When we reached the Hill Country on our recent New York City Audubon Society tour of Texas, locals advised us to make a stop at a park known as the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area (about 60 miles west of Austin and 15 miles north of Fredericksburg). The eponymous rock is actually a billion-year-old geological phenomenon known as a batholith or an underground rock formation exposed by erosion.
The Enchanted Rock name comes from the Tonkawa Indians who believed early Spanish explorers had cast a magical spell on it, causing the rock to “talk.” The name has endured even though scientists claim that the creaking and groaning coming from the rock at night are the result of fissures in the hot stone contracting as the earth cools.
Photographs by Jeanne Rostaing.
Like other rock formations in the park, the rock is made of pink granite, not the limestone which is common in other parts of the Hill Country. And it is huge… covering 640 acres and rising 424 feet above ground. It can be reached by a system of hiking trails.
However, when we set out to walk to the summit, we got hopelessly confused and ended up on the Loop trail instead. An employee at the visitors center later told us that signage on the trails is maintained solely by volunteers and might have been in need of repair.
But, although we missed the panoramic view from the top of Enchanted Rock, we instead were treated to a fascinating 4-mile walk around its base. The trail, which is not especially difficult, is often wide and covered with crushed granite. It winds through a gently rolling landscape adorned with swaths of wildflowers and remarkable rock outcroppings sculpted by wind and time into fascinating shapes.
We saw an impressive number of different types of terrain and landscape. At one point the trail meandered next to the shallow Big Sandy Creek. A short side trail led to an widescreen scenic overlook where we stood on a group of flat rocks and admired the vista as well as wildflowers growing happily in a challenging site. Spider milkweed and yarrow were among them.
As the tail led us higher we were treated to unexpected jolts of almost tropical color: brilliant pink blooms of the Chisos Mountains Hedgehog Cactus and the vivid blue of the Prairie Spiderwort.
Totally opposite and actually remarkable in its lack of showiness, was the Northern Earless lizard we just happened to spot clinging motionless to a tree. The markings of this shy reptile made him nearly invisible against a thick covering of lichen.
At another point we were surprised to see a large pond which is called Moss Lake, presumably after the Moss family which owned the property until 1978…. 7 years after it had been declared a National Natural Landmark by the U. S. National Park Service. Ownership passed to the Nature Conservancy of Texas in 1978 and was acquired by the state in 1984.
Today the park is a favorite for its campsites, trails, rock climbing opportunities and the sunset views from the rock. For more information about special programs as well as volunteer opportunities go to the website of the Friends of Enchanted Rock.
The Texas Park and Wildlife Department has basic information and offers the opportunity to reserve a campsite. Their website cautions that the large number of visitors to the park and recent drought conditions have caused a water shortage. It’s hot in Texas, so be sure to bring your own drinking water. And if you want to get to the top of Enchanted Rock pay close attention to the signs so you can take the right trail.
Feeling the need to stretch your legs? Consider taking another Hike of the Week in your neck of the woods.
Prefer to admire the desert from afar? We’ve got a whole week’s worth of posts to help you visit Dry Gardens from the comfort of your armchair.