FREDERICKSBURG — Step in the footsteps of prehistoric humans and 18th century Spanish explorers at one of Texas’ most popular and enduring outdoor tourist attractions.
Hikers, rock climbers, stargazers, bird watchers, campers, picnickers and outdoor enthusiasts have converged for decades — and possibly centuries — on the famed Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, less than a two-hour drive from Killeen-Fort Hood near the Hill Country town of Fredericksburg.
Enchanted Rock, a Natural National Landmark and part of the Texas state parks system, is a pink granite dome that covers 640 acres and rises 425 feet above the surrounding terrain. Climbing the rock takes the average person about an hour. Relaxing and soaking in the spectacular views from on top may take a little longer.
Rock climbing is allowed, but climbers must check in at park headquarters, sign a release form and pick up route maps. Pets are only allowed in the day-use picnic areas, the campgrounds, and on the Loop Trail. Pets may not be left unattended, including in vehicles or at campsites, and must be kept on a leash no longer than six feet at all times.
More than 250,000 people visit Enchanted Rock State Natural Area each year. According to park history, people have camped in the area for 12,000 years. Signs of prehistoric people grinding food on granite rocks remain throughout the area, a practice that left depressions in the granite that are called bedrock mortars.
Spaniards reportedly first explored central Texas in the 1700s, establishing a mission and presidio on the San Saba River and trying to establish a silver mine on Honey Creek near the Llano River. Germans and Americans began to arrive by the mid-1800s, in hopes of finding land of their own and enticed by stories of gold and silver.
Located at 16710 Ranch Road 965, 17 miles north of Fredericksburg and 24 miles south of Llano, the park includes 11 miles of hiking trails, which close 30 minutes after sunset, except the Loop Trail, which remains open until 10 p.m. The park is open daily from 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Reservations are recommended to guarantee entry. Admission is $8 a day for adults; children 12 and under get in free.
Advance reservations for day passes and overnight stays are required on weekends, school breaks and holidays. The park normally reaches capacity every day, so officials recommend reserving passes on-line or call the customer service center to guarantee entrance.
Face coverings are required inside state buildings, including restrooms. Some state parks are only accepting credit cards, and in most cases, groups larger than 10 people are not allowed, except for families or people living in the same household. Guests should maintain at least a six-foot distance from people not in their own group.
For more information, go to tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/enchanted-rock.
Meanwhile, closer to home, Fort Hood’s Belton Lake Outdoor and Recreation Center (BLORA), at the intersection of North Nolan Road and Cottage Road, offers a number of fun-filled family activities, including such things as camping sites, picnic pavilions, hiking, sightseeing, bird watching, hunting, fishing, mountain biking, paintball, a 53-foot outdoor climbing wall and an archery range. Admission for military patrons is $3 per car; all others are $10 per vehicle.
The Recreation Equipment Checkout Center, located within the garrison 14 miles southwest of BLORA, is available to authorized Family and MWR patrons, and offers such equipment rentals as kayaks, canoes, wakeboards, skis, knee boards, tubes, camping equipment, pop-ups/travel trailers, accessories and more. Go to hood.armymwr.com for more information.
Fort Hood’s Apache Arts and Crafts Center is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday for those interested in do-it-yourself projects, including picture frames, ceramics and ceramics birthday parties for kids. Also offered at the center, 761st Tank Battalion and 62nd Street, bldg. 2337, is screen-printing, embroidery and a wood shop.
The center has a Resiliency through Art program that offers a quiet area with art materials for soldiers to create “whatever comes to mind.” It is available free of charge to all active-duty soldiers during the week until 5 p.m. Soldiers may take their work with them, or leave it at the center to be displayed for others to see. For more information, contact MWR.
For some relaxing indoor entertainment, head on over to Central Texas College’s Mayborn Science Theater in Killeen and its ongoing lineup of new weekday matinees, classic movie showings, and Laser Friday presentations. Saturday matinees run all day, and weekday matinees are on Wednesdays. For complete show descriptions, directions, membership information and more, go to starsatnight.org.