ENCHANTED ROCK TEXAS
Enchanted Rock is Central Texas’s most intriguing and enigmatic natural landmark. Rising from the surrounding oak savanna amid a chain of rugged granite hills, the massive granite dome rises 325 feet from base to summit and covers an area of one square mile. Visitors approaching Enchanted Rock are offered a sudden and spectacular panorama of this remarkable attraction.
I first encountered Enchanted Rock almost forty years ago. Gradually, I was captivated by its incredible beauty and inherent mystery. In the early 1970s I camped there frequently, often alone, well past the reach of civilization. I became intimately familiar with its creeks, its caves, and its granite outcrops, from Sandy Creek to Walnut Spring Creek and beyond. In the winter I cracked ice-covered springs for water, and later in the season noted which ones survived a summer drought. In the process I learned much about the land and myself as well, but the full meaning and history of the place remained elusive.
Eventually, I turned to a wide variety of books on Texas history to fill in the gaps of my knowledge. I soon realized there was more to the place than a series of facts and events presented in chronological order. What was known of Enchanted rock prior to the seventeenth century is lost to history. To reach into its prehistory I delved into hundreds of books on Native Americans, anthropology, archaeology, and mythology. Gradually, like photographic paper in a developing tray, a remarkably detailed image began to emerge.
When humans find a place new to them, they cast a longing gaze across the landscape and see, as in a still pond, not the land itself but a reflection of their innermost desires. Due to its unusual shape, it was seen by the Native Americans as a place set apart by the Creator as a religious shrine. Later, with the arrival of the Spanish and subsequently the Texans, its mineral-rich substance, particularly the deposits of gold and silver, became its primary attraction. Today, over 350,000 people annually come from towns, cities, states, and foreign countries for rest and recreation at Enchanted Rock.
While the emphasis on the use of Enchanted Rock has changed, its originial purpose is still intact. To this day Native Americans journey to this landmark for prayer and ceremony as do many people of other races and religions. Enchanted Rock inspires awe and reverence. There is a sense of being, of presence inherent to this unique monolith which is apparent even to us today. That will never change.
Sparsely scattered across the continent are monuments, natural in origin. Some are beautiful, others bizarre; a few reach deeper than the eye or the mind to touch the human psyche. They are named holy. Enchanted Rock, which rises out of the surrounding landscape like a megalithic monument is such a place.
Composed of some of the oldest rock on earth, this ancient landmark began taking shape more than a billion years ago. From the earth’s core, underground rivers of magma (molten rock) rose like mushrooms that cooled into rock before they surfaced. Cataclysmic changes occurred. Great mountains and oceans rose and fell. Volcanoes thrust skyward. Rampaging storms deluged the land. Massive rivers formed and slowly subsided, creating the deep canyons and valleys of the Texas Hill Country.
Over the millennia, erosion worked its way down to the old rock. Finally, some 10 million years ago, Enchanted Rock emerged, eventually to stand 1,845 feet above sea level and 325 feet from base to summit, and one square mile in area. It is the second largest granite dome in the United States—the largest being Stone Mountain in Georgia.
Enchanted Rock is the geologic center of Texas. From almost any place in the park you can 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.
Within the park’s 1,643 acres are over five hundred species of plants. Over one hundred of these inhabit the vernal pools, weathered pits which impound soil and water on the summit of Enchanted Rock and the surrounding outcrops. The vernal pools are very delicate ecosystems, supporting a unique invertebrate, the fairy shrimp.
Whether the pools appear as bare rock depressions or filled with plant life, all the pools are in a process of evolution which has required thousands of years. Avoid walking through or otherwise disturbing these areas. In their dormant state, the fairy shrimp appear as dust when the pools are dry.
Almost a dozen of the native plants are unique to the area. The Hammock fern, Blechnum occidentale L.: the Basin bellflower, Campanula reverchonii; and Rock quillwort, Isoetes lithophylla, can be found here, all of which are considered either threatened or endangered by the Smithsonian Institution.
Geologically Enchanted Rock and the adjacent granite domes called inselbergs—island mountains—contain amethyst, beryl, fluorite, pink feldspar, gold, silver, topaz, tourmaline, and veins of crystalline quartz.. The exposed surface of Enchanted Rock is but a small portion of the Enchanted Rock batholith, the upward intrusion of granite, which occupies over one hundred square miles beneath the earth’s surface. The surrounding area is variously called the Llano Uplift, the Granite Highlands, or the Central Mineral Region.
Along the northwest face of Enchanted Rock, near the summit is Enchanted Rock Cave. Actually a capped crevice over 600 feet long with some 20 entrances, it is one of the largest caves formed within an inselberg mass. Although exploration of the cave is permitted it should not be done without adequate equipment. The absolute darkness and vertical drops near the lower levels of the cave make it very hazardous for amateurs. Formerly the nesting place for rock and canyon wrens, and a roosting site for cave myotis and other bats. Enchanted Rock Cave is one of the most ecologically damaged areas in the park.
Bedrock metates, one of the few Indian artifacts on view at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, can be located between Freshman Mountain and Buzzards Roost near the creek bed. The metates along with stone monos were used to grind seeds. The metates are identified by the concave depressions on granite boulders which are, as a result of years of use, polished smooth.
Here, around twelve thousand years ago, our story begins.
THE HISTORY OF ENCHANTED ROCK by Ira Kennedy is available through Amazon.com
The First Americans had flint-tipped spears, fire, and stories. With these resources, some twelve thousand years ago, the first Texans became the wellspring of Plains Indian culture. On the basis of archaeological evidence human habitation at Enchanted Rock can be traced back at least 10,000 years. Paleo-Indian projectile points, or arrowheads, 11-12,000 years old have been found in the area upstream and downstream from The Rock. The oldest authenticated projectile point found within the present day park is a Plainview type, dating back 10,000 years.
The names of the original tribes in the area are not known. The first written records, dating from the sixteenth century, are of the Tonkawa. An interesting commentary on Enchanted Rock and its inhabitants is found in The Scouting Expedition of McCulloch’s Texas Rangers, by Samuel C. Reid, Jr., published in 1848: "We are unable to give to the reader the traditionary cause why this place was so named," Reid wrote about Enchanted Rock, "but nevertheless, the Indians had a great awe, amounting almost to a reverence for it, and would tell many legendary tales connected with it and the fate of a few brave warriors, the last of a tribe now extinct, who defended themselves there for any years as in a strong castle, against the attacks of their hostile brethren. But they were finally over come and totally annihilated, and ever since the ‘Enchanted Rock’ has been looked upon as the exclusive property of these phantom warriors. This is one of the many tales which the Indians tell concerning it."
It is very likely that Reid’s informants were the Tonkawa, who frequently served as guides to the Rangers, and who, more than any other tribe, would have had any knowledge of "a tribe now extinct" that inhabited Enchanted Rock.
Due to the lack of published research, the religious beliefs of the Tonkawa are very sketchy, but seem to have been shaped in large measure by Tonkawa myths regarding the spirits of the dead. In The Indians of Texas, published in 1961, the author W. W. Newcomb Jr., notes: "Souls of women were thought to go directly to the home in the west singing as they went; souls of men, however, were apt to hang around watching their living relatives and calling to them. If the dead were not properly buried, their spirits would remain to haunt the miscreants…Certain places were avoided, particularly at night, because strange sounds attributed to the souls of the dead were heard there." Possibly, some of the more ghostly legends and reports of the Indian’s fearful reactions regarding Enchanted Rock and the mysterious noises said to emit from it can be traced to the Tonkawa.
In the early 1700’s the Apache displaced the Tonkawa at Enchanted Rock. It is with the Apache myths, which have been the subject of greater study, that we get a more complete picture of Plains Indian beliefs as they relate to the sacred nature of Enchanted Rock.
According to the Apache, the Giver of Life sent the Gan, or mountain spirits, to teach the people a better way to live, govern, hunt, and cure illness. Accordingly to the myth, these benevolent but powerful mountain spirits live forever in the mountain’s caves and can be appealed to for guidance and protection.
By the end of the 1700s the Comanche had displaced the Apache. The Comanche, like many other plains tribes, looked upon the sun as the universal father. Jean Louis Berlandier, in his firsthand account, The Indians of Texas in 1830, wrote: "The sun seems to be the single object of creation they venerate most assiduously…In general all the nomadic peoples make no sacrifice to him…After the sun, the earth takes second place in their devotion…Their various superstitious ceremonials, handed down generation after generation from their ancestors or picked up in some other way, are celebrated amid the majestic monuments of nature…You may see Comanches and others, hoping for a revelation or some important inspiration…seek out some high and lonely place where they build a sort of sepulcher of stones. There they pay homage to the object of their veneration, whereupon they go to sleep hoping for a dream that will reveal the counsel they have prayed for."
There is no question that Enchanted Rock was the site for both the Gan dance of the Apache and the vision quest of the Comanche and other Plains Indians. Some of the earliest European visitors mention seeing stone sepulchers on the summit. As recently as thirty years ago flint shards were found on a large flat area on the northwest summit.
In 1892, James R. Mooney wrote in The Ghost Dance Religion, about Wovoka, a famous Paiute prophet and medicine man, whose influenced was felt throughout the Plains. Although the excerpt is not specifically about Enchanted Rock or its native inhabitants, on a deeper level it speaks directly to the spirit of the place, Plains Indian spiritual leaders, and the mythological foundation of their religion.
"[Wovoka was] by nature of a solitary and contemplative disposition, one of those born to see visions and hear still voices…His native valley, from which he has never wandered [was] roofed over by a cloudless sky in whose blue infinitude the mind instinctively seeks to penetrate to far off worlds beyond. Away to the south the view is closed in by the sacred mountain of the Paiute, where their Father gave them the first fire and taught them their few simple arts before leaving for his home in the upper regions of the Sun-land…It seems set apart from the great world to be the home of a dreamer."