape into a wonderland.

Photos by Lance Varnell

From the waterfall he named her, Minnehaha, Laughing Water.
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Not long after this city kid moved to the Hill Country, I found myself spending many a tranquil hour at the trove of idyllic swimming holes that grace our corner of the world. Many had waterfalls of various shapes and sizes — a slow, secretive trickle through a froth of ferns, rapids tumbling over boulders toward their final destination, or dramatic drops of the greatest grandeur. I imagined what it was like for Cabeza de Vaca when he stumbled upon this paradise, finding crystalline water cascading across the limestone rocks, lacy cypress trees and circling hawks sharing an azure backdrop, abundant wildlife also seeking the watering hole that brought life for all.

The seminal moment for me was at a little-known swimming hole near Wimberley, called Little Arkansas. When Mother Nature provided adequate precipitation, the springs flowed with gusto at the top of a cliff, free-falling down dozens of feet in an ice-cold deluge. I stood on a flat limestone ledge in the center of the Blanco River, letting the frigid water pound down on me until I reached the point of squealing for mercy. Then, a slow dive into the bathtub-warm waters of the river calmed the frazzled tingling of my nerves and lulled me into a near-soporific state of well-being.

Three decades later, I am still enchanted by the hypnotic magic of waterfalls. Nature photographer Lance Varnell has spent many years capturing these perfect “laughing water” moments, shown in every changing season of the year. — Louie Bond

Barton Creek Twin Falls, Austin, Summer

Barton Creek

Smith Spring, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, Autumn

Smith Spring

Colorado Bend State Park, Winter

Colorado Bend State Park

Gorman Falls, Colorado Bend State Park, Winter

Smith Spring

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