If you’re a fan of Red Dirt Texas Country music, you might have come across an amazing bucket list-of-a-song by Josh Abbott Band featuring Pat Green, titled, “My Texas.” If not, you can hear it here. At the beginning, Josh Abbot sings, “If you haven’t climbed up to Enchanted Rock… Then you ain’t met my Texas yet.” And he couldn’t have said it better!
Enchanted Rock is an enormous pink granite dome, located in the Llano Uplift (at 16710 Ranch Rd 965, Fredericksburg, Texas). “Designated a National Natural Landmark, Enchanted Rock is an impressive geological feature with an estimated age of one billion years, making it among the oldest exposed rock in North America,” (Friends of Enchanted Rock, 1). In fact, with a span of approximately 640 acres and a rise of approximately 425 feet, it’s the largest pink granite monadnock in the United States, which makes climbing up to the top of this “Hill Country mountain” a Texas tradition!
A crew of us decided to go hit up the legendary rock a couple weeks ago, and we had a blast! As we rolled up to the dome from Ranch to Market 965, it reminded me of a Texas-style Ayers Rock (on a smaller scale of course). Once we pulled up and met the friendly Texas Parks and Wildlife staff at headquarters, we wasted no time and began hiking towards the Enchanted Rock summit.
Although the Enchanted Rock summit is the highest point in the park, it’s not the only one, multiple uplifts are throughout the park (i.e. Little Rock, Freshman Mountain, Turkey Peak, and Buzzard’s Roost). See a map of the park here.
Chips of granite sparkled in the sunlight, and tints of orange, pink, grey, black, white, silver, and red collected in the gorgeous geo formations. The granite boulders stood amazingly tall, and they turned the wheels of curiosity in our heads around every corner. .
Climbers, hikers, campers, and people of all ages roamed the rock seeking for adventure.
(The photo above is the east face of Little Rock).
The view starts to be amazing as you get close to the top!
To be honest, it was the climbers who kept catching my attention. Although I’ve never tried it, the thought of climbing (especially free-climbing) high into the air on the face of a rock, freaks me out, but I can definitely see the attraction in it. Maybe one of these days I’ll give it a go, but for now, I had a pleasure just watching. They have all sorts of climbing spots for any level of climber. Friends of Enchanted Rock have info on their site about climbing there, and here is a map of climbing areas in the park.
The trail was beautiful, clean, and although many people walk these trails every day, it unbelievably still feels lovely rugged. The Texas plant life was fruitful, and the biodiversity only grew the higher we climbed.
Hiking to the top of Enchanted Rock feels amazing, but when you get up to the top of that thing and take that first look at the horizon around you, it feels glorious. A beautiful Hill-Country view reward after working those legs to get up there!
Hanging out at the top, it was amazing to feel how powerful the wind was compared to being on the side of the dome. It was the perfect place to scout out the area. It’s no surprise that this ancient landscape has been a focal point for humans for thousands of years. “Humans have camped in this area for 12,000 years,” (Texas Parks and Wildlife, 2). So Enchanted Rock is filled with history, myths, and legends.
This historical landmark has seen and been through it all! Prehistoric people would grind their food on the rock, and bedrock mortars still exists from them. In 1841, Captain Jack Hays, a surveyor and legendary Texas Ranger, was attacked by Native Americans while surveying near Enchanted Rock. He climbed up to the top and used a depression at the summit to fight off his attackers for three hours before his companions came to his aid. Many legends from the Tonkawa tribe also paint a color picture of this sacred place. Check out the Texas Parks and Wildlife page about Enchanted Rock’s history (here) to read more about these magnificent stories.
We even got to do some caving! Enchanted Rock contains one of the largest known granite caves, so when we found the entrance to the publicly accessible cave, of course we had to explore it!
I had my first caving experience at Colorado Bend State Park at the beginning of this year, and it was amazing! (Click here to read the full story about that). So, I was stoked to discover that we could explore through this one on our own. Luckily we brought light sources so we were good, because just like in any cave, dark is DARK. The difference was that this cave was super wet and slippery, so we had to be extra careful we didn’t bust it.
A couple other families were in the cave too, and the little boys were LOVING it, so it’s not anything a minimally fit person cannot do, so I would definitely encourage you check it out when you go to the park (at your own risk of course)! The exit is a little more challenging than the entrance though, so I would definitely group up with other people who have been through the cave before, and never go alone. Worst case scenario, you can always backtrack and exit back out through the entrance.
White arrows painted on the walls will guide your way. You’ll be crawling, climbing, and sliding through the passages so MAKE SURE to have extra light sources with you, because if one fails (like using your cellphone and it dies) you will NEED light! Otherwise… you’ll be in big trouble, so lets not even go there! If you do go all of the way through, once you’re out, you’ll have to climb back up the other side of enchanted rock to get back on top. Or you could take the long way around, but we went the shorter way.
One of the most interesting aspects of the trip was the beautiful delicate vernal pools on the bare granite summit of Enchanted Rock. The vernal pools are little “islands” of vegetation on the bare rock (also known as soil islands, weather pits, and gammas) which are depressions formed by weathering over thousands of years. They are “some of the most ecologically significant and severely threatened features of this state natural area,” (Texas Parks and Wildlife, 3).
It’s a whole little ecosystem in these vernal pools, as they shelter a unique blend of plants and animals adapted to the harsh environment. An interesting plant species is the rock quillwort, which looks like a pale green grass growing in the pools and is a small endangered plant that only grows in Central Texas in the fragile environment of the vernal pools. And my favorite, the fairy shrimp!!! Honestly, at first I thought they were tadpoles, but with a closer look, you can see these are no tadpoles! These tiny invertebrate branchiopods survive “total desiccation as fertilized eggs, and hatch into larvae and grow into adults each time water collects after sufficient rainfall,” (Texas Parks and Wildlife, 3). You can read more on fairy shrimp and their other crustacean relatives by reading this article by Dyanne Fry Cortez for Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine (click here).
Finally. the sun began to settle, so it was time we made our way back on the road. With a last hike down the dome, we soaked in the views to last us until next time.
Below is a shot of the west face of Turkey Peak (from the side of Enchanted Rock).
With so many gorgeous, delicate, and historical natural resources at Enchanted Rock Natural Area, it is a firm reminder that we need to treat the land of our beloved Earth well. We need to respect these special places that have been sacred to humans for thousands of years before us, so that many generations of people can enjoy these historical places, unique species, and embrace this Texas tradition long after we’re gone.
I can’t wait to return to Enchanted Rock again and camp overnight, since it is a certified international dark sky park and provides the best stargazing around. So until next time! For more info about the park, please visit, www.tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/enchanted-rock.
We Want To Hear From You!
Have you ever been to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area? How was your experience? Have you ever seen/heard of fairy shrimp before? Are you into rock climbing? What’s it like?
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