I can’t recall the last time I was out here. It’s been years. A number of years before I left Texas, actually, so probably at least 12. By the end of my tenure in Central Texas, I was not finding much joy in my surroundings at all. The area was in the middle of a severe drought that actually got even more critical after I left. And it was hot. All the time. Hot, hotter, and hottest. That’s how I defined my days. Wow, it’s hot out here. February. This month is hotter than it was last year. June. This is the hottest I’ve ever felt. More months than I can count. When Harvey spilled its devastating rains across southeastern Texas, we saw not a single drop in Central Texas. It would be cloudy. Gray skies taunting us from above, only to stingily hold onto their water until they’d moved on from here. I’m sure Houston would have loved to have shared some of the water. The differences between the two places, less than 200 miles apart, was dramatic. And so was I. I used to say I had to leave before someone took me out of here in a straight jacket.
By the time I left here, I had forgotten how beautiful parts of Texas could be. Most especially, Hill Country. I’m in the area now until the middle of May because I took on the opportunity to teach two classes in the department where I did my doctoral work. That takes care of winter in the rig. And spring, too. But we’ll be cutting out of here before melting season begins. I hope. And until then, I plan to hit up this area’s beautiful natural areas as much as I can. I started with one of my favorites: Enchanted Rock. Enchanted Rock is a giant pink granite dome, surrounded by other almost as giant pink granite domes, formed from the upthrust of a cooled pool of lava.
Gail accompanied me on this trek, but before we hit the rock, we hit up the town of Fredericksburg. Fredericksburg is a German town and always makes me feel nostalgic for my time in Garmisch many moons ago. Some of the citizens of the town still speak German as their first language, although it is, apparently, and older form of German held over from when the German settlers first came to the area in 1846, establishing the town under the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas. In the town’s park sat German Christmas decorations, but, sadly, no Kristkindl Markt. Or glühwein stands. It does, however, have Rustlin’ Rob’s. Not German. But still the place I must go each time I’m in the town. The reason? It’s all about grazing. I never visit Fredericksburg without planning a trip into Rustlin’ Rob’s for lunch. Most of the products in the store are at least regionally made. Dips, sauces, hot sauces, marinades, jams, relishes, pickled this that and the others (pickled Brussel’s sprouts was a first this time around, and far and away my favorite. I could have sat with the whole jar!).
After this snacking lunch, it was time to drive the almost 20 more miles to Enchanted Rock. We did not know what to expect. When I was there last, you simply paid your entry fare, drove into the park, and started exploring. Now, they’ve limited the number of visitors each day to protect the park’s sensitive ecosystems. A great idea, but I’d not purchased “save the date” reservations, so I was hoping that because it was the Wednesday before winter break would mean that anyone not working or in school would be more preoccupied with holiday goings on than hiking. They now have signs on the way in informing you of the park’s closure, should that be the case, so you can turn around before driving the 18 miles. Thankfully, the yellow lights weren’t flashing, meaning the park was open to people arriving.
There’s this great part of the drive, when you round a curve and crest a hill, and before you lies granite country, and then more of hill country beyond that. It’s a spectacular view. And on this day, it was enveloped in clear blue skies. Well, all except for the plumes of smoke rising up around the park. Something was burning. That something, we discovered, was the park. It was only a controlled burn, but it meant that the only trail open was the one to the top of the rock. This was fine by us, as that was all we’d have time for this trip anyway. We also discovered a not too full parking lot. An added bonus. Thankfully, the winds were calm, and the fires were burning on the opposite side of the rock from the main trailhead.
When you get to the trailhead, there is a sign warning of the steepness of the climb. Climbing up the rock is like climbing a 30-40 story building, but all on the steep face of granite. With no trees and just a vast expanse of rock, it’s not a good place for people with a big fear of heights or open spaces. And going down is more nerve racking than going up. I had on my nice grippy Altra trail runners, and it’s the most secure I’ve ever felt on this rock. When the time came, I wanted to gallop my way down, but I refrained. The climb up caused me to pause for breath more than once, as I’d not done any hiking in quite some time. Plus. Did I mention it was steep? The stops happen anyway, because each pause gives you new perspective on the landscape falling beneath you. The views are glorious. You are an ant and a giant, all at once. The rock all around you threatens to swallow you, while you feel as if you could reach your shoe out in front of you and flatten the nearest trees (though who would ever want to do that?).
Whenever I’m in a place like this, I want to explore it all. I want to be a part of every nook and cranny in the rock face. Every vernal pool teaming with life. With the wind brushing across the top of the peak and the sun warming its surface. Instead, I wandered over to the far edge to watch the controlled burns, joining in the crowd of visitors doing the same, sitting on the edge of the rock, spectators to restoration disguised as destruction. And then we wandered away from the smoke, where I sat and enjoyed another view while adding more fuel to my own fires of exploration. As well as fueling my body…Rustlin’ Rob’s fare doesn’t stick around long.
Daylight would be growing dim before long, and the cats would be sitting in a rapidly chilling rig (it would be a cold night that night), so it was time to make our way back down the sloping granite to the car and begin the 2.5 hour drive back to Bastrop. Enchanted Rock was the perfect place to go for my first trip back into the Texas Wilds. It reminded me of what is beautiful about this area and got me excited to revisit other old favorites and to visit for the first time some of the places I never made it to in my 10 years of living here. So, while a temporary job opportunity will keep me here for a few more months, the prospects of seeing Central Texas from a renewed perspective (and in the cooler months!) will keep me going until it’s time to get going again.