Enchanted Rock State Park has a wonderful 4.87 mile loop trail running around the second largest granite dome in the United States, and is only a twenty minute drive from my house. It’s a great trail for an afternoon hike or trail run. A couple years ago my training program included running the loop trail on a regular basis; now I’m content to jog along for about ten minutes, walk a bit, and repeat. Two Sundays ago, I decided to head out and try running it again, but on the drive there I started thinking about the parts of the park I hadn’t seen yet. It’s a small park by state park standards, yet with all my explorations there are places I haven’t been.
And with these thoughts my agenda began to fade without me even realizing it. As I parked and walked along the paved road to the trailhead, I thought my original agenda was still intact. After all, the reason I went there in the first place was to run and test my current endurance level, wasn’t it? As I began to run, I decided to head off-trail along a park ranger two-track which splits from the loop trail and quickly ends at the park boundary. My new plan was to explore that corner of the park while picking my way along the border, before heading to the trail a few minutes later and continuing my run. I was reasonably sure it would be a quick detour and I was right, but like an appetizer before dinner being off-trail for a few minutes simply enticed me for more.
Too quickly I was back on the loop trail, crumbling agenda figuratively in one hand while reaching for new experiences with the other, and before you knew it I changed my route to include a look-out point. Upon arrival, I noticed it was only a slight slope down from the look-out point to the expansive view in front of me – and I just kept running. As I jogged down the slope into a wide field of smooth granite and scrub bush, I no longer held an agenda or goal of any kind. I simply ran.
Picking my way across boulders and around prickly pear and other thorny plants, I concentrated on my footing while simultaneously looking ahead. The terrain soon changed and boulders forced me to redirect my course. It was a beautiful, glorious day and exploring the park felt fantastic. I jogged slowly and enjoyed being free of both the goal and time constraint of my earlier agenda. Then I jumped a narrow gap between boulders and felt soreness from a sprain in my foot injured a few weeks earlier. This reminded me I was completely alone and off-trail in the late afternoon of a November day, wearing running shoes, shorts, and a t-shirt. No bandana, phone, water bottle, or any other extra item was on my person.
I decided hiking was safer, and besides I needed to catch my breath. Then I laughed, remembering how my friend, Robert Deming, modeled a character in his book after me and described her wearing a water bottle fanny pack on her jog around the loop trail. Right! As if I would ever take a water bottle on run of under five miles. Well, fanny pack contents and water might be handy if I managed to sprain my ankle again – or get lost. I’m pretty good at getting lost, but wasn’t worried about it because the park is small and the setting sun gave an accurate gauge of the direction I was headed. Thinking of Robert’s books, I sincerely hoped the mountain lion featured in his second book, “Enchanted Rock Blue” wasn’t based on a recent sighting of a panther in the park.
This time the park boundary fence was high up a steep climb, so I changed course and headed out into a more open area. Having no agenda freed me to go wherever I wanted without regard to reaching a particular place, while the slower pace of hiking allowed me to be curious about where I was in the park. I really had no idea where I was, but knew the granite dome was between me and my car even though I couldn’t see the rock right then.
Nothing looked uniquely familiar, though it all looked the same: granite expanses, boulders, scrubby trees, cacti everywhere, and a little bit of wildlife. Whitetail deer and birds were plentiful. I wondered which peak was Freshman Mountain and thought it might be the peak near Buzzard’s Roost. I laughed again remembering a different character Robert created in his first book, “Enchanted Rock Red”, which he said was also inspired by me. He didn’t tell me which character it was, because he thought it would be plain to me when I read it. Well, he writes some of this book from the point of view of Clarice, a vulture, and for a short while I worried she was the character based on me. Then I realized he liked the vulture too well to use her as a prank on me. Unfortunately, the character I inspired through some tiny little personality trait wasn’t much more complimentary, but I still recommend his books. Each is an adventure and a fun read.
By the time an hour had passed on this no-agenda sojourn, the sun was sinking lower and I had been steadily attempting to cut back toward the main dome of Enchanted Rock without any success. Each time I was high enough to see the rock, I was just as far away as before and appearing to be heading in a wide arc around it. Thick pockets of yucca and prickly pear blocked many routes as did thorny trees and boulders. Then I spotted some odd looking boulders and knew I was very far from the loop trail. Extremely large rectangular shaped pieces of granite along a fence could only mean I was looking at the quarry, a place usually seen in the very far distance from on top of the rock. It also meant my wide arc had only brought me around the rock a little bit. Then I reminded myself it didn’t matter how long or far I went because there was no agenda or timetable.
Knowing this let me relax a bit, but I started walking faster and more purposefully toward the big rock. Once again, I didn’t realize my agenda was changing. It was building and gaining importance each time I glimpsed the dome and found myself still no closer. Soon enough I fully embraced my new agenda to find the loop trail again and finish jogging around it.
As I kept trying to hike straight to the rock, the topography continued to thwart me. After crossing a dry riverbed four times, I began to wonder if I was simply going in a circle. Possibly I had made a circle or two, because the setting sun I tried to keep more or less behind me kept popping up on my right or even directly in front of me. I don’t know how it moved around like that so fast, but with my new motivation find the loop trail, I adjusted and kept moving. No longer was I daydreaming or even exploring. Now I was on a mission to find my way to a familiar place. Nearly another hour passed before I saw a wooden post with an arrow on it, a trail marker leading to civilization. I was relieved and glad to know my journey would soon end well.
Altogether, it was an enchanting afternoon. My original agenda gave me the impetus to suit up and head out. Dropping the agenda gave me a chance to be curious, explore, observe, and daydream, while creating a new agenda focused my attention and kept me from worrying about my choices. Next time, I might pack my handheld GPS into a runner’s belt, which isn’t actually a fanny pack, but might be close.
If you are in the Texas Hill Country, you might throw out your agenda and spend a day at Enchanted Rock State Park, with a water bottle and picnic packed away for afterwards, and one of Robert’s books to round it all out. See you off-trail and maybe just a little bit lost.