It was the summer of 2005, and I was searching for a book project that could utilize some of the photographs I had amassed over the years. As I thought on the matter and examined the possibilities, I discovered that very little written material was available on Enchanted Rock State Natural Area (SNA), and most of that was out of print, too basic or too broad to do justice to the park, or too technical (such as research papers for the average visitor. Other than some small pamphlets on hiking up the Summit Trail, and a few Web resources, nothing else was widely available for the roughly 300,000 annual visitors to the park.
Enchanted Rock SNA is my favorite park in Central Texas, and maybe it is yours too, if you are reading these words. My initial thought was to capture a body of photographs and produce a coffee-table book showing the beauty of the place, along with some supporting text. Enchanted Rock, however, demands more than just a bunch of pretty pictures. It is an important place in Texas, both historically and today. It has never been covered adequately in print.
Why does an area as small as Enchanted Rock SNA and the broader Llano Region demand such thorough coverage? First, the Llano Region supplies critical clues in the story not only of the geological history of Texas but also for the development of the earth as a whole. Some rock exposures in the Llano Region are considered "classic," attracting study and interpretation by geologists from around the world. Much new research continues today, increasing our understanding of the earth's history.
Next, the plants and animals that reside in the area consist of an interesting juxtaposition of desert, subtropical, plains, and eastern forest species, including many plants that have been separated from their ranges through long-term climatic change. Enchanted Rock SNA is therefore extremely diverse from a biological perspective.
The day-to-day weather in the region helps create conditions that support the variety of plants and animals. Weather in Central Texas most of the time is largely uneventful. However, Central Texas is subjected on a regular basis to prolonged droughts and to some of the most catastrophic flooding in North America, which accelerates the weathering process and reveals geological clues beneath.
Finally, Enchanted Rock SNA is a popular park. Any day of the week finds a line of hikers making their way up the Summit Trail to the top of Enchanted Rock Dome. Enchanted Rock SNA is a mecca for climbers throughout Texas and the South, presenting granite climbing conditions not widely available in the South Central United States. It is so popular that on weekends, the park frequently fills to capacity.
The park and its visitors deserve a single book that provides in-depth coverage, describing the history, geology, and weather. The challenge, as I saw it, was to satisfy the most curious readers with an interesting text, without drowning the work in technical jargon. The balance was struck by using colorful diagrams and photographs with captions to illuminate the complex subject matter. Additionally, review by experts was critical, making sure the information was as accurate and up-to-date as possible.
On the biological front, traditional field-guide photographs, including the flora and fauna that reside in the area, would also be useful. Most field guides cover a single topic in depth, such as birds, butterflies, flowers, or reptiles, and then provide cursory coverage of other supporting topics. Some attempt to cover a broad geographic area; they rarely identify more than the most common species of plants and animals within that area. What is missing for Enchanted Rock, though, is a presentation of a wide range of species within this specific location. This book attempts to fill that gap, without getting too large, by describing the park's biotic communities in brief text summaries along with lots of photographs of individual species.
Such a book is more than a field guide; maybe it could be called a destination guide. It touches on all the elements that make Enchanted Rock such an intriguing and endlessly interesting place to visit.
A wide variety of equipment was used to capture and process all of the images in this book. Camera equipment included a Hasselblad 501CX camera with 80mm, 150mm, and 250mm lenses, 2× teleconverter, and various extension tubes. Also used was a Canon Digital Rebel XT 8 mega-pixel camera utilizing a 70-200mm L IS USM lens, 1.4× teleconverter, 28-105mm USM lens, and various extension tubes. A film-based Canon Elan, with the same Canon lenses, was used for a small portion of the images. Finally, some images were captured with a Sony DSC70 3.1 mega-pixel camera. A Gitzo carbon-fiber tripod was used for all images captured with the Hasselblad and the majority of the other images. Some of the insect and animal images were (reluctantly) hand-held because of the dynamic nature of photography in the field. The film used was Fuji Velvia and Kodak 100GX. The typical jaunt to Enchanted Rock included roughly 30 pounds of equipment, building strong muscles and providing a pleasant, if rather tiring, workout.
Film-based images were scanned using the Nikon Coolscan 9000. All images were processed with Adobe Photoshop CS. Image proofs used by the publisher were made on Epson 7600 and 9800 printers with Ultrachrome inks on Breathing Color Sterling paper.
Many of the images in this book are available at http://www.enchantedrocksna.com for purchase. Other images can also be found there. For a wider portfolio of Lance's images, please see: http://www.planetography.com.
Enchanted Rock—the very name instills curiosity. Looking at the list of Texas state parks, Enchanted Rock Park State Natural Area (SNA) stands out among all of them. Sure, Battleship Texas State Historic Site and Kreische Brewery State Historic Site certainly bring fanciful images to mind. But what comes to mind with Enchanted Rock?
Enchanted Rock is not just a mysterious name or marketing campaign by the State of Texas. Enchanted Rock is a place of legends, ancient peoples, Native American ceremonies, New Spain, the Frontier, Republic of Texas heroes in battle, German immigration, silver mines, uranium, and buried treasure! Enchanted Rock—even the origin of its name is more legend than fact.
Enchanted Rock is a geological anomaly, as one University of Texas geology researcher put it, "a (fascinating) granite island in a sea of worthless limestone." Enchanted Rock is a window into the mysterious past of Planet Earth: supercontinents, mountain ranges, epic global flooding episodes, dreadfully long periods with no record at all.
Enchanted Rock is a place of biological diversity. The Edwards Plateau, Hill Country, subtropics, Gulf of Mexico, Great Plains, eastern forests, and Chihuahuan Desert all exert their influence.
Enchanted Rock offers a wide range of activities to a broad cross section of outdoor enthusiasts: a climbers' paradise, hiking, sojourn to the top, birding, camping, and backpacking.
Amazingly little has been written about this most popular of Texas parks. Compared with Big Bend National Park in West Texas, with its dozens of books in print at any given time, not one in-print book is available on Enchanted Rock SNA, let alone books that attempt to capture the unique and beautiful landscape and at the same time explain the origins of the park, the actions taking place on it, and the plants and animals found there. How can such an important place in Texas not be better covered?
This destination guide has three parts. Part I is a highly selective thread of human history pertaining to the park, the Llano Region, and other areas deemed to be of interest. Part II uses a textbook format to describe the area's geology, the effects of weathering and erosion, and the weather. The material goes into some depth to satisfy those who want to know more, using extensive diagrams and photographs to help demonstrate concepts, but at the same time attempting to keep the text approachable. Part III introduces the flora and fauna, with an emphasis on plant and animal identification through photography, rather than textual descriptions, leaving the heavy lifting of species descriptions to other, more focused works.
To identify the important plants and animals, my thought was to use Enchanted Rock SNA as a sort of proxy for the species found throughout the Llano Region. The advantage to this approach is that Enchanted Rock SNA today has been less affected by human activities than some (but not all) private or other public lands, especially since it became a state natural area. It has been studied, it is accessible, and it is beautiful. The Llano Region itself, however, harbors a wide diversity of plants that thrive in various soil conditions, along rivers and near springs, and from east to west, so that the species collected from Enchanted Rock SNA cannot be extrapolated as a record of the species for the entire region. For example, the common sunflower, found throughout the Llano Region, was not found at Enchanted Rock SNA during field work for this book, and the bald eagles that nest along Highway 29 east of Llano are not found at Enchanted Rock SNA. Nevertheless, I believe that the record assembled is quite extensive, more so than that found in any previous single publication.
I visited the park on a regular basis, roughly every three weeks, starting in December 2005 through October 2007, with a few scattered visits after that. During each visit, lasting one to three days, I captured as many plants and animals as possible through photography. As there was so much to see and learn, I found myself shooting from dawn to well after sunset, with an average of something like 700 images a day. Many visits were purposely made not long after rainfall (there were not many of those days in 2006) to discover what new plant and animal life appeared. All plants and animals were photographed in their habitat, with little or no manipulation.
The result was well over 35,000 photographs of plants, animals, and general scenery. My original assumption was that it was important to include every species I encountered in the book. If I saw it, another visitor was also likely to see it. The strategy worked quite well for plants and many types of insects, but birds and mammals proved more difficult because special techniques and equipment (blinds, remaining in one place for long periods of time) were necessary to capture them. For plants, the challenge was recognizing new species when I encountered them and photographing the species in a useful manner for recognition by the target audience. During the course of the year, I made a number of "first in county" sightings for Llano and Gillespie counties, and they are being reported to the appropriate interested researchers.
The notion of including all species was challenged as the count of plant species approached 350, butterflies almost 60, dragonflies and damselflies 40, birds over 30, plus moths, insects, arachnids, and so on. These species counts are just scratching the surface of what is present at the park, especially where insects are concerned.
The vast majority of photographs in the book are from Enchanted Rock SNA itself; the handful of exceptions are noted in the list of illustration sources, following "References."
As I am not a botanist, my early photography was centered on capturing species that I noticed and that I determined were different from what I had seen before. During each trip, I made an effort to recapture plants already photographed to record their presence throughout the year. Plant identification was done from the photographs, with an appreciation of the risks of misidentification. As I gained more experience identifying plants, I saw more plants to identify. Some species that do not stand out, however, may have been passed by. The capturing effort was not a survey in the strict scientific sense. The implications of this approach are that many species that may be common, but are still hard to see, may not have been photographed for this book. There are probably massive numbers of mice living at the park, but none was encountered with this technique. Therefore, mice are not included because most visitors will never encounter one (unless you leave food in your backpack for them to find).
In the vast majority of the photographs, initial species identifications were done by me during endless hours looking through books and the Web. I generated or acquired species lists from a wide variety of sources, which are listed under "References." They were invaluable for narrowing down the possibilities. In some cases, such as moth identification, I made little headway on my own. After I had established some confidence in my IDs, I consulted with experts to verify them. There is some risk in relying on identifications from photographs, and relying on an existing list of species that may or may not be accurate is additionally risky. I tried to be cautious where necessary, and I did not go to the species level of identification if there was some doubt.
Although the plants and animals covered in the book are only those found within Enchanted Rock SNA, they should serve as an excellent sampling of those found in the Llano Region.
The challenge, as you may be pondering at this point, is to prevent a book like this from bloating to enormous size (and cost) while avoiding compromising it to such a degree that no subject is covered adequately. Another challenge is to make sure that the disciplines are covered accurately and with up-to-date thinking across a broad range of subjects. Probably few people start out with the required diversity and depth of knowledge across so many topics, and any author would have to engage in supplemental study. Consultation with experts in particular fields was a critical part of the process of writing the text.
In any multisubject book such as this, compromises have to be made, but they are made with the target audience in mind. I hope you find the compromises made were good ones, and that this book serves you well as you explore one of Texas' favorite parks, Enchanted Rock SNA.
Enchanted Rock SNA—come explore it.