Day Trip: Enchanted Rock
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is just under two hours west of Central Austin, near Fredericksburg, and is well worth the drive for a day trip or a short camping excursion. The park is filled with trails, ranging from “not too tough” to “scrambling-up-a-rock-omg-my-legs-are-killing-me” strenuous.Enchanted Rock is one of the most interesting geological features in the Central Texas area. The granite dome of Enchanted Rock and the lesser domes of Little Rock and Freshman Mountain are part of a segmented ridge that was formed more than 6 million years ago. What you can see, visible for miles around, is the part of the ridge that rises above ground. What it looks like to a non-geologist such as myself is an alien dome rising from the Earth, shedding its limestone husk piece by piece. The first time we made the trek out to Enchanted Rock was last September. We’d wanted to visit the area since moving to Austin last June, but because of the wide open landscape and hot rock surface, we waited until a day that only reached the low 90s. Although the appropriately named Sandy Creek runs through the park, it rarely has much water in it, so there’s really nowhere to cool yourself on a hot day. When we visited again recently, the creek was flowing enough to wade in. A welcome relief. The park features rock climbing but we stuck to the hiking trails, which run around, over and on top of the rock formations. At 4 miles, the Loop Trail is the longest in the park and takes you around the base of the rocks, giving you several great viewing points of Enchanted Rock. From the Loop Trail, you can also access other trails, including the daunting Echo Canyon Trail. Echo Canyon Trail takes you through the tight valley between Little Rock and Enchanted Rock and is pretty strenuous. The limestone that covered the granite dome has cracked and slid off in chunks over the past few million years. Echo Canyon is a trail that brings you over, under and between these rock chunks. It’s not easy but it’s fun and rewarding and brings you halfway up the Summit Trail. The Summit Trail seems to be the most-used trail in the park. Both times we were there, we saw people get out of their cars, go to the summit (or in some cases, part of the way up), return to their cars and leave. Although I’m sad that many people don’t experience the full park, it’s nice that there aren’t mobs of people on every trail. The Summit Trail is 425 feet up over .6 miles and the climb felt like being on a treadmill for about 45 minutes. When you do reach the peak however, boy is it worth it. The day that we summited, we had walked half of the 4 mile Loop Trail, to the strenuous Echo Trail, to the Summit Trail and were …. What’s the word? Oh yeah, EXHAUSTED! We got to the top, took a lap around, admiring the clear view of the surrounding landscape and then laid down on the rock, letting its warm surface touch our already hot skin. It felt spa-like. There is some mysticism associated with Enchanted Rock. In addition to the legend that the rock is haunted, attributed to groaning sounds made by the contractions of the rock, it is also believed by some to be a vortex. Who knows if that’s true, but I will say that when we reached the top of the rock and lay down, we both dozed off and immediately started having vivid dreams. Was it because of the intense hike we’d just taken? Or does Enchanted Rock live up to its name?