More than 1.1 billion years ago, two different magma chambers were emplaced at nearly the same time and depth in Central Texas. Through a number of geologic processes loosely termed the Llano Uplift, they were exposed at the surface and are now known as Granite Mountain in Marble Falls and Enchanted Rock between Llano and Fredericksburg.
Though the largest of the pair is called a rock and the smallest a mountain, technically, they are neither. According to geology experts, they are individual plutons created separately from the same batholith, a huge formation of igneous rock deep in the earth. The Enchanted Rock batholith stretches at least 62 miles underground.
Sisters in formation and mineralogy, their lives have taken very different turns in the past 150 years — a minuscule blip on their granitic timelines. They stand as direct opposites of the other in terms of how each has been defined and used as a valuable resource by their communities. Here are their stories.
STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
During peak seasons, the line of cars waiting to enter Enchanted Rock State Natural Area can stretch for 2 miles or more. Park Superintendent Doug Cochran attributes it to the allure of climbing the 425-foot summit of the park’s central feature, a pink granite dome that covers 640 acres of the Texas Hill Country, and the great camping and hiking available.
Enchanted Rock became a designated National Natural Landmark in 1971 and was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places on August 29, 1984. In 2017, the park was rated the best campsite in Texas in a 50-state survey conducted by MSN.com. Today, it draws 300,000 visitors annually and as many as 3,000 in one weekend.
“There is an economic impact on surrounding communities from Enchanted Rock,” Cochran said of the park’s popularity.
For many fans of the park, it’s more than a great place to camp. As Llano resident and artist Ira Kennedy sat at a picnic table in the park recently, he spoke reverently of the spiritual nature of Enchanted Rock. Pointing at the summit, he told the story of a live oak tree that once grew there until it was struck by lightning.
Kennedy has researched and written about the rock for decades. He published “Enchanted Rock Magazine” from 1993-98. As he talked about the live oak, he compared it to the Tree of Life in the Book of Genesis, not such a stretch considering the age of the rock and the spiritual impact it has had on so many over the centuries.
“That image grabs you and puts you into the realm of the mythical,” Kennedy said. “You’re going to take something spiritual from there. It will have an effect.”
When Kennedy visits Enchanted Rock, also a frequent subject of his art, he goes to connect to nature and for the sense of peace that seems to radiate from the trails and granite outcroppings that surround the dome.
“People go up there for ceremony and ritual,” he said. “And others, if you will, go up to ‘get well again.’ They go to recharge their spiritual as well as their emotional batteries. That’s what it does for you.”
Located off Texas 16 between Fredericksburg and Llano, Enchanted Rock remains almost exactly as it was when humans first encountered it. Geologists date it at about 1.1 billion years old, the largest pink granite pluton in the United States.
A sister to Granite Mountain in Marble Falls, Enchanted Rock almost met the same fate as the quarry, which supplied the stone for the state Capitol building in Austin. Straddling the Llano-Gillespie county line, the bigger rock and the land around it changed hands many times before becoming a campground and, eventually, a state natural area.
Until the mid-1800s, the only human inhabitants were Native Americans. Flint-tipped spears, arrowheads, and other artifacts dating to 11,000 years ago have been found there.
The fate of the rock, untouched for millions of years, was uncertain once it became a deeded piece of property that could change hands.
Sam Maverick was one of its first known owners. A legendary Texas investor, land baron, and cattleman, Samuel Augustus Maverick signed the Texas Declaration of Independence. A man who refused to brand his cattle, his name came to stand for anyone with an independent spirit. He settled in San Antonio with his family in the late 1800s and owned both the property and the mineral rights to Enchanted Rock.
After Maverick died in 1870, his widow sold the property to N.P.P. Browne. In 1886, John R. Moss bought it then gave ownership to C.T. Moss, J.D. Slaytor, and A.F. Moss a year later.
“Enchanted Rock traded hands amongst the Moss family like a game of musical chairs,” Kennedy said.
That is until it ended up with Charles Moss, who opened the area to the public for social gatherings and camping. In 1978, he offered it at a price tag of $1.3 million to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, which turned him down — at first.
Once word spread that Enchanted Rock was for sale, the Moss family received all sorts of offers from quarries and developers. One Dallas developer wanted to build townhomes there. Perhaps the most intriguing suggestion came from Lincoln Borglum, the son of Guzon Borglum, who designed Mount Rushmore. Lincoln wanted to sculpt a monument in honor of Texas heroes on the face of the rock.
Then, a former first lady with ties to the Hill Country heard about the plans.
“Lady Bird Johnson saw what was going to happen,” Cochran said, “and she got the powers at Texas Parks and Wildlife, the National Park Service, and the Nature Conservancy on board.”
The Nature Conservancy had the money available, so it purchased Enchanted Rock while the state organized funds. A month later, the conservancy sold it to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
While Cochran credits Johnson for saving Enchanted Rock, Kennedy also cites the Moss family for holding on to the property so long without altering it.
“The Moss family deserves credit for protecting this place,” Kennedy said. “We could be sitting among condos.”
With fierce competition among other parks and reserves for state funding, fans of the rock established a nonprofit organization, the Friends of Enchanted Rock, to pay for park needs not covered in the state budget. The Friends host an annual rock climbing competition, the Granite Gripper, which is set for December 7. One of the oldest climbing competitions in the United States, the Gripper will feature competitions in both bouldering and roped climbing for the first time.
Enchanted Rock regularly hosts climbing events, including for groups such as the Boy Scouts and the Girls Scouts, who come to earn badges in a variety of outdoor activities.
“Enchanted Rock has endured in its present form for eons,” Kennedy said. “The marginal changes that have been made since the park opened hasn’t really affected Enchanted Rock itself. It was here before humans, and it will be here long after we leave.”