DAN ALDERMAN, Adventure guy, Austin, Texas
Go Climb a Rock
About halfway between Llano and Fredricksburg off Hwy 16 sits a pink granite dome that’s been the subject of myths and legends for thousands of years. Folklore from the native American tribes like Apache and Comanche talked of its magical and spiritual powers. From Tonkawa stories of an Indian maiden that haunts the rock after jumping to her death to Comanche stories of a Spanish conquistador that was “swallowed” by the rock and reborn as one of their own, it’s a place of mystery. This amazing piece of geology, which is part of the Texas Parks and Wildlife system is know as Enchanted Rock State Natural Area and it should be on every Texans bucket list.
A couple of weeks ago we tapped into the TPW website and reserved a day pass to visit Enchanted Rock TPW Reservations with the purpose of hiking to the top of the Summit Trail. What we found was so much more. The first thing that you need to know about Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, and any park in the TPW system, is that reservations are required to guarantee entrance. It’s one of the most visited parks in Texas and limits the amount of people allowed to enter in order to keep pressure off the fragile ecosystem. And while this might be an inconvenience for people that make the trek out there without a reservation (trust me – it ended up being an uncomfortable car ride home), it makes parking easy and gives you space to explore.
Flinstones, meet the Flintstones
The park sits on 1,600 acres and features two huge granite domes called Little Dome and Enchanted Rock along with over 11 miles of hiking trails, primitive backcountry camping, car camping and picnic areas. One of the biggest draws of the area are the vast bouldering and rock climbing opportunities. The park is peppered with hundreds of boulders of varying difficulty and the rock climbing area, just off the backside, offers both top rope and lead climbing routes that are bolted and maintained by Central Texas Climbing Committee (CTCC). If you are new to climbing, several outfitters service the park including Texas Climbing Adventures and Rock-About Climbing Adventures. I highly recommend giving it a try!
How Did They Get Here?
So why are the granite domes even here? According to the TPW website, a billion years ago, this granite was part of a large pool of magma, or hot liquid rock, perhaps seven miles below the earth’s surface. It pushed up into the rock above in places, then cooled and hardened very slowly, turning into granite. Over time, the surface rock and soil wore away. Those pushed-up areas are the domes you see in the park: Enchanted Rock, Little Dome, Turkey Peak and others. Although Enchanted Rock appears to be solid and durable, it continues to change and erode. Known as exfoliation domes, each has layers like an onion. Expansion caused the dome to split into curved sections and as the outer layer of rock breaks into smaller pieces and slides off, the next layer begins to peel away from the dome.
Straight Up Bro
From a distance, climbing the Summit Trail to the top of Enchanted Rock seems relatively easy but without any switchbacks, it’s basically like going up the stairs of a 40 story building. As you make your way to the summit, about 425’ straight up from the base, you’ll pass various rock formations that look like something from a Dr. Suess book and be rewarded with spectacular views of the surrounding hill country.
Change of Perspective
While the Summit Trail is the main attraction of Enchanted Rock, I found the Loop Trail, that encompasses both domes, to be the true highlight of Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. Hiking the Loop at the base affords the opportunity to wind your way through the trees, into amazing rock formations and takes you to the lake on the backside of the domes. As you make your way around the trail, you’ll also pass some of the most fun bouldering in central Texas that invites you to scramble around upon. At just over 4 miles long, the Loop Trail is a great hike that gets you away from the masses and provides a backcountry perspective of the park that most visitors don’t experience.
Like a Rock Star
After spending a solid four hours hiking around the park I was tired and inspired. The uniqueness and history of Enchanted Rock was breathtaking and it’s a place that I can’t wait to come back to. Although I was there in the morning, it’s been awarded for it’s clear skies and remains one of the best stargazing opportunities in Texas. In fact, the skies here are dark enough to view the Milky Way and the park offers guided night hikes called Rock Star Hikes.