More than three decades ago, The Nature Conservancy looked beyond centuries of legendary history to an eon of geological evolution in deciding to help protect Enchanted Rock.
Purchased at the urging of Ladybird Johnson in 1978, the huge pink granite dome rising 425 feet above Big Sandy Creek near Fredericksburg was a recently designated National Natural Landmark, but had already been well known as “enchanted” since the early 1800s, according to centuries-old legends.
The Tonkawa Indians, for example, considered the dome to be haunted by spirits revealed in the sounds of creaking and groaning caused by natural heating and cooling of the rock—spirits believed to have the power to cast spells on intruders.
A captive conquistador who escaped the Tonkawas by finding refuge on the dome claimed to have been “swallowed” by the rock to join the spirits inhabiting the place.
Such legends and other historic happenings continued to be highlighted in lore and literature after the property was transferred to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in 1984 and opened to the public as the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area.
The Conservancy, however, recognized Enchanted Rock to be a geological phenomenon of monumental proportions known as a “batholith,” one created a billion years ago when molten magma cooled and crystallized into granite under layers of rock far beneath the earth’s surface.
Gradually exposed by uplifting, erosion and the coming and going of seas through the geologic ages, Enchanted Rock acquired its dome shape through a process of “exfoliation” that occurs when natural heating and cooling processes cause the granite to flake off in thin, curving layers.
The legendary dome was once one of many in a batholithic area encompassing 60 square miles on the border of Gillespie and Llano counties, but it was spared the fate of others that were heavily quarried for the construction of buildings and structures, from the state capitol in Austin to the coastal jetties.
The bare granite summit of Enchanted Rock harbors small, eroded depressions where soil has collected to allow native plants to take root. These so-called “soil islands” are like miniature prairies representing one the most ecologically significant habitats found in the state.
Today, the granite dome sits as the centerpiece of the 1,643-acre park and continues to entrance visitors drawn to its summit, where the phantom sounds of musical instruments are sometimes heard on starry nights and matrimonial rituals are common occurrences. Thanks in part to The Nature Conservancy, Enchanted Rock endures as the largest batholith in Texas and the second largest in the United States, making it one of the truly great places.
For more information about The Nature Conservancy's work in Texas, including other places we've helped protect, visit nature.org/texas.November 30, 2011