Climbing a geologic marvel in the heart of Texas Hill Country
“Will we be able to climb up to the top? It seems rocky and difficult. Will we be able to make it? Can we just go up to that half way point and go back down?” came the questions from my 8 yr old son staring at the rock in front of us.
“Sure buddy. Let’s see what we can do and how far we can go. If we feel up for it, let’s keep doing it”, I said.
Our goal was to scale to the top, but I had mentally prepared myself to any limit my 8 year old could withstand.
Located 17 miles north of Fredericksburg, this massive pink granite has drawn visitors from all over for thousands of years. And for good reason. Standing at 425 feet off the ground, at an elevation of 1825 above sea level, this batholith offers spectacular, panoramic views of the surrounding Texas Hill Country.
But don’t let what you can see above the ground fool you. What is visible to the eye is but a speck – a small part of a huge underground rock that spans over 100 square miles. More than 50 million years ago erosion uncovered part of the rock that you see today.
While the Enchanted Rock area offers 11 miles worth of trails, the hike up to the summit on the Summit Trail is probably the most rewarding for its views. Marked as challenging, it is 0.8 miles from the base to the top and 1.6 miles round-trip.
As you begin to scale the rock, you will notice a thriving ecosystem.
Supporting a rare ecosystem
Albeit a rock, it didn’t stop mother nature from supporting flora and fauna on this dome. Marked as a State Natural area, Enchanted rock supports a complex and rare island ecosystem. You will find a vibrant and diverse ecosystem in the soil of ‘weathering pits’ that are formed by weathering rocks.
In the oases of weathering pits grow varieties of Oak trees, bluestem grassland and shrubs providing refuge to the animals and humans alike. Rain lilies, gayfeather, cactus flowers and wildflowers add splashes of color against the backdrop of pink granite.
Weathering pits that hold water for several weeks are called vernal pools. And it is home to two unique species, fairy shrimp and rock quillwort. It is the “best place in Texas to study fairy shrimp up close” said the Parks website.
We squinted our eyes looking into the several vernal pools along the way, looking for Fairy shrimp, that are anywhere from 6mm to 25mm in length. The Rock is also home to most of the world’s rock quillwort population. We needed to try our luck at a future visit, perhaps accompanied by a researcher who could share some pointers to train our eyes.
We had slow-hiked up the rock, stopping for water and spending time along the way to study and observe the rock’s unique ecosystem. Before long, we had made it to the summit.
Filled with doubts a few minutes before our ascent on the Rock, my 8 yr old son now declared “I can’t believe we made it to the top!”
“When we put one foot in front of the other, we can summit any mountain. That is kinda how life is too. I am so proud of us, buddy.” I said.
“I’m proud of us too”, he said.
The Summit offers an unfettered view of the surrounding Texas Hill Country area, but you’ll find the journey there is equally gratifying as you pass along the rock’s unique ecosystem, spots of cool shade lent by the Oak tree and a creek to soothe your soul.
Up to the summit had walked a doubtful young man, not fully sure of the climb ahead of him, and down came a reassured and a bit more confident young man. We celebrated summiting the rock with shaved ice cones at the base from the Kona ice truck.
The Texas State Park bills the Enchanted Rock as a place “where the whole family will have fun at this magical place in Texas Hill Country”. I am inclined to agree.
Sahana Sharan has a passion for travel writing that is infused with heart, inspiration and information. When sprinkled with a bit of humor, all the better.
A first generation immigrant of Indian origin, and a physician by training, she is ever curious about the world around her and the people in it. Travel might just be her soul tonic.
When she is not daydreaming about or planning her next travel adventure, she is doggedly trying to create solutions for an affordable healthcare system in the United States or trying out new recipes (thanks to the pandemic, she did discover her way to the kitchen in her house).
|If you go:
What to bring:
Wide-brim hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, plenty of water (we carried two 32 oz bottles), pair of shoes with a good grip and snacks.
It takes about 45 mins to reach the summit and 1.5 hours for a round trip. We completed the round trip in about 2 hours with an easy pace, plenty of breaks to take in the views and to hydrate.
Other than hiking around the trails, you can backpack, camp, rock climb, picnic, study nature, geocache and stargaze.
If you are drawn to star-gazing, the rural dark sky makes it one of the best places to stargaze with views of the milky way. However, be sure to book spots several months in advance, as the limited spots tend to fill up quickly. We were out of luck on this trip, but will be back again (per my son’s request) and hope to catch the awe and beauty of the vastness of our Universe.
We drove down from Dallas to Fredericksburg to visit this State Natural area. A 4.5 hour drive, along 281-South and TX State Highway 16, the country roads are flanked by green carpets of trees and grasslands dotted with hay bales – making for a scenic country drive.
It is a far shorter drive from Austin and San Antonio which takes about 1.5 to 2 hours to get here.