San Marcos Springs, Texas—possible locale of 15th century explorers’ elusive “Fountain of Youth"

Jul 16, 2016

  Ron Coley, producer of the acclaimed PBS documentary “River of Innocence” chronicling the San Marcos River in Texas has spent the past 40 years studying the legendary Aquarina Springs Lake on the outskirts of San Marcos.

Coley has been immersed in researching every aspect of the lake, as an educator, cinematographer, and underwater explorer. 

When the legendary Texas theme park, Aquarina Springs was shuttered in the 1990s Coley spent the following 20 years overseeing the lake’s transition to its new incarnation as the Aquarina Center for Environmental Education at Texas State University.

The culmination of his intimate understanding of this ecological wonderland is his just released book, The Fountains of Saint Mark—The Amazing San Marcos Springs.

Coley’s 100 photographic images, combined with Janet Skaggs Hardin’s ethereal paintings deftly illustrate the fragility and strength of this intensely spiritual place.

The “Fountains”, Texas Hill Country’s artesian springs, are the source of the San Marcos River. These springs create a 16-acre Spring Lake, that were inhabited by humans for more than 12,000 years, making it one North America’s oldest continually inhabited sites.

Today the nature facility has been re-dubbed the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, complete with glass bottom boat tours open to the public just like back in the day at the old Aquarina Springs theme park. At it zenith the park recorded the highest attendance figures of all Texas amusement parks, and of course in addition to glass bottom boat tours, there were also performances by swimming mermaids, and even a swimming pig.

New York Times best selling Author, Stephen Harrigan in his book review, wrote, “No one knows those springs better than Ron Coley. For four decades Ron has been a guardian, advocate and chronicler of the San Marcos Springs. In this book – the work of a life-time- he has collected everything he’s learned and everything he’s seen about a place that is the shimmering, gleaming ideal of what a body of water ought to be.”   

Join correspondent Tom Wilmer for a visit with lifelong explorer, Ron Coley. Oh and Ron will explain the reason why the Springs is more than likely the elusive Fountain of Youth.

What the Press has to say about Ron Coley’s new book:

An exceptional book Just finished reading your book. What a magnificent labor of love. Outstanding writing, photography and artwork. Thanks for all you have done for our community — it’s past, present and future. All my best to you and Jan and congratulations again on a job incredibly well done. – Mark Hendricks Director of Media Relations Texas State University, Retired

An astounding tribute The Fountains of Saint Mark creates a view of earth and its marvels that will astound all. I truly enjoyed viewing and ‘reading’ Ron Coley’s new book. It is a beautiful tribute to our water planet and the mysteries of its sources. Ron Coley’s images reflect his dedication to capture water’s journey. –Ernest H. “Ernie” Brooks, II Photographer, Ambassador to the Marine Environment ErnieBrooks.com

Ron Coley brings San Marcos Springs to life The underwater world includes not only oceans, but also freshwater aquifers, rivers, and springs that are home to a hidden array of amazing colorful plants, animals, and rock formations that can only be glimpsed if one looks beneath the surface. Ron Coley’s book takes us down Texas’s San Marcos River system and reveals this enchanted world through colorful images, maps, and stories. He encouraged scientists, divers, and archaeologists to explore its depths and ensure its protection. Now, with this book, we can dive into the Fountains of St. Marks through his eyes and voice. Ron brings it to life as only he can do. He sweeps us through the history of the discovery of the springs, takes us along the river’s twists and turns with detailed maps, and stuns us with images of dreamy seascapes and fascinating critters. —Robin McFadden Parish 1976 Rolex Scholar National Coordinator,

Our World-Underwater Scholarship Society® owuscholarship.org A wide geologic scope This book takes me far higher than a bird’s eye view—and shows me the full geologic scope of the place. It also brings me down to the most intimate close-up sight of the most elusive creatures living underneath the surface and far down at the bottom. That’s the great gift in this book— the chance to catch a glimpse of sights that eluded me as a child. –Elizabeth Crook Award-winning author, San Marcos native elizabethcrookbooks.com

A naturalist’s guide For Texas Hill Country naturalists, this book is a must have for your personal library. Ron’s knowledge and love for the springs is evident in his beautiful underwater photography. – Joe Griffis Smith Photo Editor Texas Highways Magazine/Retired

A life’s passion Ron Coley has poured his life’s passion into this comprehensive book about the springs of San Marcos. A visual feast, it is a complete narrative study of the past, present and future of this seriously endangered national treasure. One can only hope that the next generation will love and protect these springs as much as he does. – Jill Heinerth, Underwater Explorer IntoThePlanet.com