When I think of the slower pace of life lived to its fullest, hot summer and colder winter days paused only by the tranquil transitions of spring and autumn, abundant wildlife harmonizing perfectly with nature’s wonders, and the grandiosity of a landscape filled with rising plateaus, nestled valleys, bubbling aquiferous springs, hidden waterfalls, and magical peaks–I think of the Texas Hill Country.
The Texas Hill Country is a place paused in time. Cowboys in ten gallon hats, pickups pulling horse trailers, one-hundred-fifteen-year-old mercantile buildings in a downtown antique shopping district, and homestyle food cooked up and served happily to waiting customers. Typical Hill Country pride includes farm buildings and gates painted like the Lone Star flag, a rusty non-working turned art 1950s Chevy truck bed filled with prickly pears and parked outside a ranch gate, and conspicuous signs advertising “The Best Yard Sale in Town.”
The Texas Hill Country is an artist’s mecca. Wide open ranch land dappled in various types of cacti from speared yuccas and sweet ripe magenta prickly pears to small thorny barrel cacti to coral-like pencil cacti intermixed with fragrant cedars, towering hickory and pecan trees, and filled with glistening prairie grasses and colorful wildflowers. Take a hike or a drive to one of the many spring created ponds, lakes, streams or rivers and find welcome relief from the sun’s heat in swirling wet refreshment. Stick your toes in the water and feel the cool tumbled limestone rocks between your toes. Watch your reflection or catch a glimpse of fragile fairy ghost shrimp which live their entire lives in placid vernal pools.
Labor Day Weekend we took the boys up to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area just north of the German-roots town of Fredericksburg to hike the trails and over 1800 feet high pink granite boulders rising more than 400 feet above the surrounding landscape to experience the Majesty of the Hill Country. We didn’t make reservations, which is ideal if one plans to camp at Enchanted Rock and so we had to commit to a one-and-a-half to two mile trek to our primitive campsite near Buzzard’s Roost on the far east side of the park. Not an easy feat with three young boys and a bulky tent.
Twice someone nearly stepped on a juvenile diamond back rattlesnake which had made its resting spot on the side of the trail and refused to move–still there the next morning at sunrise when we hiked back out.
The hike was worth the trouble and strenuous activity it took to get to our primitive camping spot. Hiding in nests of spiny prickly pears lightening quick species of lizards rested and then flitted when disturbed. Ripened black fruits from Texas persimmon trees fell when lightly brushed, while silvery gray air plants made home in the branches of live oak and hickory trees.
The kids enjoyed the hike to our camp, often pretending they were jungle explorers in the shade of towering trees, tall grass, and wildflowers of this pink granite landscape. Early in the morning we observed on several occasions herds of white tail deer filling their bellies with breakfast, each time our small Yorkie, Lily, catching their scent before we actually saw them.
Late in the afternoon on Saturday we hiked the boys to the top of Buzzard’s Roost, the entrance a Stonehenge-like fortress formed by the elements of nature. Inside the fortress grew cacti, trees, and wildflowers in the granite gravel and housed wildlife such as buzzards and reptiles. From the top of Buzzard’s Roost we could see for miles and as Ira Kennedy says in her article, Appreciating Enchanted Rock, we could see “examples representing the whole evolution of plant life-from lichen (the slowest growing plant on earth) to mosses, to ferns, to herbaceous plants, to shrubs and finally trees” (Texas Hill Country Magazine, Winter 2004).
That evening, we as a family rested quietly, but not undisturbed, inside our tent. Not planning ahead meant that not only did we have to hike in to this primitive camping spot, but that we also were forced to sleep on the hard ground without any padding or pillows. Moonlight was our only lantern and leftovers from lunch our only dinner. We thankfully packed two gallons of water to quench our thirst, but had to ration it so we’d have plenty the next morning.
Would I do it again? Absolutely. This hair-raising, yet peaceful trip to Enchanted Rock wasn’t my first and it certainly won’t be my last. I’ve learned my lesson though: Plan ahead or else be prepared to hike in the essentials. At least the compost toilets had toilet paper.