A pink granite dome rising 425ft above the grasslands north of Fredericksburg, Enchanted Rock cuts a striking but mild-mannered profile. At first glance, it's just a big, mostly barren rock to be summited and checked off your Texas bucket list. But don't be fooled by its staid facade. This granite giant is a Precambrian showstopper, the end result of millions of years of wild geologic action. And the giant isn’t always gentle. On a windy day, walking up its slopes is a hold-on-tight, lose-your-hat situation. The strongest gusts can make you feel as if you’re about to be hurled off the rock and flung into the horizon. Another surprise? The sheer number of recreational activities available, from hiking and rock climbing to birding and stargazing. Geologists and biologists can also study the life-swarming vernal pools that dot the summit area. Hikers can tackle more than 10 miles of trails that climb the dome and explore its perimeter. For small-town charm, drive twenty minutes south to downtown Fredericksburg. This 19th-century German settlement is a Hill Country hotspot today, and it’s well-stocked with inns, shops and restaurants. Wineries are scattered across the rolling hills just outside town. Stunning autumn sunrise in Enchanted Rock State Natural Area © Dean_Fikar / iStock / Getty Images Plus Geology of Enchanted Rock The 640-acre rock is a foliation dome, meaning sheets of weathered granite have cracked and dropped from its surface over the years, peeling off like the curved layers of an onion. The exposed surface is part of a larger batholith – one of the largest in the US – formed when underground molten magma solidified into granite. Sections of the batholith pushed toward the earth’s surface. The rock and soil that covered these protruding sections eventually eroded away, leaving the domes exposed. Much of the batholith is still deep underground. Enchanted Rock itself is just one hill in a chain of granite hills within the state natural area. Near the summit of the dome, which crests at 1825ft above sea level, depressions in the granite trap water after rainstorms. Some of the larger depressions, known as vernal pools or weathering pits, shelter the hardy Translucent Fairy Shrimp and the endangered rock quillwort plant. Do not touch or interfere with the pools – their ecosystems are extremely fragile. The pools are also examples of geologic forces in action – well, very slow geologic action – because the presence of water and soil in the pools promotes further erosion. Campers may be spooked by eerie crackling sounds that emanate from the rock as its granite layers cool and contract at night. After a rainstorm, the rock sometimes appears to glitter under clear night skies, a phenomenon dubbed “ghost fires” by the Tonkowa people. Hiking The Summit Trail climbs .08 miles over the smooth granite slope of the dome. As you climb, take in views of two neighboring granite hills: Turkey Peak to the east and Little Mountain to the southwest. Depressions and vernal pools appear close to the summit. Other trails loop around the perimeter of the dome. Download the Interpretive Trail Guide from the park website to learn more about prickly pear cactus, lonestar grass and canyon wrens along the Interpretive Trail near the parking lot. Trails are open from half an hour before sunrise to half an hour after sunset. Enchanted Rock State Park is an award-winning dark skies location with incredible views at night © Arnab Guha Photography / Getty Images Stargazing Located in a remote pocket of the Hill Country, the park is little affected by urban light pollution at night. This means the park – which earned a gold-tier International Dark Sky designation in 2014 – is a fantastic place for examining the cosmos in all of its bright and brilliant glory. Check the calendar on the park website for ranger-led evening events, which can include full moon hikes and star parties. For the latter, bring a chair and settle in for lessons about the importance of dark skies and details about the constellations overhead. Rock climbing The soaring granite domes here are packed with established bolted and traditional routes. Add in the fact that they provide high-level views of the surrounding Hill Country, and it’s easy to see why Enchanted Rock is one of the premier climbing areas in Texas. Routes range from easy to challenging, and bouldering is good on rock fragments surrounding the larger domes. Climbers must check in at headquarters and sign a climbing release waiver. Check the park website for a list of rock climbing outfitters and guides. Camping There are 35 tent-only campsites near the parking lot at the base of the dome. RVs, pop-ups and vehicle camping are not permitted. Water and showers are available. There are 20 additional primitive sites that can be reached by one-to-three-mile hikes. You can make reservations for all campsites on the Texas state parks website. Plan your visit The park is open daily from 6.30am to 10pm. The entrance fee is $8 per adult. Children 12 years and under are free. The park is 100 miles from Austin and 250 miles from Dallas. What’s nearby in the Hill Country An easy day trip from Austin and San Antonio, the Hill Country welcomes visitors with roadside wildflowers, hilltop wineries, convivial dance halls and breweries, and plenty of Texas-style BBQ. Within an hour’s drive of Enchanted Rock, you’ll find the National Museum of the Pacific War, which chronicles events during the Pacific Campaign in WWII, and the Lyndon B Johnson National Historical Park, home to the Texas White House during Johnson’s presidency. Good restaurants line Main Street in downtown Fredericksburg.