Enchanting Texas

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November 8th 2011
Published: January 11th 2013
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Enchanted RockEnchanted RockEnchanted Rock

First view of Enchanted Rock State Park. The rock itself is in the middle
I drove north through the hill country this morning.

I passed through many rolling hills covered in broad leafed trees.

Ranches appear along the roadway, along with many other houses designed to look like ranches.

The scenery continued until I crested a hill and saw three broad granite domes in the distance.

They really stick out from the surrounding trees.

The domes form the centerpiece of Enchanted Rock State Park.

Although few outside Texas have heard of it, this is one of the most popular parks in the state.

On summer weekends so many people visit that the rangers close the entrance road by 10 AM!

Enchanted Rock State Park

A small museum at the entrance describes the geology.

The domes are the upper layer of a batholith, a huge plume of magma that did not reach the surface.

It cooled underground, forming a vast volume of granite.

Later erosion of the soil above the granite then exposed the domes.

Stone Mountain in Georgia (see One Big Rock) formed by the same process.

Geologists estimate that fully 90%!o(MISSING)f this batholith remains underground.

A web of
Trail and bouldersTrail and bouldersTrail and boulders

Climb up the rock through boulders shaped like I beams from erosion
trails passes around and over the domes.

The main path crosses a dry wash and then heads for the gap between the two largest domes.

It first crosses soil with scrubby trees.

It then starts to climb, through piles of boulders.

These boulders have a strange shape, nearly all are rectangular.

They used to be part of the domes and flaked off.

A few are shaped like I-beams, where rain eroded them faster on the sides than the top.

The trail finally reaches the bottom of the largest dome, Enchanted Rock itself.

A vast field of slanted granite rises to the right, while the path continues to the left into a ravine.

A sign points directly up the dome here.

Like Stone Mountain, climbing Enchanted Rock requires a friction walk up the least steep portion.

It looks too steep to be manageable, but my boots held on.

The view grows with the climb.

Most of it shows the large dome in front, a smaller dome to the left, and the tree filled ravine between the two.

Pine trees grow in
Granite ExfoliationGranite ExfoliationGranite Exfoliation

Granite breaking into sheets on the rock next to Enchanted Rock. This is one of the best examples in the world
gaps in the granite, along with the occasional prickly pear cactus.

I had to stop when I reached a long ledge within the granite.

An array of square blocks sat in front of it.

The ledge was created by an erosion process called granite exfoliation.

Water seeps in tiny cracks in the granite each winter, and then freezes over night.

The pressure of the ice over the centuries splits the granite, which flakes off in rectangular sheets.

The flaking area on this dome is small compared to the overall dome.

I walked around it.

On the other visible dome, half the side was cracked and flaking.

The domes of Yosemite (see The Lazy Hikers’ Scenic Viewfest) also show granite flaking, but not as clearly as here.

The park signage calls it the clearest example of the phenomenon in the world.

Even with the Texas propensity to brag, I believe it.

Above the ledge, the dome becomes a vast world of grey.

The upward view never changes for this next stretch.

I had to look at the surrounding scenery to
Rock poolsRock poolsRock pools

The succession of life in a rock pool: open water to grass to plants like cactus
know I was making progress.

This continues until the dome finally starts to flatten out.

At this point, a black ribbon runs through the granite.

Geologists call it a dike.

As the lava plume cooled, it shrank and cracked.

This allowed still molten rock to seep in the crack and solidify.

Near the top, depressions start appearing in the granite.

Most are tiny while some are huge.

They are created by ice flaking the rock.

The depressions are the rock’s most famous, and ecologically important, feature.

They harbor plants and animals rare in Texas, many of which are endangered.

The smallest depressions are empty.

Slightly larger ones have pools of water.

Larger still depressions contain grass.

The wind blows soil in the depressions.

Normally, the next rainstorm would wash it out.

The grass is little bluestem, whose long roots form a mat.

It has the same effect as cyrobiotic crust in the desert (see Large Rocks With Holes), holding the soil so other plants can germinate.

The largest depressions feature bushes, cactus, and trees.

Some of the
Rock ViewRock ViewRock View

View over the Texas Hill Country from Enchanted Rock, looking southeast
trees, sadly, are dead.

After what feels like forever, I reached the top of the rock.

It’s very wide and nearly flat.

It shows a large view of the Texas hill country, which looks almost exactly like what I saw driving here: rolling hills with trees.

The most notable things are the three other domes close to Enchanted Rock, all parts of the same huge batholith.

They are smaller than the rock I’m on.

All three have trails to the top.

The path ends at the top, so the only way down is how I got up.

Taking other routes is tempting, but they lead to sections too steep to climb where people get stuck.

The view was exactly the same as the way up.

Fredericksburg History

Fredericksburg’s resemblance to a German village is truly remarkable.

The architecture is all German, and the main city park had a traditional holiday display.

Unlike some cities in the United States, such as Gatlingburg in Tennessee (see Roaring Forest), the atmosphere here is authentic.

Fredericksburg was founded by German immigrants in the mid 1800s.
German Christmas displayGerman Christmas displayGerman Christmas display

Traditional German Christmas in downtown Fredericksburg

The county historic museum tells their story.

It starts with a German benevolent society, the Mainz Society.

In the 1840s, they obtained a large land grant from the Republic of Texas and encouraged poor German farmers to emigrate.

The society promised a land of good soil, bountiful harvests, and ease.

To many Germans, the place sounded like paradise.

Most of the new emigrants were Methodists.

Unlike the famous Amish and Mennonites of Pennsylvania (see Dutch Treat), they immigrated for economic opportunity, not to escape religious persecution.

The society founded Fredericksburg, which they named after its head, the Duke of Frederick.

Fredericksburg was laid out as a traditional German village of the time, a central town surrounded by farms.

The new arrivals quickly discovered that life would be very different to what they had been promised.

Central Texas is incredibly hot much of the year, very humid, and the soil was tough to farm.

To make matters worse, the Mainz Society went bankrupt after three years.

The new settlers persevered, and finally found ways to prosper.

They founded social clubs
Early schoolhouseEarly schoolhouseEarly schoolhouse

Early Fredericksburg schoolhouse. Note the German text on the blackboard
and schools, which taught in both German and English.

Like other Texans, many eventually learned ranching and raised cattle.

Except for the heat, their lives eventually paralleled those of other immigrants to the Plains States.

The museum does not mention whether they faced the same discrimination during World War I that other German immigrants faced in places like Nebraska (see Interesting Things in a Dull Landscape).

Like many museums of the type, this one has a collection of artifacts.

They are contained in a set of buildings brought from around the area.

One building is a single room schoolhouse, with lessons in German on the blackboard.

An old wooden cabin, representative of the earliest settlers, holds simple wooden furniture.

A later stone house holds a full set of house wares from the Victorian era frontier.

They are quite familiar from other history museums: cast iron pots, ceramic bowls and cups, and the like.

By this point, none of it was particularly Germanic, though.

The barn has some particularly ingenious tools, showing how the new settlers survived.

Most early settlers used waterwheels to power gristmills.

The hill country
Mule powered gristmillMule powered gristmillMule powered gristmill

German ingenuity: a gristmill powered by mules for a land without usable waterpower.
has no streams with sufficient drop, so someone developed a gristmill powered by mules!

Also here are a first generation table saw, a clothes wringer, and a device for extracting honey from beehives.

I drove southeast after the museum.

At first, the scenery looked exactly like that on the way to Enchanted Rock this morning: rolling hills with trees.

Slowly, that changed.

Denser housing appeared, followed by strip malls.

Soon I was in the sprawling outer suburbs of a major city.

I’ve entered San Antonio, capitol of the area under Mexican rule, and still the most Hispanic large city in the state.

Any investigation of what makes Texas uniquely Texas must start here.

In the city, I stayed at a historic hotel called the Havana.

I got a nice last-minute discount, which brought it under my budget limit.

The hotel was built in 1914 with colonial Spanish architecture.

It features beautiful woodwork and design detail in both the public areas and the guest rooms.

The Spanish flavor carries over to the mini-bar, which features Mexican food instead of the usual American stuff.

It’s just as expensive, though!


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