November 1986 — it was our second year in Austin and we were at least 1,000 miles away from nearly all our kin and friends. We had neither the money nor available vacation time to spend the holiday with relatives in the north or east, and those few people we knew in Austin had their own plans for the coming holiday. It was clear that we would celebrate Thanksgiving that year by ourselves.
Lisa said, “If we can’t have Thanksgiving with family, why don’t we do something special. Why don’t we camp at a state park and cook dinner over a fire?” I admit to being more than a bit skeptical. “Can you cook a turkey over an open fire?” I asked. “How do you think the Pilgrims did it?” she replied. So, after my dumb question was met by Lisa’s reasoned response, I agreed. “Why not?” I thought, “What’s the worst that can happen?”
Lisa suggested Enchanted Rock, in the Hill Country about 100 miles west of Austin, just north of Fredericksburg. This park had opened only recently, and I didn’t know anything about it. But I had to admit that it did sound interesting — an immense pink granite dome that protrudes from the ground and is said to “speak” in the night.
For once I planned ahead and called the park to reserve a tent site for Wednesday and Thursday nights. The person at the park laughed and said “Don’t worry about a reservation — just come. There’s plenty of room.” Note that this was in 1986, about two years after the State of Texas had opened the camp ground. Now, 24 years later, Enchanted Rock has long been one of the most popular natural areas in Texas, and anyone who would like to spend even an afternoon there should check with Texas Parks and Wildlife well in advance. When you call to make a reservation their reply will be very different from the one I received.
But in 1986 the park was still relatively unknown, or at least sparsely visited in the chilly month of November, and nearly all the camp sites were unoccupied when we arrived.
Wednesday was a lovely day with bright sun and mild temperatures despite occasional gusty winds. We selected a tent site on the slope above the parking lot and set up our tent and cooking equipment. Then we explored.
We climbed the dome to maybe a third of the way from the base, where the rock’s face becomes more-or-less level just before rising steeply again. We looked at the increasing slope and decided that we did not want to attempt that with two-year-old Hilde in tow. Instead, we clambered back to ground level and returned to the camp site, where we found a dusty path that wound through the underbrush halfway around to the back of the rock.
While the granite dome from which the park takes its name dominates, the terrain around it is equally intriguing — wind-swept land and weathered rocks abound, and in the dust grow varieties of cactus and other odd plants. This is the Texas Hill Country, perhaps the edge of “Lone Ranger” country. Small streams wander here and there, and a small child, such as Hilde was at the time, can find many fascinating things to examine.
But as the day ended the weather changed. The air grew colder and a gentle, but cold and wind-blown, rain began to fall. We retreated to the tent to sleep and consider what we would do in the morning.
Thursday morning we got up to chilly wind and misty rain. We decided that the rain was not heavy enough to interfere with our cooking Thanksgiving dinner, and since we were there we might as well proceed. The alternative, of course, would have been to take everything back to Austin and have our dinner very late in the evening or the next day.
Despite my misgivings, the fire lit easily and the turkey and vegetables cooked as they should, and the rain never increased. But noses and cheeks became increasingly rosy and we spent much of that morning holding our backs to the wind or sitting close to the cooking fire. As we finished dinner we decided that we preferred not to spend another night in the tent if the weather was going to be unfavorable — a chilly, sunny day would have been sufficiently pleasant, but not rain. We broke camp and gathered our belongings into the Blue Van. As we drove east toward Austin the weather changed, the sun came out, and the wind died down, but it was too late then for us to turn back to the camp site.