I was in need of a mental break from the pandemic. During the isolating weirdness of 2020, I was hyper-focused on work projects and spending way too much time on Zoom. By January, I needed a break from it all, a place in nature where my mind and body could wander at will. For a daytime escape, I chose Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, located about 20 minutes north of Fredericksburg in the Hill Country.
What better place to shed layers of stress, I thought, than a giant granite exfoliation dome that sheds its layers continuously. Over millions of years, as the volcanic domes of Enchanted Rock have cooled and pushed upward, outer layers of rock would gradually break apart and peel off like the layers of an onion. The resulting rock formations, strewn across the domes, captivate us with their haphazard beauty. The process continues, and the rocks we see today could slide away a century from now.
The park requires online reservations and has implemented COVID-19 safety guidelines, such as limiting the numbers of visitors and temporarily closing the park headquarters and restrooms. I reserved a day pass about two weeks in advance with no problem, but I recommend reserving sooner during warmer months.
When I drove into the park, the entry process was contactless. I remained in my car as a ranger standing 10 feet away checked my name off a list and let me know that portable toilets were located near the trailheads. I placed my pre-printed entrance permit in the windshield and set out for a three-hour hike.
It was 45 degrees, so I bundled up and gazed toward the Rock.
Where to go? In years past, I would hike with my friend Lori on full-moon summer nights. We had a tradition of hiking all the sides of the three main domes, and then having dinner on top of the Main Dome, bathed in moonlight. But today, hiking alone, I wanted to wander in a meditative, unstructured way.
In his book Forest Bathing, Qing Li writes eloquently about ways to connect with the forest through our senses. Here in the land of naked granite, I suspected that boulders could be as restorative as trees. It could be my personal own version of this practice—”boulder bathing,” if you will.
I headed up the Summit Trail and surveyed the grey winter landscape from atop the Main Dome. I passed other hikers, but everyone was observing social distancing and the park didn’t feel crowded. As I wandered among the miniature islands of grassy vegetation, I peered into a vernal pool to spy the fairy shrimp. These tiny invertebrates come alive in puddles and never fail to leave children and adults alike full of glee and wonder.
With no plan in mind, I started down the north face of the Main Dome toward Turkey Peak. A strong north wind was gusting, and I wrapped a bandana around my face for warmth.
Halfway down, I veered right to check out groupings of boulders huddled together like mismatched family members. Some were balanced precariously on top of each other, while others leaned in, creating cave-like crevices between them. Beyond those, a smooth, undulating rock layer resembling a surfer’s wave sprawled across the granite. As I meandered among them, feeling their gritty edges and inhaling their earthy smell, I felt as if I were bridging two worlds—theirs and mine.
Turkey vultures circled overhead. This was their world, here among the amazing boulders and the barren yet lush quietude surrounding us. For a time, I felt as if I belonged there, too. I lingered there for quite some time, enjoying the meditative feeling I had been seeking. By the time I continued the rest of the way down the steep north face and hiked back to my car, I felt completely relaxed for the first time in months.