Texas: Myths, Legends, and the Real Deal
Part 11, Fifty Tons of Granite
Four miles north of Fredericksburg, Texas, there is a place called Bear Mountain. In reality, it’s not so much of a mountain, as a tall hill covered with rocks and boulders. And on the top of this mountain/hill was once a geological peculiarity, a certain boulder the size of two rhinos. It rested precariously on three triangular stones only a few inches tall and had probably been that way for hundreds or even thousands of years. The stone was red granite and weighed an estimated 50 tons. The local community dubbed it simply, Balanced Rock.
One geologist who studied the boulder gave a succinct description. “This is an excellent example of differential erosion or—Mother Nature in a playful mood.” According to Merriam-Webster, differential erosion is “erosion that occurs at irregular or varying rates, caused by the differences in the resistance and hardness of surface materials.” That does clarify Balanced Rock scientifically, but I prefer the explanation about Mot
The German pioneers of the 19th century must have thought the Rock was an interesting phenomenon, but they were too busy homesteading to care about it. However, by the early 20th century, the lukewarm attitude began to change. People talked about the Rock and word spread farther afield. Visitors from San Antonio and Austin came to view this example of differential erosion. They brought their cameras and picnic lunches, climbed Bear Mountain, and had a good time. Part of the fun was for men and boys to attempt pushing the Rock from its perch. Can’t you imagine the cheers and encouragement from the ladies, as husbands, sons, and suitors strained their muscles, grunted, and sweated? Of course, no one was successful. Besides, nobody was concerned that the property was privately owned, least of all the owners themselves.
By the 1960s, a roadside park was established at the base of Bear Mountain and a group of Boy Scouts built and maintained a trail to the top. Visitors could then park their cars in a designated place and take the trail up the mountain, so much easier than in former days. Tourists came from other states and even from other countries. All wanted to see the fifty-ton boulder balancing on three small points.
Stores in Fredericksburg sold postcards depicting the mountain and the Rock. ABC National News sent a reporter and a photographer to do a feature story about it. High school and college students from Austin, San Marcos, and San Antonio made regular, informal field trips to climb the trail and demonstrate their own efforts at toppling the Rock. It came as no surprise that all of them failed. In 1971, the San Antonio Express published an article about hippies who’d painted a peace sign on the Rock, which naturally horrified the people of Fredericksburg. It was a Hill Country landmark and the deed was considered practically sacrilegious!
Throughout the decades, Bear Mountain and Balanced Rock remained on private property, but the owner family always allowed unrestricted access. There was never a gatekeeper, admission, or advertising. Despite the rugged terrain, no one ever sued because of bruised knees, twisted ankles, insect bites, or confrontations with rattlesnakes.
Then, in April, 1986, yet another group of tourists queried the Fredericksburg Chamber of Commerce for directions to the famous Balanced Rock. Workers at the Chamber cheerfully gave the needed directions and the tourists went on their way, only to return an hour later. They reported to the Chamber, “The Rock is gone!”
Gillespie County deputies hurried to Bear Mountain and discovered, as stated, an empty space where the Rock had resided. They found the Rock itself, rolled down a steep slope and smashed into another boulder. The deputies didn’t believe this was an accident.
Around town, shock and anger abounded and news reporters came. Who could have done such a terrible thing? Rumors flew from house to house. Everyone thought they knew exactly what had happened.
The deputies advised making no judgments until all evidence was collected. Over some days, they conducted a thorough investigation. The final determination was that vandals had perpetrated the job and they had been quite skilled in their task. It was a stick of dynamite that had finally done in Balanced Rock. Local citizens offered a reward for tips leading to the culprits who’d committed the malicious act, but the crime was never solved.
Today, Bear Mountain remains, but Balanced Rock can only be seen in vintage photos and in old-timers’ memories.
Old postcard of a granite quarry on Bear Mountain