After a rainy Saturday evening in Magaliesburg, Joe and I decided to go for a hike in Mountain Sanctuary Park. The sun was only listlessly trying to push through the clouds, but we were determined to do something outdoorsy on our country weekend.

Mountain Sanctuary Park is a privately owned nature reserve in the Magaliesburg Mountains, about an hour from the town of Magaliesburg. To get there we had to cross Breedt’s Nek Pass, on a rutted, boulder-strewn dirt road. The views are great but this road is not for the faint of heart, especially after rain. We passed a hapless couple getting their VW hatchback hauled out of the mud by a tow truck.

Joe demonstrates proper off-road driving technique. Hold your thumbs out so they don’t break when you hit an unexpected gully.

The sun came out for real as we entered the park. We drove to the office and paid our visitor fees — R50 ($7) per person and R20 ($3) for the car. The ranger gave us directions to the closest hiking trail and instructed us to follow the signs to the West Pools.

We walked along a narrow path, through scrub brush and groves of protea trees. We heard rushing water but couldn’t see it. We admired the blue-mountain skyline and watched a golf-ball-sized black beetle roll past with a ball of dung. (I couldn’t get a good picture of the beetle.)

We finally reached the West Pools. The water is beautiful but the rocks are the real show.

West Pools is a small canyon cut into sandstone. The patterns etched into the rock are stunning. This jutting stone provided the first of many photo-ops. (Photo courtesy of Joe.)

We hung around the pools for a while and admired the rocks on the other side of the water. We began to see things in the rocks — faces and bodies and totem poles.

The map told us that we should proceed southeast to something called Peroewater Grotto. But we lost sight of the path. All we saw were rocks and more rocks.

Do you see a path anywhere? (Photo courtesy of Joe.)

We wandered among the rocks and eventually fell under a kind of rock enchantment. The rocks started turning into animals.

Baboon. My hand is on the back of the baboon’s head. (Photo courtesy of Joe.)

Giant salamander. (Photo courtesy of Joe.)

Frog.

We had trouble deciding what animal this is. Joe finally had a revelation. A gironkey! (Photo courtesy of Joe.)

We even saw some actual wildlife among the rock animals.

A klipspringer, which means “rock jumper” in Afrikaans. Klipspringers are rarely sighted — you can see why by looking at this photo. Can you find the rock rhinoceros? 

I can’t believe how close this lizard let me get to him. I think he enjoyed being photographed. It looks like he’s standing on the back of a tortoise.

We soon forgot about finding the trail, and instead spent hours hunting for rock animals to photograph. Joe became particularly focused on this task; I eventually got bored and started looking for rocks to sit on.

The small rock below me is a crocodile head. (Photo courtesy of Joe.)

We could have continued this quest forever but it was getting late. We followed the rock animals like a trail of breadcrumbs and eventually reached the car.

A few miles from the park, while driving back on the treacherous dirt road, I spotted a sheep-shaped rock in the distance. Joe pulled over abruptly, grabbed the camera, and squirmed under a barbed-wire fence to capture it. I’ve created a rock-hunting monster.

I tried to convince him not to do this but he was quite insistent.

Joe is now planning a rock animal photography project. I see more hunting in our future.

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