This past week both Kris and I were in Fredericksburg, TX for a little Covid-19 R&R and took advantage of everything being closed in town to go visit the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. We had been planning on taking a day-trip to the park for the last few years but, for one reason or another, never made it out there. Granted we live just outside of Austin and there is so much fun to be had here that we seldom go driving off into the hill-country in search of adventure… but we were glad we did. In fact, can you think of a better place to be for fresh air in the age of social distancing? Well, I’m sure you can, but this is my story so just go along and we will get along.
The drive from our little cottage in Fredericksburg was fairly straight forward and in fact relatively deserted when we left in the morning on Monday. I think we may have passed about 2 or 3 cars the entire 20 miles. We arrived around 8:45am and were likely (other than campers) the first people into the park. We found a nice place to park very close to the Summit Trail Head and gathered up our small day-packs.
There is something about the smell of nature in the morning. Upon stepping from the van and onto the well groomed trail-head there was a refreshing crispness in the air and an almost ethereal atmosphere. The last few days it had been raining in this part of the hill country so there was still plenty of moisture abound and a fog that we were hoping would burn off as the sun came up. The temperature this day was going to be in the mid-80’s which would bring those hopes to fruition. Our singular goal on this small hike was to summit the pink granite boulder before the heat of the day set in and enjoy the views as the fog burned off.
Setting off on the Summit Trail was very serene since we were the first visitors of the day. The air was pretty still with a slight breeze which was nice as it kept the humidity off. The ambience of water bubbling from the runoff of the recent days rain and the birds chirping to attention was wonderful to experience. The initial trail was well tended and the sounds of our gravelly footsteps were the only other sound, well that and my sloshing water bottle. With my iPhone at the ready and my DSLR in my day pack we marched slowly up hillside toward the pink granite dome known as Enchanted Rock.
For a little background, Enchanted Rock is a huge pink granite “batholith” (Rock) much of which lies beneath the ground, so that high dome is only the “tip of the iceberg” so to speak. Climbing to the summit of the dome is roughly the equivalent of climbing 30-40 flights of stairs. Also, and my personal favorite quirky fact, there are several species of shrimp that choose to inhabit the small pools of rainwater collected along the crags of its surface. Well, whether or not these shrimp choose this place as their home… they have… and they are there… now… waiting… for you to see them and be amazed that they are there.
Anyway, the climb to the top is well worth the reward of breathtaking hill country views. The climb itself is relatively short but steep in some places and barren, very barren. I think that is what surprised me the most was how featureless the final ascent is. Honestly, there is really not much to see on the way up and the slope is such that you are never really sure when the last ascendant hump is truly the last hump before the summit. My advice of course is don’t bother with your camera (if you brought one) until you reach the top.
Kris, being in far better shape and condition than I, reached the top quite gracefully. In fact, I’m pretty sure she trotted up the last hundred meters or so whereas I stopped at the 3/4 mark to search for my breath which I had misplaced somewhere on the ascent. Now I will not go as far to say I am out of shape. I am in shape, just not a toned one. I think BB King once said he was, “built for comfort not speed”, well that is me. As I was “lounging” on that uncomfortable pink slab, not all unlike a salamander on a sun warmed rock, the sounds of families and children could be heard in the distance. A few moments later a pair of school aged kids came charging up the featureless dome in my direction. One of them said boldly, “There, I can see the top!”
I suspect they assumed the winded, panting, middle-aged homeless looking character was at the edge of the summit cause, lets face it, who would be lounging in such a strange place? Disappointed they found that this bizarre character was not at the peak of the dome but unknowingly resting about 100 steps from the top. About what seemed like five seconds later I heard the kids playing at the top of the dome. I was like, WTF, I stopped here!?! Before I could realize the colossal fail for all its value, a pair of soccer moms appears and without breaking stride blazed by me to meet their children atop the dome.
With my failure secured, I stumbled to my feet and strode those last 97 steps over the final hump and witnessed the fog covered summit of Enchanted Rock. I listened attentively and could only hear muffled children, the whistling of wind and no chatter of the creepy homeless guy. Needless to say I was relieved.
I set my pack down and surveyed the landscape. I was very surprised to see multicolored pools of water in varying depth with grasses and flowers growing from them. I had heard there was a varied ecosystem atop the dome but wasn’t really expecting to see all this.
I grabbed my DSLR and wide angle lens and began capturing the landscape. I was that guy… I think I took about a million pictures up there with the wide angle, telephoto and even the kit lens. I try my best not to get too artsy… I never want to be that guy, but inevitably I am. You know that guy I’m referring to… the one on their belly taking a picture of a puddle with grass sticking up out of it (and hopefully small shrimp). I’m almost as bad as the selfie stick people. Anyway, I tried to keep my distance from the normal people and think I managed to compose some nice shots.
With the photoshoot complete, Kris and I headed back down and into the park to explore the loop, turkey pass and echo canyon trails.
The Loop Trail is just that, I large 4.5 mile loop that travels around the far reaches of the park with primitive camping sites along the way as well as some ponds and an excellent small oak grove where Kris and I stopped for lunch. The Loop Trail has gentle elevation changes and quite a bit more pedestrian traffic as should be expected. We saw all kinds of characters ranging from trail runners to dog walkers to couples out for a stroll. Also, a really nice scenic overlook can be reached via the loop in the farthest northwest portion of the loop.
The Turkey Pass runs between the largest of the granite domes and has a couple of technical hiking aspects to it, but nothing challenging in that regard. There are some great views of the eastern portion of the main dome as well as some curious portions of the dome that appear to be ready to slide free from the structure at any moment. I had read somewhere that the structure itself is comprised of multiple layers of the granite which has led to many rockslides over the millennia. Fortunately there were no rock slides this day.
As for Echo Canyon, lets just say “canyon” is a very generous term. Imagine a 2 for wide trail through some brush with gnarly oak trees on either side… thats about it, but it does pass by Moss Pond and that Oak Grove I mentioned earlier which was quite nice.
All the trails end off back on the main loop and the loop terminates at the campground and parking lots respectively. Upon completion of our day (5.5hrs and about the same 5.5 miles) we loaded back into the van and traveled back to our Fredericksburg cottage suite having had a wonderful time. I’m not sure if and when we will be back, but we will always have the fondest of memories and likely the melanoma (we hastily applied our sunscreen) to remind us of that Enchanted Rock.
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