Day 62 – Fredericksburg
I held out hope that running water might be restored at the KOA by sunrise. But, alas, there was still not a drop.
When the office opened, I went inside to ask for a refund.
I didn’t really want to do that, probably because I do not like confrontation. But I also felt cheated. Indoor plumbing was 90% of the reason I had paid money to stop there. If I just wanted to sleep outside, I could do that for free. And now I was going to spend my 3rd straight day without a shower.
The woman running the office was not happy with my request. I politely explained that the only reason I had paid to stay there was for the shower and bathroom facilities; I could have slept for free at a rest stop.
“We also provided a safe place to stay the night,” she countered.
I shrugged. “I’ve never worried about safety at a rest stop.” If she really wanted to debate the point, I was curious how a tent in an unfenced, unguarded area right beside the road provided any kind of safety.
After a call to the owner, who I believe was her husband, she curtly told me that he had authorized a full refund. “Just because you didn’t know about it beforehand,” she said.
I would have settled for a partial refund, so a full refund was nice.
To be fair, then, I would give the Fort Stockton KOA a good rating. It wasn’t a great place to stay, but I did get my money’s worth.
As I approached the hill country town of Fredericksburg, I started noticing some interesting road names: Zeder Strasse. Eichen Strasse. Reeh-Weinheimer Road. Goehmann Lane.
Fredericksburg is definitely a German town.
The ‘burg even contains the National Museum of the Pacific War, which conveniently takes attention away from the European side of World War II and its German antagonist. (OK, so Admiral Nimitz was from Fredericksburg, and that is the real reason the museum focuses on the Pacific War.)
Fredericksburg today is primarily a tourist town, and not necessarily because of any museums. The big draw seems to be the numerous small shops on Main Street, selling soaps and antiques and weddings. It is also the home of Circle E Candles, which I’ll give a free plug to, since I like their stuff. (Yes, I have scented candles. No, I don’t think that is feminine. A four-person bachelor pad needs potpourri more so than a woman’s house.)
I skipped shopping and headed north toward Enchanted Rock.
Along the way, I stopped in at the Trois Estate. The Estate is not a major attraction; I would not have noticed it if a friend hadn’t held his wedding there. Trois Estate is a collection of adobe-style buildings, including a small chapel, an underground cave-like swimming pool, and a large machine shed used for banquets. From what I’ve heard, the owner simply likes to build things, which explains the ever-expanding number of faux antique buildings.
He also likes to collect things. If there is a reason to stop by Trois Estate sans wedding, it is to see the world’s largest collection of cap guns. A gym-sized adobe building holds the collection, which includes an autographed photo of Red Ryder (“I want an official Red Ryder carbine-action two-hundred-shot range model air rife!”) and an atomic disintegrator cap gun. Because, you know, what sound does an atomic disintegrator make? “Pop!”
Enchanted Rock is a big granite rock a few miles north of Fredericksburg. By “big”, I mean about 400 feet tall and a square mile in area. It happens to be pink.
It is basically a smooth, round hill made entirely from one stone.
The “enchanted” part comes from the native Indians’ impression of the rock, especially the Tonkawa tribe, which lived in the area before being moved to northern Oklahoma. They claimed the rock made noises at night, and other such mysterious things.
It is not a hugely impressive natural landmark, but worth visiting if you happen to be nearby.
I stopped there primarily so I could hike up the rock. A “summit trail” leads to the top, but since the hill is one large exposed rock, there is not really any trail to be seen. You just hike up the rock, and hike all over the rock, if you want.
There were a fair number of people doing exactly that on this particular Monday afternoon. They looked a bit like ants crawling over a pink anthill. The ages ranged from a group of kids on a field trip to an elderly couple who had traveled all the way from Wisconsin.
I joined them on the trek up the rock. The sides are not steep enough that you have to climb, but they are steep enough to give you a pretty good workout. I found that it was easier, and just as fast, to zigzag up the slope, creating my own switchback trail.
Though the granite was relatively smooth overall, the surface layer had broken off in some places or been worn down by the elements. This created quite a few shallow depressions that might have gone unnoticed, except it had rained recently, turning the depressions into puddles or shallow pools. The pools mirrored the blue sky overhead, creating spots of contrast with the pink granite.
It was next to the largest of these pools-with-a-view that I noticed a woman in pink sitting quietly. She has it figured out, I thought, picking such a spot to sit and read or journal on such a beautiful day. I struck up a conversation, treading a bit carefully so as not to disturb her peace very much or come across in the wrong way. Her name was Nadine, she was from San Antonio, and she looked to be about my age. Reading between the lines some, it sounded like she was probably playing hooky from work to enjoy the day. She was very friendly, and as I walked away I wondered if I should have gotten her number or email or simply stayed to chat longer. I did not want to overstay my welcome, though, if she was there looking for peace and solitude.
Nearby was a large bowl-shaped curve in the rock, with some car-sized jumbled boulders forming the outside edge. The boulders leaned against each other to create a cave-like entrance, which I climbed down into. I was surprised to see, about 30 feet down, a large chalk arrow pointing toward an opening at the end of the tunnel. An arrow to what? Someone had been here before, and wanted to point visitors like myself towards something they deemed important. Maybe this would be an interesting find, and would give me an excuse to talk with Nadine again to let her know about the nearby point of interest.
Ducking my head, I walked toward the arrow. The tunnel was triangular, with the large boulders leaning against each other to form a granite tipi. The floor also sloped at a pretty good angle, since this was down on the side of Enchanted Rock, where the grade is the steepest.
Remember the signs of recent rainfall? Here, shaded from the sun, the rock floor was still a bit wet. Also because of the shadows, it was not easy to see that the rock was wet. This was unfortunate, because wet granite is quite slick. As my right foot came down on the upper part of the sloped floor, it slipped, turning my ankle and sending me crashing down onto my right side.
“GAH!” I yelled, as I fell. I’m not sure what “gah” means, but it was definitely a gah moment.
There was a sharp pain throughout my right ankle. Hopefully this was one of those temporary twisted-ankle pains, and not one of those more serious and longer-lasting sprains or strains. I had twisted my ankle many times, but it was always just a pain that went away within a couple of minutes. This one hurt much worse than I remembered, but surely it would also be back to normal with just a short rest. If not—well, I had managed to find the one spot on all of Enchanted Rock that was not visible from any direction. There were enough people around that if I had to yell for help, someone would surely hear me.
Not that I was interested in getting help.
I laid, or somewhat leaned, against the steep floor, waiting for the pain to go down enough to chance walking. My thoughts again turned to Psalm 23, and to the verse that hung in my bathroom as a kid: “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.” Yes, I sighed. You made me lie down.
The pain did not go away nearly as much as I had hoped. I stood up after a couple of minutes, and ran a diagnostic check on my ankle. As long as I did not bend it at all in any direction, I was fine. Too bad I was on the side of a giant round rock, where every step other than the one at the summit required me to bend my ankle at least slightly.
It was obviously going to be easier to walk downhill, toward the daylight indicated by the arrow, than to walk back up the tunnel the way I came. So, slowly, carefully, I made my way to the lower exit.
Though back out in the sunlight, I found that this exit did not exactly put me into the clear. I found myself on a pile of smaller boulders, which was fenced in on each side by the larger rocks. It was not the easiest place to walk with a twisted ankle. Suddenly feeling a bit woozy (probably because I had yet to eat lunch), I sat down and pulled out the snacks and water I had wisely carried with me in my backpack. I then surveyed the situation.
The Enchanted Rock map I had picked up at the visitor center listed an Enchanted Cave on one side of the rock. I had not noticed the label before then. It was clear, due to its position on the map, that I was at the cave. A shallow hole right next to where I was sitting looked to be the cave entrance. It looked like one could drop down into the hole and then crawl through whatever cave existed beneath. With my ankle still throbbing, that was out of the question.
The way out that required the least amount of climbing was the same way I had come in. I would have to climb back out through the tunnel, walk back up and over the top of Enchanted rock, and down the other side. I was about as far from the trailhead and parking lot as I could get.
Having rested my ankle for a few minutes, I started retracing my steps. I made it back out through the tunnel, and came across a hiking couple heading toward the cave entrance. They asked me if I had just come from the cave.
“Sort of,” I said. “I made it to the entrance, but managed to twist my ankle on the way, so I couldn’t really do any spelunking.”
“Oh, are you OK? Do you need help?” the woman asked.
“No, I’m walking, so I guess I must be fine,” I replied. “But be very careful not to slip down there. The rock is wet in the shadows.”
They continued toward the cave, and I continued in the opposite direction. Rather quickly I learned that “walking it off” was not going to help with this injury. Sitting for a few minutes must have helped the ankle, but walking was causing it to rapidly feel worse. Realizing I did need help, after all, I went to one of the very few patches of soil on Enchanted Rock. A tree had managed to get a foothold there, though only temporarily, since it was now dead. I broke off a walking stick and hobbled along, keeping as much weight off my right foot as possible.
When I made it back to the summit, I encountered two young women talking to a middle-aged couple. The two women had noticeable Australian accents. By the time I had limped up to them, the conversation was over and the middle-aged couple was walking away.
“Howdy,” I said to the remaining two girls.
“Hello,” they brightly replied.
“Where are y’all from?”
We chatted a bit, with me explaining why I was leaning on a staff like an old man with a cane or a tired wizard.
“I guess you have your own big rock back home,” I said. “Well, I mean, it’s probably a whole lot more impressive than this one…”
“Oh yes. Much bigger. About 10 times as big, and much redder.”
“What’s the name—Ayers Rock?”
“Yeah, and you have to climb up chains to make it to the top, and if you hurt your ankle, there wouldn’t be any trees up there for you to get a cane.”
I grinned, sheepishly, even though sheep don’t grin. “So, are you guys here on vacation?”
“Well, sort of…we’ve been in the U.S. for about a year now.”
“A year? Did you move here?”
“We just wanted to see the country, so we’ve been traveling around, working a little bit as we go to earn money.”
“What do you work at?”
“We’re both nurses.”
“Oh, well, that probably works pretty well, doesn’t it?”
“Yeah, we can work anywhere.”
“And you don’t have to work many days, right? I mean…the nurses I know work really long shifts…”
“…but then we only have to work 3 days a week,” one of the girls finished.
“So that gives you 4, or sometimes even 8, days off in a row, so you can go sightseeing.”
I was impressed. It was like they had just cracked the Da Vinci code, or something. They had solved the mystery of how you can work for a living and still travel for a living. Step 1: become a nurse.
I asked them about where all they had been, and they asked me about my travels. They were currently staying in San Antonio, and when they learned I was from Dallas, they wanted to know the scoop of what Dallas was like, and what there was to do there. Dallas was likely going to be their next stop.
I tried to describe the city and its attractions to them. Like most people, I don’t tend to look at where I live as a tourist destination. I realized that Dallas was the one stop on this trip that I had not written anything about. Presumably, it is the city I should be most familiar with, and best able to offer travel advice for. But there were quite a few attractions in town that I had never even been to.
I gave them the address to my website in case they wanted my opinions on any other parts of the country, and then we parted ways. Technically, we went the same direction, since they were also leaving Enchanted Rock. But they were soon just more ants far down the side of the hill, as I followed at a much slower pace.
It did not take long at all to walk up the rock when I first arrived. Now it felt like it took 10 times as long to make it back down. I discovered that my ankle could bend to one side without much trouble, but bending it to the other side or to the front or back produced sharp pains. Walking straight down the slope, therefore, was difficult, since I had to bend my ankle forward. By going down in a zigzag pattern, on the other hand, my foot only had to bend to one side or the other. This was helpful, but only on the zigs, not the zags.
About a quarter of the way down, the spelunking couple passed me by. They were surprised that I was using a cane, and had not made it down yet.
“Wow, you must have been hurt worse than I thought!” the woman said, slightly concerned.
“Yeah, it turns out that walking didn’t make it any better,” I explained. Then, to clarify that I was all right: “I could go faster, but I’m trying to be careful not to injure it even worse.”
A few minutes later, a group of kids walked by me on the way up to the top of the rock. They made it to the top, and then passed by me again on the way back to the bottom. “Is that guy still here?” one of the grade-school-aged kids asked an adult sponsor. “Shh,” replied the adult.
I finally did make it back to my pickup, and threw the walking stick in the back before climbing inside. It being a state park, I imagine there were probably rules against taking anything with me when I left. I didn’t really care about the rules. I figured I still might need to walk somewhere that day.
I had originally thought about making it as far as Austin before stopping for the night. Oklahoma State was playing Texas that evening, in a Big Monday basketball rematch of the triple-overtime game I had missed 4 weeks before. Perhaps I would luck out and find a cheap nosebleed ticket for sale outside the arena.
That was now out of the question, because I didn’t want to mess with climbing all those steps, or trying to get a six-foot-tall stick through security. The wisest thing I could do was to get a hotel room and put my ankle on ice.
The hotels in Fredericksburg are notoriously expensive, considering their abundance and the town’s small size. After calling a few places, I found that the Super 8 Motel was the most reasonable.
In a town full of historical buildings and hotels, the Super 8 was noticeably a newer construction. As I hobbled toward the Super 8 office, I saw a metal plaque affixed to the brick wall near the front door. The plaque read:
ON THIS SITE IN 1897 NOTHING HAPPENED.
Genius. Any place that can have that kind of a sense of humor can also have my business.
I checked into the motel, and spent the evening in pain. Not so much because of the foot, but because of Kevin Durant and the Longhorns beating up badly on my Cowboys.
© 2007 by Kevin McConaghy. All rights reserved.