FREDERICKSBURG — A little over 100 miles southeast of Killeen-Fort Hood sits one of the state’s most historic and treasured natural attractions that has produced any number of tall tales and legends since it opened in 1978.
Enchanted Rock is a 640-acre pink granite dome that rises 425 feet above the ground and also stretches another 62 miles beneath the surface. Designated as a state Historical Landmark and National Natural Landmark, it is the largest pink granite monadnock (isolated rock hill, knob, ridge or small mountain) in the country, and a part of the Texas state park system.
More than 400 archeological sites have been identified at the 1,644-acre park that encompasses Enchanted Rock. All these sites are protected, and 120 of them are designated State Archeological Landmarks.
One of the most visited parks in the state system, more than 250,000 people come here each year to see the rock up close and climb it — and experience the enduring legends and secrets it is said to contain.
Human beings reportedly camped in this area for 12,000 years, and one lasting sign of their presence are bedrock mortars found throughout the park, where prehistoric people ground or pounded their food on granite rocks, leaving impressions in the stone. Spaniards first explored the area in the 1700s, mounting raids against the Lipan Apache and attempting to establish colonies. Germans and Americans arrived by the mid-1800s, drawn by dreams of having land of their own and tales of gold and silver.
Capt. John Coffee (Jack) Hays was a surveyor and legendary Texas Ranger who was attacked by Indians while surveying near Enchanted Rock in 1841. Cut off from a group of men working with him, Hays climbed the rock and holed up for three hours at the summit, fighting his attackers until help arrived. Look for a historical marker about Hays as you climb the rock.
Among the many Enchanted Rock legends were “ghost fires” that Tonkawa Indians believed flickered atop the dome. One tall tale speaks of the spirit of an Indian maiden who still haunts the rock after she threw herself off the top upon seeing her tribe killed by an enemy. Another story tells of a young Spanish soldier who rescued his true love just as Comanches were about to burn her at the base of the rock.
Activities at this historic park include caving, hiking, primitive backpacking, camping, picnicking and of course the main attraction — climbing the rock.
It takes an average 30 to 45 minutes and 1.3 miles of walking to reach the very top. About a quarter-mile into the trek, the trail gradually disappears and some find themselves wondering which way to continue. No worries. Just keep heading up the incline.
Near the summit, the rock starts to level off and stunning views of the surrounding landscape open up. Watch your step here to avoid little vernal pools (seasonal pools of water that provide habitat for certain plants and animals). Look closely at these waterbeds and observe such things as fairy shrimp (inch-long translucent relatives of lobsters and crabs).
Other creatures to be found here and there are such things as rock squirrels and fox squirrels, armadillos, rabbits, white-tailed deer, lizards, vultures and a variety of bird species. Bird lovers can ask for a bird checklist at park headquarters.
Along with hiking and climbing, another popular activity at Enchanted Rock is star gazing. The park has been designated as an International Dark Sky Park by the International Dark-Sky Association. Area skies are dark enough to see the constellations, shooting stars and even the Milky Way.
For more information about visiting Enchanted Rock, go to tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/enchanted-rock.
There are a number of interesting places to grab a bite to eat not too far from Enchanted Rock, including Old 290 Brewery and Restaurant in nearby Johnson City. Combining Hill County craft beers with Texas-inspired cuisine, this spot offers a menu that includes:
Jalapeno crab cake, brisket flat bread, Texas chili, jumbo shrimp, filet mignon, prime rib, pasta, house-smoked ribs, blackened salmon, burgers and sandwiches, cheesecake, pecan pie, bread pudding, chocolate torte, cheesecake, iced tea, lemonade, sparkling water and soft drinks.
Happy trails and good eatin’.