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September, 2010

Enchanted Rock

by Valerie

This past summer I saw Stone Mountain in Georgia for the first time. It is a huge petrified bubble of granite with a rather famous relief carved into one side. Surrounding water made the big rock a tempting and impressive photo subject, but from our nearby campsite the view was marred by the debris of civilization. A cable car runs up one side of the megalith and at the top of the dome are perched white buildings and a broadcast tower.

We were staying at the campground because it was convenient to Atlanta, where my mother and I visited the zoo, botanical gardens and aquarium. Since we were staying at the Stone Mountain Park, we also saw the laser show that is so popular. It was like a July Fourth display, and, indeed, included a few fireworks. Huge crowds gather to picnic, hear the music, and watch the lights each evening. Walking through the throngs of merrymakers, the smell of pot mingled with the joyful cries of children playing with various glowing toys (I thought the Star Wars inspired light swords that changed color were the best) and the carnival atmosphere, then watching a strange mix of patriotism, humorous animation, surreal art, and pop culture projected onto the side of the rock, was certainly a fun way to wrap up a busy day.

When I first saw Stone Mountain, I couldn't help but notice that it looked very much like Enchanted Rock in central Texas. Just strip away the tall trees and lake around the base, take off the human constructed hardware, remove the commercialism, and it appeared to be pretty much the same. Except that Enchanted Rock is several hundred feet shorter. Not everything is bigger in Texas.

I do not often go out to see Enchanted Rock. It is a good two-hour drive from Austin, which makes for a long day trip. When it is hot and sunny, hiking is less than pleasant, so the best times to journey out there are on overcast days during cooler weather. However, the spectacle of the rock in its unique environment is certainly a draw.

Besides the obvious novelty of the pink granite, the area is extremely picturesque on both the large and small scales. When standing near the base of the rock, it is impressive in size, and the graceful curves of stone bring to mind flowing water, wind, and dunes. The multitude of smaller chunks, that are in places scattered about and in others piled up, take on odd sculptural forms as they are slowly worn away by the elements. The pink surface of the rock is occasionally covered with soft green moss as well as orange, yellow and gray lichens. Cracks host miniature gardens of well-adapted plants, including cacti, grasses, ferns, flowers, and yuccas. There are hidden pools, seeps, and trickles of water that form little oases on the forbidding mineral substrate. There are many caves, crevasses, tunnels, and holes around the lower sections of the monstrous outcroppings.

There are established trails, but it is also fun to wander off onto the rocks and explore. In at least one spot, the rocks play acoustical tricks and it is possible to hear people talking as if they were close by, when in reality they are so far away that they are barely visible. Wildlife abounds, and it is common to see deer, lizards, and many species of birds. The wildflower displays in the spring are typically dramatic in the Texas Hill Country, but the backdrop of the gigantic rocks makes them more spectacular than the average roadside show.

Nobody blasted a carving into the side of the stone, there are no laser shows or fireworks, you have to bring your own food as there are no restaurants, and there is no way to get to the top of the rock other than by foot. By my standards, these are all reasons to visit Enchanted Rock again and again, and to be glad that we have such a captivating natural area within a day's drive.

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