“We should visit Enchanted Rock,” Andrew suggested one evening, not long after we started dating.
I pictured a place shrouded in a sparkling mist and peopled with tiny fairies peeking from behind evergreens. I worried whether the rock, enchanted or not, would provide shade. I’m a great fan of shade, especially when the temperature gets above eighty degrees. When I hike in the summer, I stuff my hydration pack full of ice. I’d carry an electric fan if I could, and string out a bright orange extension cord behind me as I tramp along the trail. Our visit to the Enchanted Rock Natural Area in the Hill Country of Texas was to take place in the unseasonably warm month of May.
I had discovered that Andrew got along quite well outdoors. He always carried one of those multi-function pocketknives and a small, intense flashlight, in case he needed to defend himself against orcs or cut up an apple in the dark.
“What’s enchanted about the rock? Are there trees?” I asked.
“The rock makes noise at night, as the granite cools off, and there are a few trees,” Andrew assured me. “We can climb to the top!”
I wondered about those rock noises. I pictured myself strapped into a leather harness and dangling from the side of a cliff. I was willing to explore exciting experiences with Andrew, but I didn’t think plunging to my death would make a good impression.
“Oh, it’s really more like hiking. It’s not that steep.”
I was not reassured. Andrew’s legs were shorter than mine, so his center of gravity was closer to the ground. His sturdy legs were built for inclines.
I searched the internet for a picture of the place and found an image on the state park website. It showed a dull pinkish grey, rounded hill of granite set against a backdrop of bright blue sky. Stunted mesquite trees in sparse blotches of green dotted the bottom of the hill. The sides and top of the rock, however, resembled the balding head of a middle-aged man who declined the comb over but wasn’t ready to give up all his hair. Another website suggested the area might once have been the location for human sacrifices. As I wondered aloud if we might still see bloodstains on the granite, Andrew made our camping reservations.
When arrived at the Enchanted Rock Natural Area, we stopped to check in at the ranger station and pick up a map of the area. The helpful ranger, a rosy complexioned, blond young man in a pressed tan uniform shirt and a hat like Smoky the Bear might wear, pointed out the camping spots on the map. Off we went to explore before hiking to our campground. Beyond the parking area the focus of the state park, the Enchanted Rock itself, rose into the sky. Clouds hovered some distance above the summit of the hill, and the pink granite sides shimmered in the afternoon sun. Boulders the size of small sheds clung to the surface. I didn’t see many trees on the slope, or places that looked to afford either shade or an easy stroll to the top.
“We could hike up the Little Hill this afternoon and save the larger one for tomorrow.”
Andrew pointed across from the Enchanted Rock. The Little Hill was shorter than the larger granite hill that gave the park its name. There were however, a few small trees clinging to the granite slopes. The guidebook, “On Your Way Up, a Guide to the Top of Enchanted Rock” cautioned “if you are unsteady on your feet or have trouble with your footing, please consider your physical condition before attempting the climb.” I have trouble keeping my footing when I step in and out of my bathtub, so I agreed with Andrew that we should postpone our adventure on the Enchanted Rock, and warm up with a climb up the Little Hill.
We walked past the brave hikers headed up the main path toward the Enchanted Rock. They were an interesting assortment of age and ability. Many of them had on sneakers instead of hiking boots. I noticed several people leading dogs. A tiny brown Chihuahua scrambled alongside an older woman with white hair held back in a visor. When I pointed out the little dog to Andrew, he reminded me he had once climbed to the summit while accompanied by a Chihuahua. The dog belonged to an old friend, a girl he knew before we met. I had seen a photo of Andrew posed on a barren, rocky, landscape, holding a tiny tan and white dog with a pink jeweled collar, but I hadn’t realized the picture captured the top of the granite mountain.
“Did the dog enjoy the climb?” I wanted to know.
“Yes, she did!” Andrew replied as we started up the side of the Little Hill.
As I shuffled over piles of loose pebbles and searched for the path with the least slope, I thought about that picture of Andrew and the little dog. He posted it on his online dating profile, where I saw it when we first chatted. The dog’s owner was absent from the picture, but in my imagination, she looked something like Scarlett Johansen, Andrew’s favorite movie star.
We had trudged about halfway up the incline when I realized the slope was getting steeper. The outcroppings where I might gain a handhold were getting further apart. I squinted into the sun and wiped the sweat from my face, trying to gauge how much farther along we had to go. I regretted leaving my ice filled water bottle behind in the car.
“Let’s stop here for a minute.” I panted and clung to a large rock the size of a Volkswagen, poised to slide down the side of the granite slope, with or without me still clinging to it.
“Are you tired?” Andrew asked as he stepped closer to the edge of an outcropping, where he would have a good view of my body as it tumbled unhindered down the hard, rocky ground.
I thought Andrew and I had reached the point in our relationship where I should disclose one of my shortcomings.
“No,” I replied. “I’m afraid of heights.”
“Oh! Are you okay? Should we go back down?”
Andrew walked toward me, sending a shower of loose rocks cascading past my feet and bouncing along to the concrete parking lot below. I risked a glance behind. The gentle incline we had traveled transformed into a forty-five-degree slant covered with sharp bits of gravel.
“No, let’s keep moving.” As I said this, a dark shadow floated across the rock. I glanced up to spot a turkey buzzard, circling in for a closer view.
“How about we aim for that rock up there?” Andrew gestured up the hill, toward a grouping of boulders the size of cattle cars. They did not appear to have anything holding them onto the side of the mountain.
“There are a lot of rocks up there, which one are you talking about?” I leaned out past the boulder to get a better glimpse up the hill.
“The penis shaped one,” Andrew answered.
“That doesn’t look like a penis.”
No matter how much I squinted the rock did not seem the least bit phallic shaped. Maybe he meant a different rock, and I had a moment of panic, picturing Andrew wandering up and out of view while I trekked from one tall pointy rock to another.
“You can do it! Let’s get a little closer.” Andrew marched up toward the summit, and out of view around yet another large boulder.
I realized the mysterious noises heard at night were most likely not ghosts, or some reasonably explained natural phenomenon. They must be instead the cries of abandoned hikers, afraid to venture away from the rocks they anchored behind.
We worked our way to the top, with Andrew stopping now and then to wait for me to scrabble along behind. We made our way from one vaguely penile column of granite to the next. I resisted the urge to crawl, afraid even that might prove too frightening, and I would be forced to push myself up the slope on my belly like a snake.
When we reached the top of the hill, I found a patch of green moss growing in a weathered depression in the rock. This was not the Enchanted Rock, but it looked as though we might find fairies. Birds chirped and flitted about a stunted oak tree as though they were down at ground level. I hurried over to the tree, eager to take hold in case it was a heat induced mirage. If I clung to the tree, I hoped I could convince myself I wasn’t on top of a hill I would have to climb back down. I should plant a flag, if only the surface beneath me weren’t solid granite.
I posed on the summit of the Little Hill and loosened my hold on the scrubby tree. To a casual observer, including the boyfriend I wanted to impress, I would appear to be leaning my hand against the bark, and not clinging for dear life to the nearest object that didn’t move when I touched it.
Andrew positioned himself at the edge of a drop-off and gazed off toward the Main Dome next to us while he snapped pictures with his camera. The pink granite of the Enchanted Rock glowed in the late afternoon sun. If I squinted a little, I might make out a small, determined form on the top of that neighboring rock. I closed my eyes and I could see her clearly, her little snout raised up to smell the fresh wind off the moss, and her four feet planted firmly in triumph on that solid ground.