Enchanted Rock – A magical hike where my past and future collide…

I can’t remember all that much from my younger years.  My sister and I were bounced across the country due to divorce, death, and the search for family members that were willing to take care of us.  I think I met my father for the first time that I remember when I was around 12 or 13.  He took us on a couple of outdoorsy trips in an effort to bond, I think, but my sister and I were not used to the outdoors and afraid of spiders, snakes, and sweat.  I can vaguely recall one of the trips where we drove from Austin, TX to Fredericksberg, TX with some of my father’s friends from Austin.  About 17 miles north of Fredericksberg is a little known geologic feature called Enchanted Rock.

According to the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area website, “Enchanted Rock is a pink granite exfoliation dome, that rises 425 feet above ground, 1825 feet above sea level, and covers 640 acres. It is one of the largest batholiths (underground rock formation uncovered by erosion) in the United States.  Tonkawa Indians believed ghost fires flickered at the top, and they heard weird creaking and groaning, which geologists now say resulted from the rock’s heating by day and contracting in the cool night.

When I was invited to speak at a conference in San Antonio about target-date funds (a retirement investment product), an image of Enchanted Rock flashed in my mind.  Perhaps I could visit one of the few places I could remember going with my father as a little girl? I accepted the invitation in late March and then promptly tore my ACL and thus begun what I call the “knee saga.” My recovery had not been easy and I was particularly worries given that strong legs and knees are critical for the high-altitude climbing I love some much.

Day by day, I stay focused on my rehab – strengthening, stretching, massaging, rolling, icing, etc.  And day by day, I get a little bit better to the point that in the last two weekends, I was able to do two “flat-ish” hikes in Yosemite relying heavily on my poles, and then manage a totally flat hike for the first time without any poles at all.  A huge accomplishment at the time…

Fast forward to the conference…I’m coming off of two insane weeks at work, just taken Level II of the Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst exam , helped cover for another consultant who suffered a family tragedy, flown to New Mexico to pitch for a new client, prepared a presentation to give to this symposium, and eaten up half my weekend flying halfway across the country to give the presentation.  For some reason, I was more nervous than usual and not sleeping well.  There was some sort of railway intersection near the hotel and I kept waking up to the sound of trains blowing their horns all night.  Each time I would wake up, I would realize I was having a nightmare about the talk not going well.  Fortunately, the talk did go well and I could finally relax and turn my mind to my personal objective…

I planned to get up early, 5:30am, and hit the road by 6am to make sure I had time to reach Enchanted Rock State Park, hike up the formation, do some meditation, hike around the loop trail, and get to the airport for my afternoon flight home.  I was startled and angry with myself to wake up at 8am!  Oh, no! The one thing I wanted to do for myself that was enriching and restorative was now out of my grasp.

I quickly did the calculation and realized that I might just have enough time to hike up the summit trail and that would still be a worthwhile endeavor.  I grabbed my bags, checked out in a flash, and got the heck out of dodge in my hot red Mustang rental.

The weather forecast had been for sunny skies and temperatures in the 90s.  I thought the heat was going to be my only problem, but the skies ahead were ominous.  Dark low clouds stretched for miles and miles threatening less-than-optimal hiking weather.  I was worried about the potential for rain making the granite slippery, or worse, the possibility of granite attracting lightening.

I began to question myself.  Didn’t I learn anything from the ACL accident?  Maybe I should have listened to all the signs that weekend I had the accident, all the obstacles that the universe was putting in the way, and just gone home?  Was oversleeping my body’s way of saying I am not ready for such an ambitious hike?  Was I trying to do too much, squeeze in too much, as everyone is always telling me that I need to slow down?  Was the weather just one more sign I was ignoring in my stubbornness to achieve a goal, however small, that I have set out on?

When Enchanted Rock came into view as I rounded one of hundreds of curves along windy Ranch Road 965, it was striking.  Like a double-humped turtle rising out of the sea of hills covered by oak trees.  It was a distinct earthy pink with the northern hump clearly the higher of the two.  Even though it was the highest and most striking formation for many miles around, it was still much smaller than I remembered from when I was younger.  I had vague recollections of an epic death march where I probably cursed my father for not wanting to take us to the mall instead.  Funny how different our perspective can be as adults!

I found my way to the park entrance and paid my $6.00 day use fee.  The gal behind the counter asked for my zip code.  She recognized it as California and mentioned she and her husband wanted to move to the Golden State.  I got my map and drove around to the Summit Trail parking area.  I have to admit I was a bit nervous as this was a “real hike.”  Although not particularly long at just 0.75 miles from trailhead to summit, it gains 500ft.  Pretty steep for someone that hasn’t really graduated from flat trails yet.

I wanted to gain some confidence by spreading my wings, so I left my poles in my pack and I started up the trail, waking gingerly and carefully selecting each foot placement.  Both of my knees did what they were meant to do and I kept my pace slow and my stride short so as not to shock them.  A couple of groups blew past me and I chuckled under my breath…if only they knew some of the things I had done and the heights I had experienced.  Satisfied to be plodding along, I reached the big “Enchanted Rock Summit Trail” sign. The sign is ironic as there is no real trail after that point, you just walk straight up the granite.

The top is never in sight and you keep second-guessing yourself and each horizon turns into another layer of granite.  Finally, the horizon becomes the sky for hundreds of miles and there is no more granite to be climbed.

There were 10 hikers surrounding a cairn that marks the high point celebrating their summit.  I held back taking some photography of small plant communities that bound together to survive at the top of the monolith.  The other hikers headed off the backside and I took my turn at the summit.

The clouds seemed to part as I dropped by pack and began my ritual of documenting the summit.  The wind picked up and I was alone with the sound of a lonely howling wind and the feeling of being the only person for miles in a very special place.  Somehow wind always intensifies my feeling of adventure and closeness with nature.

I lay down on the granite and soaked in the sun through my skin, felt the wind sweeping over my body, and felt the biting granite supporting my back.  I visualized the Enchanted Rock sharing its healing power as a blue light coming through the rock seeping into my body and finding its ways to my knees and any other area that needed restoration.  A hawk circled around the summit and as it gazed at me from above, I felt it was my protector.

I lamented the need to check my watch at all for how much time I had left to soak in the environment and implant it in my memory, but I was grateful that things worked out.  It was a rare opportunity for my past to intersect with my future.  It was eerie having hiked this monument over twenty years ago and returning right as I was beginning to believe I would get the functionality back in my legs…I carefully shuffled back down the way I came taking healing energy from Enchanted Rock with me.