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Sunday, January 13, 2008

Enchanted Rock State Park

The Eagles and my lunch stalled me a bit, but in Llano that's no big deal. I like the town. Llano Creek runs through it on its north end and there are plenty of good eats in town, although nothing nearly as good as the Duck Tavern in Temple. The town is popular with hunters and outdoor recreationists coming or going to the state park. Today I was one of those people.
Llano is on the well-marked Texas Hill Country trail, marked by a silhouette of a ten-point buck. (The deer is a great choice for this trail marker, as white-tailed deer live in abundance in Texas Hill Country.)

Enchanted Rock Natural Area, run by the Texas Park and Wildlife Department that runs its state parks, is 22 miles south and west of Llano off TX16. Had I known that the park was going to close at 5pm for public hunting, I would have gotten my ass out of bed earlier this morning for more time. As it was, I managed well for three hours and probably wouldn't have hiked much further.

The Rock is a huge, pink granite exfoliation dome, that rises 425 feet above ground, 1825 feet above sea level, and covers 640 acres. The entire park is just 1643 acres. It is one of the largest batholiths (underground rock formation uncovered by erosion) in the United States, second only to Georgia's Stone Mountain outside Georgia. I had heard Enchanted Rock compared to Ayers Rock in Australia. I have not been to either outcropping, so I came to see for myself. I was impressed.
Tonkawa Indians named the rock, believing ghost fires flickered at the top and that a Spanish conquistador had cast a spell on it. But because of my limited time at the park, I spent no time reading about its history at the park headquarters. My first priority was to get out, see the peak, walk around and take lots of pictures.

I like to take the recommendations of the park rangers as to where to hike. I was told to hike the four-mile loop just west of Summit Trail, through Echo Canyon and back down Loop Trail. And that is what I started out doing, hiking the short but steep hike up to the bald summit. There were plenty of others out hiking that peak, many much heavier than I, and many more wearing just plain running shoes and carrying no water.

The steep hike got me panting quickly and I had flashbacks of hiking up Half Dome, altough Half Dome is a good eight miles one way and much more strenuous (it's still one of my most strenuous day hikes I've made). There were plenty of people at the peak, some with little dogs, others with young children, and I sought a more remote place to just soak in the view.

The views aren't even that spectacular. I couldn't even see Lake Buchanan or Inks Lake further north. However, the red granite protusions were quite awesome in their own right: three massive protusions of granite stick out of the Earth at this point, and there are several badly-eroded sections where the exposed rock has cracked and has large, deep fissures. Scrub oak grow in small depressions where roots have taken growth, prickly pear and some grasses also
call the rock its home.
The hike down the Moss Lake area was quite spectacular, with tall oaks shading the canyon. The trail here branches out; I chose the trail to the right that connected with the Loop Trail to the north. Climbers were rappelling off the biggest exposed rock at this point, which was probably also the steepest and longest climb for climbers.
Once I got on Loop Trail heading back in a southeasterly direction, I was alone. The only people at this point that I came across was a pick-up with two park rangers, driving the Loop Trail (it's wide enough to be used as a maintenance road) to remind hikers that the park was closing at 5pm today.
I had left my park map in the van but knew the Loop Trail made a perimeter loop back to the main parking lot. What I failed to notice, though, is that there is a short, mile-long spur trail on the northeast side of the park that leads to the primitive campsite, Buzzard's Roost. The trail comes to a dead-end there. Oh well. I got another two miles in and enjoyed the various rviews of the rocks.
I made it back to the car with 1:20hours left before closing. That's just enough time to get in two more miles in, so I drove to the other end of the parking lot to hike the Loop Trail from the other end, hiking to the Overlook and back, adding another two miles. There are only about nine total miles of hiking trails in the park. Judging by how tired my ass was today, I can only assume I got at least eight miles in, stopping only to take photographs.
At 4:48pm I exited the park. State park rangers were already posted by the main exit, ready to close the park. Apparently they go out of their way to accomodate hunters. Most of Texas' state parks are closed starting today for the next week for hunters.
I stopped in Llano to find a nice pub for dinner. There's nothing in town. Stonewalls Pizza, a corner restaurant with ample seating, is closed on Sundays and would have been my first choice, being across from the brown courthouse and Confederate statue. The only other place with nightlife was Joe's Bar off the main square, a basic smoky Bud Bar, with three beers on draft. I looked inside and older people wearing cowboy hats were glued to the two TVs on the way, drinking their beer and intensely watching the clock tick away.
The Cowboys-Giants game was on...and the Giants won (barely, 21-17), knocking the Homeboys out of the Superbowl...again. There were a few very upset fans visiting from Fort Worth in that bar that had to go outside and spew a few colorful expletives toward the Giants. "Those damn fucking Yankees!" cried Amanda as she hit her full-sized pick-up with anger and took a long drag off her cigarette. She was clearly upset. I pretended that I was a Cowboys fan or even that I cared about professional football and spoke briefly to her and her partner.
"We are from Fort Worth. Everyone there is a Cowboys fan." They were in Llano visiting his mother. To survive in Texas I have learned to pretend that I cared about the Cowboys.
By 8pm the bar closed for the night, which made the rest of the square deserted as all the cars around me left. I stayed in my van using a HotSpot to post this. A stray white calico cat with a bobbed tail scurried across the street. LAter on I saw another cat scurry in the parking lot of a hotel I was resting at. I had forgotten that Hill Country is home to many feral cats.
The drive back east on TX29 was a dark one. And like ghosts everywhere, the white-tailed deer came out to graze right off the road. I passed a young dead deer that was in the middle of the lane going the other way. I drove 55mph, much to the chagrin to the driver behind me who was anxious to get passed me. I dread the day I hit a deer. The young ones graze right at the edge of roads, looking up only to stare at me directly in the headlights. Where are the mothers this time of night, allowing their young unescorted dining ?
Once I left Burnet to travel north on US281, I decided to try a shortcut on FM963, taking me directly to Oakalla and thus shortening my trip by 20 miles. Why didn't I discover this route earlier?
Gasoline prices have been hovering around $2.99 in Texas for a good month now, so finding a station that sells it for less is always a bargain. Today it was at the Indian Hills Stop and Go in Buchanan Dam. The pumps were old-fashioned pumps with rotating numbers. Watching the numbers move up reminded me of watching a slot machine. I had to go inside and have my credit card scanned by a very young woman. She was getting ready to shut down for the night at 9pm and was finishing up mopping the floor as I walked in. I don't remember the last time I went inside a gas station to pay for my fuel. The fast swipe-at-the-pump facilities are now my preferred way to tank up...unless there's a deal for $2..89 like tonight.
It was a lovely day for a moderate hike. Temperatures hit the mid 60s again. Enchanted Rock is just a tad over 100 miles o/w from my apartment.

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