16710 Ranch Rd. 965, Fredericksburg
Admission $8; children under 12 free • Open daily 6:30am-10pm
Must reserve passes online, or call customer service 512.389.8900 • Call for COVID-19 guideline updates.
Archaeological evidence suggests Enchanted Rock State Natural Area has been fascinating and drawing people to Central Texas for 12,000 years. Its principal attraction is a pink granite dome, which peaks 1,825 feet above sea level, known as a batholith.
In the modern era, the area was colonized in the 1700s, and has been home to missions, presidios, and mineral mining. Today, the park is a National Natural Landmark and is one of the most visited parks in Texas, with more than 250,000 trekkers annually. It is open to the public daily, with specific guidelines for COVID-19 during June 2020.
One billion years ago, this granite was part of a large pool of magma (liquid rock), as much as seven miles below the surface. It pushed up into the rock above in places, then cooled and hardened very slowly, becoming granite. Over time, the surface rock and soil eroded, leaving Enchanted Rock, Little Dome, Turkey Peak, and other domes visible.
The domes, a bit like icebergs, are the small and visible part of a much larger underground area of granite. The Enchanted Rock Batholith stretches 62 square miles, mostly underground.
Although Enchanted Rock appears to be solid and durable, it is actually an exfoliation dome, which means it has layers like an onion, that are changing and eroding—however slowly—even today.
As rock and soil on the top wear away, the granite expands slightly, because there is less weight on it. This expansion causes the dome to split into curved sections. As the outer layer of rock breaks into smaller pieces and slides off, the next layer begins to peel away from the dome.
Prehistoric people left at least one kind of evidence throughout the park; bedrock mortars—depressions in the granite—where they ground and pounded their food. There are at least 400 known archaeological sites in the park.
During the 1700s, Spaniards began to colonize the area and mine for minerals. Word from the mines got out and Germans and Americans began arriving in the mid-1800s, hoping to strike it rich.
WHY IT’S ENCHANTED
Geologists say temperature changes cause the dome rock to “creak and groan” on occasion. Native Americans believed the sounds were from ghosts. As well, on clear nights, after a rain, the top of the rock glitters—resembling flickering “ghost fires,” which enhanced legends and stories through the ages. Scientists believe the glittering is reflections from collected water or wet feldspar (crystallized magma).
WHEN YOU GO
It is just about a two-hour drive from Georgetown. There are nearly 11 miles of hiking trails, rock climbs, picnic and camping areas. Visitors can also birdwatch and geocache.
From ground level in the park, Enchanted Rock rises 425 feet. The entire dome covers 640 acres and the trip to the top is about like climbing the stairs of a 30- or 40-story building. Hikers suggest arriving early in the day to avoid large crowds and full sun exposure in the open expanse of the rock.
Tent campsites are available for a per-car fee. Some private sites include shade shelters, and all are located near the shower building, with water faucets and restrooms nearby. Each has an outdoor grill and fire ring, tent pad and lantern post. For hardier guests, you can bring a pet, hike further in to the historical sites, and spend the night near Moss Lake or Walnut Springs. There are also group historical sites that allow as many as 75 campers per night.
Stargazers are in luck as well. The park has International Dark Sky status and, while visitors are welcome to stay until 10pm daily, Rangers occasionally host Rock Star Parties for expert input (check website for events).
Pets are welcome on a leash, and the only activities not permitted in the parks are swimming and trail biking.
There is also a park store that carries gifts, wood, and snacks. Rangers encourage visitors to bring and carry their own drinking water to ensure a good supply.