The spring complex in the Balmorhea area is one of the largest and most important of the remaining desert spring systems in west Texas. The 246-acre Sandia Springs Preserve includes East and West Sandia Springs, which are part of the Balmorhea Spring Complex. This complicated spring system contains the only naturally occurring populations of the Comanche Springs Pupfish along with very rare and limited Pecos Gambusia, a type of mosquitofish. Other aquatic organisms such as snails, crayfish, amphipods and salt tolerant plants are important components of these limited natural communities. At the nearby Balmorhea State Park, the pool at San Solomon Spring and the restored marshland with underwater viewing windows and an interpretive boardwalk overlook feature the natural history and rare species of the important conservation area.
East Sandia Spring is the larger and more viewer-accessible of the two springs. It is just off the entrance road after entering the preserve. The main spring pool is a deep and clear pool lined by bulrushes and the rare Pecos sunflower, with only a short outflow creek that leaves the preserve at the northeast boundary. West Sandia Spring is the smaller, with a dense stand of cane marking the springhead and the first few hundred feet of flowing creek. The remainder of the preserve is uplands of mesquite thickets, tall grass and a rocky hillside that includes the Brogado cemetery. The hilltop offers a commanding view of the valley and most of the preserve with an overview of East Sandia Spring in particular, and the Balmorhea area in general.
Water found in surface streams and springs is the lifeblood of this arid portion of the state. Not only is it of vital concern to people for domestic and agricultural use, but it is where some of the rarest Chihuahuan Desert organisms and most imperiled natural systems occur. The entire Balmorhea Springs Complex falls into this issue of complicated and seemingly conflicting water use between human needs and natural area conservation. Balmorhea's economy is primarily driven by agricultural production in the valley and also by the tourism generated by the state park and its spring fed pool for recreation. The conservation of Sandia Springs' natural resources (both the integrity of the spring system and its resident rare species) is the goal of the Conservancy's preserve. Water leaving the preserve is part of the agricultural irrigation system used by our neighbors after it has passed through the natural habitat of the rare species. The site was identified because of the rare fish, and since it became a preserve, we have discovered additional rare species, including an aguatic snail, the Pecos sunflower and a rare cactus on the uplands.
Our on-site stewardship of the preserve has included both staff and partner projects as well as volunteer activities. These include on-going salt cedar and mesquite eradication in the flats and the area adjacent to the spring pool and creek, clean-up of litter and ranch debris, fence posting and repair, building a fire break along the border to protect our neighbors' property and continued biological inventory and monitoring. Additionally, the Conservancy recently donated a corner of land to the town of Balmorhea for the construction of a recreation and interpretation center to increase public access and conservation awareness in the local community.
The preserve is open for scheduled field trips. For more information, contact Deserts Program Office, P.O. Box 150, Dryden, TX 78851; (432) 345- 6773
Sandia Springs Preserve is approximately one mile east of the town of Balmorhea, in Reeves County.