My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Sunday, May 10, 2015

An Amazing Day at Enchanted Rock

As you drive Ranch Road 965 , you find yourself in the rolling hills of the Texas Hill Country, viewing a mix of fields and trees.  Suddenly your eye is caught by two huge pink granite formations.  Then you come around another corner or two and find the sign for Enchanted Rock State Natural Area.

I was longing to revisit this magical place again.  I've only been here twice before, once on a weekend camping trip with the Sierra Club, and once for a day hike by myself.  I slept in and didn't get here until about 9:00 but the day was exceptionally cool, although sunny,  and I expected to have a great hike.

I decided to do the Summit Hike first since it has no shade and I wanted to see the vernal pools that make up a special tiny ecosystem ,and wanted to see the view of the surrounding world from 425 feet up. 

Instead of walking straight to the top, then back down, I chose to wander around the dome and get off the path most people were following. I started finding the vernal pools, little ephemeral ponds that form microhabitats and host fairy shrimp, which hatch and grow, then the females lay eggs that survive the dry seasons between rains.  The plants are also interesting and form beautiful textures.  Some of the pools were dry and only supported plants, while others were mostly open water with only a few plants at the edge.

Contrast in the vegetation with a tiny light green plant growing along the edge and a darker green plant growing in the middle

Some pools contained taller plants

Trees even grew in some pool but these were dead

View down to Moss Lake

Instead of coming all the way back to the start of the Summit Trail and starting on another trail, I just cut across the batholith.  I enjoyed the views of the rock and, as I descended, found lots of eroded rock. While this area looks static at first glance, in geological time it is very active, with weathering causing layers to crack and peel off in blocks.

My next small adventure started on a rock face that looked kind of like the next picture - I didn't have time to take pictures while I was trying not to slide completely off.  The slope got too steep for me to comfortably walk, so I tried sitting down and immediately began sliding.  I was close to a rock seam that was full of shrubs so I grabbed them and worked my way down.

Then I saw that I was running out of rock and the underbrush was too thick to traverse,  so I started looking for an alternate path. My best chance appeared to be in a little fissure that made a small tunnel. I took it down to the almost dry creek bed and then cut the trail, although, at that spot, it wasn't really evident and was still pretty hard to navigate.

Looking back up at my escape tunnel

Yeah! I'm back on the trail -  if those old guys can do it, surely I'll make it

Soon I noticed a purple post and thought it marked the Turkey Pass trail but instead, it climbed sharply up to one of the climbing areas. There I found a group of high school students learning to climb and, I'm sure, in the process, develop self confidence. This was a dead end trail so I had to go back down and try again.

I was now on the north side of the batholith and mostly walking in shady woods. I saw several birds going about their lives while enjoying the steep climb up. Of course, I also had to climb back down, which sometimes was a little harder. At times, the trail again seemed to disappear and I was getting into steeper and steeper sections. I finally turned away from the batholith and caught the loop trail back  to the east side of the park.

A Bewick's wren singing his heart out

Sometimes the trail looked like this

And other times looked like this

Turning away from the rock led me to open meadows dotted with trees and full of wildflowers, with their pollinators. I spent a lot of time chasing butterflies as I could often see several species at once.

One of the painted ladies

The fallen rock becomes colonized into this

I found Moss Lake which was prettier at ground level than it was from the Summit

I think this is an American Painted Lady enjoying a wild onion bloom

I had another wonderful experience when I was almost back.  I looked down the trail and saw an animal turning off from the main trail to a side trail and disappearing. I had the impression it was raccoon.  I hurried to catch up with it and saw a beautiful black and white tail waving in the narrow trail through the wildflowers. I followed it as it went into one of the camp sites and  nosed around. I was watching it for several minutes but it never seemed to care that I was there. I'm sure it is adapted to being close to people and probably panhandles.

Ringed-tailed cat, a raccoon relative

I checked out the campground that is close to the parking lot and got one more view of Enchanted Rock in the afternoon sun with hikers still on it.  Then I went to Fredericksburg for a well deserved early supper at a German restaurant before heading back to my daughter's house.

I am currently in a motel room a few minutes out of Salt Lake City, Utah.  I was supposed to stay one more night at the Horsethief Campground, a BLM campsite near Island in the Sky.  But yesterday we had several showers and today was predicted to be colder and wetter. I woke up to frost, after the prediction was for forty-eight degrees, so decided to head up further north and stay in a motel.  This morning, I took two beautiful hikes, then stopped at the Moab library and edited my pictures, before heading out.  I left a sunny town, then drove through a few hours of rain and a little snow, and even followed a snowplow a short ways before arriving here. But tomorrow is supposed to be better so I'll check out Salt Lake before I head north.  But before you can see these adventures,  you'll have to see one more Texas adventure - my last paddle there for a long while.