Below the Frio

Every year, tens of thousands of people drive, jump, swim, lounge, kayak, dance, and play in the river. That means since 1954, more than a million people have experienced the water of the beautiful East Fork of the Frio River. 

But very few ever experience it like Scott Bauer.

Bauer is a scuba diver and photographer. He documents all of his dives through both photo and video, selling prints of his best photography. For the past few years, he’s been documenting his dives in the Frio River Canyon.

He first discovered the Canyon, where he’s dived three times now, while working in logistics and checking the geography of the local area.

“I saw it on Google Earth,” he says, “and it brought so much curiosity.” His research ultimately led him to contact Ann Jack, the H. E. Butt Foundation Camp registrar at the time. After months of careful planning, they worked out a time for him to explore the river in a way few ever had.

Bauer started diving in 2016, but he’s been interested in marine life even longer. Having kept saltwater tanks his whole life, he’s always been captivated by the complexity of aquatic ecosystems centered around coral. 

His first scuba dive was in the Florida Keys. There, he submerged with an “ancient” GoPro and immediately fell in love with the hobby. He dove more. He upgraded his equipment. He became even more fascinated with underwater life. Having studied studio art at Texas Tech, diving also “brought photography back” for him.

“I’m fascinated with the ability to document an encounter and freeze a moment,” he says, “so that you can take that experience home and share it with others.”

For his most recent dive, he brought four others from his dive team out of Austin, called “Sixgill” (like the shark). The five divers geared up, checked each other’s equipment, submerged at Blue Hole with cameras and an underwater scooter, swam their way to the Linnet’s Wings dam, inspected the dam for our land stewardship team, and finally emerged back at Blue Hole after nearly two hours.

“The water is so clear, and the topography is so cool,” he says. “It’s like you’re swimming through a small underwater canyon.”

According to Bauer, most diving locations are widely known in the diving community, and everyone’s seen everything in each of those places. Although he prefers diving in oceans and around coral reefs, there’s a unique sense of exploration from diving in the Canyon’s Blue Hole. Bauer says that “being able to see this place underwater when so many are familiar with the topside adds to the uniqueness.”

Some of his favorite underwater features in the Frio are beneath the cave-like overhangs near the headwaters. People can’t see beneath them from outside the water. Since the overhangs have remained so undisturbed over the years, divers like to search them for artifacts.

“The water is so clear, and the topography is so cool. It’s like you’re swimming through a small underwater canyon.”

David Rogers and his son Jackson found a handful of artifacts one summer about eight years ago when they donned scuba gear and swam from Blue Hole to the Laity Lodge dam. “We brought mesh bags to collect trash,” David remembers. But they didn’t find much. A pair of sunglasses. A woman’s bracelet. A Big Chief tablet. A glass bottle. David was surprised that the river was so clean.

Scott Bauer did not find many items in the Frio River either, but there is a friendly catfish he sees in the same spot every year.

That catfish will be happy to hear that Bauer is planning to come back for more dives in the future. As you can see accompanying this story, Bauer’s passion for diving shows in his work.

More from this issue

Streetz: The King of Second Chances

Running a restaurant in order to reach kids is not for the faint of heart. Good thing Hubert Brown's heart is strong.

Reflection on "Linnet's Wings"

Read this commentary on the stanza from "The Lake Isle of Innisfree" carved on the entrance sign to Linnet’s Wings on the H. E. Butt Foundation Camp property.

Wonders Underfoot

Artist and professor Dan McGregor has been drawing the flora and fauna of the Frio River Canyon for a few years. Here is his perspective on re-creating creation.

Repairing To Be Repaired

Writer, Baylor professor, and Laity Lodge speaker Alan Jacobs reflects on the intersection of place and plans when coming to the Canyon.