Enchanted Rock

Last weekend, we took our first camping trip to Enchanted Rock State Park. Enchanted Rock is a strange sight nestled in the heart of the hill country that begs your attention the moment it comes into view. Enchanted Rock is also known as the Main Dome and one of four exposed features of the much larger batholith that actually covers 62 square miles. This rock dome was once molten magma that formed deep beneath the surface. The Main Dome is in the company of Little Rock, Freshman Mountain, and Buzzard’s Roost.

Enchanted Rock coming into view
Buzzard’s Roost just past Sandy Creek
View from Enchanted Rock, Little Rock in the distance

I’m not going to lie to you. I’ve had a hard time writing about Enchanted Rock. Don’t get me wrong, the place is beautiful, rich in history, sacred. It’s just difficult to tune into that when you have less than 24 hours to shed the outside world, half of that world is with you in the same place, and your two daughters are at each other’s throats the whole time. See that picture of my girls on top of Enchanted Rock with the other dome in the distance? They are really wishing they could kill each other, and I’m thinking at that point, it might be entertaining to watch them try. Let’s just say I learned a few lessons on this trip.

Here is the first lesson. If you are seeking a powerful moment in nature away from the crowd and you are frustrated because you aren’t getting it and your kids have worn you down to a thread, the solution is not to draw the attention of the crowd by losing it at the top of a sacred rock.

Beautiful, isn’t it?

I lingered here for a little while. Ok, for a long while.

On the website, they recommend visiting Enchanted Rock during the week. There is a reason. It is the same reason you will probably never go to an amusement park on Memorial Day or Labor Day Weekends. Also, our campsite was right on one of the main trails. Lesson #2: When you are checking in at park headquarters, don’t pick a campsite that appears on the map to be close to a trail no matter what the guy behind the check in desk tells you. If it appears to be close to the trail, it is. There are three primitive hike in campsites that would have been a much better option. We were short on time and opted for convenience. Which brings me to lesson #3.

I know this one already. Never, ever go camping for just one night. No matter how I try to convince myself it will be ok, there is just not enough time to make the necessary shift. It is entirely too much work and not enough time to unwind. Now, on to something a little more positive.

After a summer noted for it’s record heat and drought, with the recent rain, Sandy Creek at the base of Enchanted Rock was flowing and several waterfalls could be found flowing down Little Dome. The presence of water added a sense of balance that we had been missing for some time and I was grateful.

Sandy Creek
Crossing Sandy Creek on Summit Trail
Echo Canyon Trail
Sandy Creek Summit Trail
From our campsite to Summit Trail

There is life on top of this rock dome! In spite of harsh conditions, life goes on.

Vernal pools at the summit of Main Dome
Vernal pool at the summit of Main Dome, Freshman Mt in the distance

The Native American tribes that inhabited the area attributed magical and spiritual powers to the rock. The Tonkowa who lived here in the sixteenth century heard unexplained creaking and groaning coming from Enchanted Rock at night. Geologists have explained this is the result of cooling and contraction of the rock at night after daytime heating by the sun. When I heard about this, I knew we had to camp here.

Looking toward Walnut Springs Primitive Camping Area

I’ve realized the best trips turn out to be the ones of which I have little or no expectation. I think it’s because I become more open to possibility. Lesson #4: The next time I’m expecting something close to nirvana at a sacred place, I might want to stop and reel it in to something a little more realistic. I do think I expected something powerful. I know I did. Maybe if I hadn’t been looking for what I expected, I would have found it. If anything, this trip taught me to loosen my expectations a bit. Or maybe a lot.

We didn’t experience the “voices” of the rock at night, but  my youngest daughter and I did hear the coyotes howling that night. It was a first for her. I thought she might be scared, but instead, her face lit up and she said, “Now that’s cool!”


Flora, Fauna, and Fairy Dust

Sacred Space

When I think of the magic of my childhood, two places readily come to mind; Inks Lake State Park and The Medina River. My sister and I spent weeks at a time every summer with my grandparents in Kerrville, Tx. Now, I know most of you would wince with an eye of scepticism if I told you that magic lived there, but trust me, it does. As a child, I knew enchantment could be found in a tent that my grandfather would put up for me in their backyard. It was my own space and I loved being there. The possibilities were endless when that tent was up, and I could decide which mysterious land I lived in each time I opened the front flap. Few things would entice me to leave that tent, hunger was one, although brief, motivator, but a day at Medina River was something I waited on all year long and was the most magical place of all.

It took me twenty years to go back. I can’t say why. It’s funny, the things that have kept me from the most memorable moments are things that now, I can’t recall.

Scott and I packed up food for a day and took both of the girls up the switchback mountain from Kerrville to where I hoped we would find the same spot my grandparents took my sister and me when we were kids. I wasn’t sure what I would find after 20 years, but I was relieved to find Medina River to be much the same. That day, I found a long lost friend. The magic is still there.

Medina River

There are times still that I miss my grandparents so much that I ache. My throat tightens up and I wish more than anything that I could hug them, or talk to them. I didn’t feel that longing for them that day at the river like I thought I would. Maybe it’s because I knew they were there, and they were smiling.

A Beautiful Beginning: Our First Day Hike at Palmetto State Park

On New Year’s Day, we hit the road in the early afternoon to go on our first hike of the year. We chose Palmetto State Park because of it’s wealth of beauty and proximity to home. Just over an hour’s drive, Palmetto is a little known hidden gem that is surprisingly diverse and abundant in landscape and wildlife. Although close to San Antonio and Austin, the feeling is remote. With the San Marcos River winding through the entire park, over 240 species of birds, and well-kept trails through swampy marshes, there is no shortage of scenery that is pleasing at every turn. We couldn’t have chosen a better hike to kick off the new year.

San Marcos River, Palmetto State Park

First Hike, New Year's Day

Mesquite Flats Trail

This park is named after the tropical Dwarf Palmetto plants that grow here. Their presence gives the park a tropical feel and in a way, it seems this place doesn’t belong, which makes us appreciate it and realize it’s value even more.

Palmetto State Park
Dwarf Palmettos, San Marcos River Trail

My husband and I came back the following week to camp for a few nights without kids for our anniversary. It was the perfect, quiet getaway we both needed. Sometimes I wonder if I could live in a tent and then other times, I know I could. There is something so freeing about only taking what you need and leaving behind all the stuff. It is a simple way of living that my whole family seems to appreciate.

At night, the coyotes sang to us and the owls spoke to one another across the twenty foot cliffs with the river running between. Each morning we woke to a dream-like fog that lifted mid-morning and seemingly brought to life more birds than you could ever imagine in one place. This little red-headed woodpecker was our campsite friend. Notice all the holes he’s already made in this one tree!

Here is a picture of our campsite. The river lies just at our back door.

Here’s another view of our campsite. The campsites are spacious, shaded and have a nice, secluded feel.

The next morning, we were lucky enough to spot this Blue Heron. We even watched him catch a couple of fish.

Blue Heron

Given the beauty we experienced at this park in early January, I can’t wait to return to see what it looks like in the spring. I think this is the first New Year’s Resolution I can remember making that I actually feel good about. I think I’m on to something, and I think it’s pretty good. I can’t wait to see what the rest of 2012 holds.

Scenic Overlook on Park Road 11

Unexpected Joy

I consider myself a fair weather camper. I like it cool at night, warm during the day, and I really like my air mattress. I don’t camp in storms, hail, or freezing temperatures. At least, not by choice. A handful of times, I’ve found myself camping in these situations. Most of them were not at the top of my list of great camping experiences, although, they have persuaded me to improve the quality of my gear. But one in particular, turned out to be one of the best camping trips I’ve experienced so far.

We arrived at Colorado Bend State Park on a Friday night in January around 10pm and found an empty site. The night sky was brilliant and beautiful and although we could hear the river in the distance we couldn’t see it. It was freezing, but we went to work and pitched our tents. Soon, we had tents up. Even though we couldn’t feel our fingers or toes, we crawled into our sleeping bags and tried to sleep. It was a clear, beautiful, and very cold night. We did not stay warm.

The next morning we woke to a layer of frost on the inside of our tents. Even though it took an hour for us to feel our hands and feet again, it turned out to be a beautiful day. We found this in our backyard:

Our backyard
Good Morning

My daughter went underground and explored caves with her Girl Scout Troop and a couple of guides, with nothing more than a light on her helmet, some knee pads and a pair of gloves. I never thought I would have any interest in going into these caves. I was actually looking forward to sitting in my chair reading my book while I waited on them to complete each cave. I am certain, though, had it not been for recent knee surgery, I would have been in that cave with them. I am already planning our next trip.

Kyla exiting Turtle Cave

In the evening, back at the campsite, I took a short walk by the river.

Saturday night, we stayed warm. A few suggestions for keeping warm: change your socks before you go to bed and make sure they are wool socks, wear something on your head, layer your clothing, and, my favorite, hand warmers.

Determined for adventure the next day, we went on a hike to Gorman Falls. If you go to Colorado Bend State Park, do not leave without visiting the falls. I was intimidated by the three mile hike there, but the majority of the trail was easy. The last 50 feet were a little challenging and probably not what my physical therapist would have recommended, but the view was worth every step. These pictures do no justice. This place is so magical, I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had actually seen a fairy, or two.

Gorman Falls

Gorman Falls

Gorman Falls

It’s impossible to regret the experience of camping in below freezing temperatures when I walk away from this realizing what I might have missed out on waiting for the perfect time and the perfect weather. If I go on backing out of situations just because the conditions are less than ideal, I’ll miss out on, well…life. I’m thinking this might have been one of those bits of wisdom that I might have lost along the way. Now, I’m trying to say yes more often.

Let’s Keep These Beautiful Parks Open

Texas State Parks are hurting financially. Suffering a $4.6 million shortfall, some of them may face closure. The best way we can support these beautiful parks is to visit them. If you are not a camper, make it a day trip and explore the hiking trails and beautiful scenery. Many of them are less than a couple of hours away. Pedernales Falls is 35 miles west of Austin. We can usually travel to Inks Lake within 45 minutes. I hope my pictures and blog posts will inspire you to visit at least one state park this year. I promise you will not be disappointed.

Life Is Better Outside