Inside Enchanted Rock – An Adventure Through Time

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Thomas Mathis decides if he’s ready to explore the cave.

Thomas Mathis decides if he’s ready to explore the cave.

Don Mathis HeadshotEnchanted Rock State Natural Area, located 18 miles north of Fredericksburg on Ranch Road 965, is aptly named. It is a wondrous site, full of raw beauty and natural splendor.

The main geologic feature is a 425-foot mound of pink granite that rises above the surrounding plain like a big, bald head peaking over the horizon. This bubble of once-liquid magma is the second largest batholith in the United States, extending 90 square miles under the Llano Uplift.

Enchanted Rock, 1991. Photos courtesy of Don Mathis.

A postcard image from Enchanted Rock, 1991. All photos and images courtesy of Don Mathis.

Enchanted Rock contains other pluton rock formations that are more angular and jagged, perfect for rock climbers and rappelling enthusiasts. Hikers can choose between the 4-mile Loop Trail or the challenging Summit Trail, which climbs 425 feet in .6 mile, or the 1.1 mile Echo Canyon Trail, which winds it ay around Enchanted Rock and Enchanted Cave and visit crags with names like Buzzard’s Roost and Turkey Peak.

A hoodoo is a spire of rock that protrudes from an arid drainage basin. It is usually crowned by harder stone that protects the column from rainstorms. Two-year-old Thomas Mathis will grow as he ages; the hoodoo will shrink (1996).

A hoodoo is a spire of rock that protrudes from an arid drainage basin. It is usually crowned by harder stone that protects the column from rainstorms. Two-year-old Thomas Mathis will grow as he ages; the hoodoo will shrink (1996).

Shapes of hoodoos give an otherworldly appearance to the lunar-like landscape. Seasonal pools of water hundreds of miles from the gulf contain fairy shrimp and provide water for deer, turkey, and other wildlife. The rock itself is alive with lichens and the tiniest cracks provide a foothold for grasses, ferns, and cacti.

One of the most unusual features of this place is the cave at the summit of the Big Rock [PDF]. While most caves in Texas were formed by water erosion, the Enchanted Rock Cave was formed by the inhalations and exhalations of the earth itself.

Grussification is the settling of smaller particles within larger ones. Suffusion filters the detritus. And talus is an accumulation of broken boulders. So, instead of a covered water channel dripping with stalactites, this cave is a passageway through a pile of broken rocks – very large chunks of broken rocks. Warming and cooling of the granite caused fracturing of the bedrock. Some chunks are as big as buildings.

The climb to the top of the main monadnock seems longer every year (no doubt due to the individual climber’s increasing age). The elevation of 1,825 feet above sea level always seems higher than it looks.

Don Mathis at the Rock in 2012. “The age of the climber is porportional to the apparent height of the dome.”  Photos courtesy of Don Mathis.

Don Mathis at the Rock. “The age of the climber is porportional to the apparent height of the dome.” Photos courtesy of Don Mathis.

If you go, especially during the hot Texas summer, it is especially important to go prepared. Take water. Texas Parks and Wildlife officials posted this warning on the park’s website May 7:

“Due to heavy weekend visitation and the ongoing drought, potable water at Enchanted Rock SNA is extremely limited. All visitors are encouraged to bring their own drinking water, and campers are encouraged to keep showers to a minimum. Please help conserve our water resource during your next visit.”

Texas Parks and Wildlife's Enchanted Rock State Natural Area Map. Click image to enlarge or download PDF here.

Texas Parks and Wildlife’s Enchanted Rock State Natural Area Map. Click image to enlarge or download PDF here.

Visitors are a long ways from the nearest grocery store or gas station, so take snacks, and take two flashlights or headlamps (one for a spare). The entrance to the cave is just behind the peak. Tennis shoes work better than boots; flip-flops are out of the question. Headgear will cushion bumps into low ceilings.

A cool thing about this cave is that it’s one way; back-tracking is not necessary. It opens to a shaded, secluded part of the hill overlooking a primitive valley, a rewarding view for any adventurist.

Tighten your shoe-laces, adjust your bandanna, and let’s go inside. Navigating the first few dozen feet is more like rock climbing. You may wedge into crevasses for balance or crab-walk down a steep slope.

Gail Pollock and Steve Wisnoski demonstrate the need for loose clothing inside a chamber (1984).

Gail Pollock and Steve Wisnoski demonstrate the need for loose clothing inside a chamber (1984).

The sky will disappear and reappear several times as you creep under overhangs. Gradually the chambers get darker. Look for the painted arrows on the walls.

Each arrow directs you into another room, each one darker than the one before, until all is pitch black. Jumbles of rocks line the walls of each hall. And all spaces between all rocks will lead to a dead end – except one, the one with the next white arrow painted on it.

Fear will momentarily grip you when the next arrow in next chamber is not immediately apparent. Blink your eyes and it’s hard to discern which crevasse you just crawled from. Shine your light again over each boulder. There it is – the next arrow. Relief and exhilaration fill your lungs and brain and you’re ready for the next step.

Thomas Mathis decides if he’s ready to explore the cave.

Thomas Mathis decides if he’s ready to explore the cave.

Sometimes the arrow points to a seemingly impossible fissure. Did a trickster paint a misleading marker? No, the next crevasse is well-worn with the polish of many previous explorers. Both sides of your body will rub the walls as you enter the next room.

Find a place to sit and turn off your light for a moment. If there are no hikers following you, enjoy the peace and quite of the innards of the earth. Can you hear the wind blow? Can you hear the granite pop as it cools or expands? Is that your heartbeat or the planet’s pulse? Did that rock just move? Is this whole place going to cave in? It’s unlikely that school-bus sized boulder is going to move. It’s been here for eons and likely to be here for another epoch. Still, it’s time to turn on the lights and move ahead.

Don Mathis and Susan Salzman on top of the world at Enchanted Rock.

Don Mathis and Susan Salzman on top of the world at Enchanted Rock, 2012.

The chambers continue and he pace picks up. Before boredom sets in, changes begin. A breeze is detected. Sounds from the outside drift in. Light appears. Another chamber is dark, and then another is light. A final squeeze and you are birthed into the world again.

The trip lasts about an hour and only traverses 1,000 feet, but the experience will last a lifetime.

The restful perch on the side of the isolated mass rewards your spirit and psyche. Creatures of the air soar hundreds of feet below you. Ponds and creek beds dot the landscape. Time to open your flask of refreshment and reflect. Do your best to savor this moment, smile, and save this memory – knowing you will return again.

Visiting Enchanted Rock Natural Area:

  • Day-use fee: Adults $7, children under 12 are free.
  • Hours: Open seven days a week, year-round from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  • The area hosts 76 campsites, reservations available (online or call 1-800-792-1112)
    • Primitive/Backpack, $12 (no water, restrooms or ash-producing fires).
    • Walk-in, $17 (water, restrooms and showers nearby).
    • Excess vehicle over-night Fee: $5.
  • Mountain bikes are not allowed on trails and road bikes are not allowed on park roads.

For more information about visiting Enchanted Rock, visit the Texas Parks and Wildlife website, here.

 

Don Mathis served as president of the Texoma Poetry Society in 2011 (a Sherman member of the Poetry Society of Texas). And in 2010, ‘Dionysus Don’ was crowned champion of the McKinney Poetry Slam. Don is very involved in the poetry community in Bexar County. He is a founding member of the San Antonio Poetry Fair and participates regularly with Sun Poets and La Taza writers’ group. His poetry has been published in anthologies, periodicals and has appeared on local TV and national radio.

 

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8 thoughts on “Inside Enchanted Rock – An Adventure Through Time

  1. I went back in 2008 on a Geology trip. It’s pretty awesome but the Canyon Lake Spillway Gorge has dinosaur tracks so I don’t know which one is more awesome. Anyway, Enchanted Rock is way more fun if you’re a rock climber making a descent on the other side. If that’s not your cup of tea then I would say that running up and down passing the tourists during the cooler months is much more exciting.

  2. This was my second visit to Enchanted Rock, but I must confess that I did not go more than 12 feet into the cave. I can’t stand enclosed spaces, so being up on top enjoying the beautiful wide open spaces was just fine for me. I also have to confess that 24 years between climbs made a difference! I needed to stop and rest more on this climb, but there was always a rock just waiting for me. There have been many improvements to the trails and campsites since I was there 24 years ago. Camping at one of the now improved and covered campsites was great. The sites are just far enough apart for some privacy. RVs aren’t allowed here, so you don’t have to listen to the drone of an engine all night. In spring, the bluebonnets line the road to the park and are not to be missed!

  3. Real nice story, great pictures! Hard to believe I have never been to ERSNA but now just maybe I will get over there this year.

  4. Don, When you exited the cave near the bottom, where did you go from there? I have read on some sites that the descent is very steep once you exit and they recommend that you go back up through the cave. I am interested to hear what you did. I’m taking my daughter (16) and nephew (17) there this weekend.

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