"Is there a sign or something, so we'll know when we get there?" my friend asked dubiously. We were talking on the phone, arranging to meet at Enchanted Rock.
"You'll know when you get there," I said. No one has ever failed to notice Enchanted Rock. It is a dome of pure granite rising 400 feet above the ranch country north of Fredericksburg, Texas and covering, with its attendant outcrops, one square mile.
Imagine a basketball three-quarters buried in sand. The part sticking out would be the basic shape of Enchanted Rock. The first time I saw it I laughed out loud. I was driving toward it on the Ranch Road from the east, and it looked like a vast pink granite moon trying to heave itself over the horizon.
The first thing you do when you get close enough is climb it. Because of the rock's shape a person 50 yards ahead is visible only from the waist up, like a ship hull down on the horizon. The view from the top is spacious—several hundred square miles of savannalike ranch country and distant hills. To the north, various piles of boulders, also composed of granite, dominate the pastures like Stone Age monuments. One of them looks remarkably like the Sphinx but is called Bullhead Mountain.
The wind is strong and gusty. It arrives unwearied from Mexico, and the rock forces it into a wave which buzzards from the surrounding countryside come to ride. One doesn't think of vultures as cheerful birds, but in the air over Enchanted Rock they cavort and show off like schoolboys. You sometimes see 30 at a time. Many of them keep soaring even after sundown, like kids reluctant to go inside for the night.
Alongside the big rock are two smaller ones, so the effect—small, medium, large—reminds one of the Three Bears. These smaller rocks are domes, too. Like Enchanted Rock, they have irregularities—lumps and bumps and crevices that seem large to human beings but compared to the rocks themselves they are minor details and are unnoticeable a mile or two away. Seen at twilight from the hills to the south, the three rocks sometimes suggest a spaceport with lights flickering around its base. These lights are actually the lanterns and cooking fires of campers along Sandy Creek. The little stream waters a grove of big pecan trees that have shaded a picnic site and campground for generations of visitors.
The most notable thing to have happened on Enchanted Rock took place in 1841, when 24-year-old Captain John Coffee Hays of the Texas Rangers fought a one-man battle against a band of Comanches and survived, killing five or 10 of them. Jack Hays had been working nearby with a surveying party and went off alone to look at the country. The Comanches saw him and knowing from previous experience that surveyors meant they were going to lose more land to the settlers, they set out to kill him.
The chase began on horseback and continued on foot, to the top of Enchanted Rock. Hays occupied the summit, surrounded by the Indians, who were out of sight below the curve of the dome. He had a rifle and a pair of the recently invented five-shot Colt revolvers, and he was one of the best—if not the best—marksmen in Texas. It is not recorded what weapons the Indians had, but they may have been armed only with bows and arrows and spears. In any event, when an Indian crawled near to shoot, Hays could pick him off before he stopped moving. After a while the surveyors came looking for their leader, and the surviving Comanches, already discouraged by their losses, fled.
This story has been handed down less as history than as a Ranger exploit, retold with embellishments for 144 years. Written accounts of it differ considerably from one another. However, much is known about Hays. He was a modest, handsome, quiet man, small for a Ranger—he weighed 150 pounds—but he was one of the finest. From Texas he went to San Francisco, where he became the sheriff of San Francisco County. Later he became surveyor general of California and came to own considerable real estate in the Oakland area. He died near Piedmont, rich, honored and moderately famous, in 1883.
If you don't count lichens, probably 97% of Enchanted Rock's surface is bare granite. In all the cracks something grows: Virginia creeper, hairy mullein, many wild grasses, hickory oak and hickory trees big enough to cast some shade. The plants attract insects, and the insects attract birds and snakes. The biosphere is stretched very thin on the rock and has a hard time with wind, drought and heat. But it hangs on.