Enchanted Rock

Huff, puff, it’s warm out!

Enchanted Rock is one of those things that you don’t want to climb at mid-day in summer. Ask me how I know . . . It also requires reservations, one of a few state parks that are so popular that overcrowding and overuse is a serious concern.

Waaaaaaaaaay back before the dinosaurs, a batholith, an enormous buried intrusion of granite formed. The visible parts of the rock are a tiny fraction of the actual mass. Over time, erosion removed the overburden on the rock, revealing parts of it. The reduced pressure and exposure to the elements also caused spalling and cracking. Technically, the visible part of the rock is an “exfoliation dome,” meaning a lump with pieces cracking off due to freeze-thaw and to pressure release. The large boulders in the photo above are some of the pieces that have flaked off the visible rock.

As you can see, once you get above a certain point, the rock gets steep and very bare. It tends to have a breeze that increases as the air heats up, but the rock is warm, the sun is warm, and the day was humid. Mom and Dad Red, and Sib, took a slow, thoughtful approach to the rock. This is only in part because of concerns about knees, hips, and balance. Sib-in-law, yours truly, and Red 2.0 scrambled ahead. The younger ones went straight up. I made switchbacks, because I didn’t have a walking stick for once, and falling was not on my to-do list for the day.

As you climb, the views are quite impressive. So is looking up-slope and realizing that that’s a thunderhead lurking in the distance. Perhaps loitering on the summit isn’t such a good plan.

The name Enchanted Rock comes from stories about the location being a place of medicine power for various Indian peoples, and because it makes sounds at night. Some people have reported odd lights and glows from the mass. The sounds are plausible, especially when the rock is sum-warmed on a cold, clear night. I didn’t sense anything odd, but I was only there by daylight.

There are a number of hiking and nature trails of differing lengths and difficulties. Going up and down the dome is not technically challenging in terms of finding a route or dealing with obstructions and scree. However, it is steep, bare granite, hot as the blazes in summer, and you need a lot more water than you think you do. If there’s a storm in the area I would not go up past the camel shown in the pictures above. I made it 2/3 of the way, and decided that since I was already feeling a little strain, I’d better stop. Down is always harder for me than up is, and required much more care in terms of footing and balance. The heat also wore me out. I’m not built for sticky heat, and certainly had not adapted to it (we’d been down there for less than a week.) Red 2.0 got a little farther before parental intervention.

A different little stream had a cute water snake in it. He was faster than I was, and disappeared into the grass.

Enchanted Rock, when we visited, had no running water aside from a bottle-filling station drawing filtered well-water. The storms of Snowvid 21 had taken out their water and sewer along with the power, and they hoped to have everything back by July 1. The port-a-lets got changed every other day, and weren’t bad, but it was dry camping, and they strongly encouraged you to bring your own water. Because so many people from Austin and San Antonio flood the region for hiking and the like, reservations are required. The on-line system is . . . not intuitive, but it works. I’d like to go back in fall or winter, or in spring before the heat really cranks up. Mornings are better because of both heat and storms. I suspect some personal speed records have been set getting off the top of the dome as a storm approached.

11 thoughts on “Enchanted Rock

  1. As my knee is trying to find a semblance of its previous abilities, I’ve found that down is considerably more challenging than up.

    OTOH, climbing one rung on an extension ladder was considerably more than the knee was able to handle without complaint. Not going to do *that* again for a while. And I never built stairs to that area in the shop… Stairs, I can do. Sort of. Occasionally.

    • Sometimes, if your knee hurts, it’s easier to go down stair steps while facing the stair — ie, taking the same position as if going upstairs.

      I think it’s something about how the leg muscles work around the knee — we tend to have stronger muscles in front, because we don’t spend a lot of time doing backwards walking.

      And of course, if all else fails, there’s always the toddler “bump downstairs on your butt” method. Same thing with going up or down ladders, although I _really_ don’t recommend it for anything high. One step up would probably be okay. There are ladders with really big/deep steps that are more like scaffolds, I guess, and they essentially are more like stairs.

      • Re: “we tend to have stronger muscles in front, because we don’t spend a lot of time doing backwards walking.”

        I suspect the stronger front muscles are also related to the fact that the muscles which flex the knee are not used to fighting gravity, but the muscles which straighten the knee are.

        I learned the value of the “go down facing the stairs” approach years ago, when on a ship at sea. The ‘stairs’ between decks were extremely steep, really more like ladders. Going down as if descending a ladder was much easier, not to mention safer.

  2. Very interesting formation. If there are quartz vein intrusions in the granite, the strange lights may be piezoelectric effects from the same differential cooling and pressure.

    The granite I climb carefully is more weathered and glaciated, therefore steeper on the “downstream” side of the ice flows. That doesn’t include the far older volcanic shatter zones, which make holds and footing a chore.. Same problem with water, and usually pack a spare bottle for those not smart enough to plan ahead. Rescue is tedious and expensive.

  3. Back in 1996, we took our scout troop (360, Granbury, TX) to Enchanted Rock SP to tune up the older boys for Philmont and the first hike for the younger scouts. It was fun, hot and sweaty. It was also crowded, too crowded.

  4. I suspect that being on the top of the dome during a storm would be a shocking experience. [Crazy Grin]

  5. If I remember correctly, there are some caves in it too. Not that I’d want to go into one with spalling granite… And yes, knees ‘age’ more than the rest of us… sigh

    • On stairs: Eero Saarinen designed the Bell Labs Holmdel building with shallow steps throughout. I’ve never measured them (the building has been repurposed) but the risers are 4″ or less and the treads 12″ or a bit more. This pitch is good; I never saw anyone trip on them and the building had 7,000 people working in it at its peak. I believe that Saarinen was told that retirees were part of the Bell Labs community (this was the very early 60’s) and the building should accomodate them.

      40.366082,-74.166686

    • *shrug* It’s a girl thing. This one was small, swam well, fit the surroundings, and had a nice face. Rattlesnakes, Cottonmouths, coral snakes, and other poisonous reptiles are not cute. Bull snakes and garter snakes are attractive but not cute.

    • I think snakes are a paradox. I’m not afraid of them, but I don’t think they’re especially cute either. What they are, more than anything, is alien. Supposedly scientists have explained how they manage to move without any legs, but there’s still a small part of me that insists it’s magic.

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