I think what’s most striking about reaching the top of Enchanted Rock in the winter is the sense of loneliness. On the gray day that I climbed the rock for the first time, I sat down on the cold pink stone and stared into the wind at the surrounding Texas Hill Country. Although the state park below has erected a few structures around the immediate circumference of the rock, there isn’t much human presence in view from the top. My entire vision of the world from the altitude was of undulating mounds, scrubby trees, and the occasional deer or hawk. It was my boyfriend Ben’s idea to come out into the Hill Country that day, and we had hiked up the steep face of the rock together. He produced some peanut butter sandwiches from his bag, and I chewed a few bites while I contemplated the people who lived in the area before the time of cars and electricity.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife agency states that the 425-foot tall looming granite boulder has felt the presence of humans for over 11,000 years, but Enchanted Rock was given its name by the Tonkawa tribe. They witnessed groaning and creaking noises erupting from the stone in the cold night air (when temperature changes cause the stone to compress and expand) and believed these noises to be the moans and wails of ghostly spirits trapped within the stone. Legend has it that when a conquistador fled the Tonkawa by hiding within a cavernous hole in the stone, he claimed to be aided by the magical powers of the rock’s ghostly occupants. Despite its enormous size and importance in the history of the region, the Enchanted Rock sits within a stretch of land that was once privately owned by a single Texas family. After a series of hand changes and bureaucratic redefinitions, the property opened to the public as a state park in 1984, and today it is wildly popular among campers and rock climbers alike. The site often reaches capacity by mid-day, and park rangers have been known to turn away visitors arriving later in the day.
Without significant sunlight, the granite becomes chilly to the touch. On that day, I decided to take off my sneakers and walk barefoot for a while. It was a remarkably pleasant sensation–a bit like walking on stones under a cool stream. My boyfriend did the same and we wandered around like small children, entranced by the different sensations created by the variations of the stone. At one point I came across an area where the rock formed a wall about 4 feet in height, at the base of which was a soft dip carved out by a flow of water across the surface of the granite. I suddenly decided to lie down in the dip. The rock felt cold against my body heat, but the wind was broken by the rise of the dip’s edges, and I felt slightly warmer overall. More importantly, I could no longer be seen by anyone else walking along the rock or staring from a neighboring mountainous boulder. I imagined what it would have been like as a Tonkawa, waking from a night camping alone and looking across the horizon at the movements of encroaching Spanish colonizers.
When you’ve spent a decade living almost exclusively in urban environments, it’s easy to forget the thoughtfulness that can come from escaping to an unpopulated location. It’s important to reconnect with the earth that sustains us, and to remember that in centuries past our ancestors strode out into the wilderness to shape it in the reflection of their own dreams and desires. As we look into the vision of the future, we must remember to maintain a place where we can re-enter the vision of the past.