Stacking rocks

6:32 p.m. on June 17, 2019 (EDT)
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In case you were wondering.  We've seen these "art installations" all over the parks we visit.  And while every once in a while one seems slightly charming, the absolute epidemic of stacked rocks all over the place has quickly become a real eyesore.

When we were hiking on our recent trip to the Southwest, we noted this very clear sign that made it apparent:  stacked rocks are graffiti.  This is especially important in the Southwest, where geoglyphs and other rock installations can be thousands of years old, and indicate real archeological importance.  Scrawling all over that with your own clever creations is graffiti, nothing more or less. Here's the sign: IMG_1911.JPG

9:20 p.m. on June 17, 2019 (EDT)
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I’ve never understood the fascination with stacking rocks. If you have that much energy to spare why not pick up trash or something like that? And don’t even get me going on graffiti. 

1:21 a.m. on June 18, 2019 (EDT)
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My daughter and I came upon this vitrified monster a good 1 1/2 miles from the nearest trail, above Big Pine Creek Lake #6.  We had gone bushwhacking for a "short cut" back to the trail - a bad decision - and ended up traversing a very steep and extremely rugged mountain side, encountering cliffs along the way, and almost impassible riparian zones, hiding large runnels and few feasible crossings.  She had a blast.  As for me, I'd been there and done that too many times to appreciate playing Dr Livingston of the Sierra.  Folks may be rankled coming upon such installations in such remote settings, but this critter was well camouflaged, and we didn't notice him until he challenged our intrusion, when we were practically on top of him.  

PS: Bear spray and air horns were of no avail; he stood his ground. We eventually were the first to blink and cautiously made our exit.


DSCN0088.jpgEd

5:59 a.m. on June 18, 2019 (EDT)
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I totally agree that concentrations of stacked rocks can be annoying and unsightly intrusions on nature, especially in NPs and wilderness areas. But the occasional artful installation in the right place and time can be interesting and amusing, especially if they are the balance rock type which are by nature temporary and can be rather striking. If they are in streambeds they will be erased by the next flood.

Here is a "balanced rock artist" at work and some of his pieces, on a breakwater I think in Sausalito or thereabouts:

IMG_4167.jpgIMG_4165.jpg

And here is one of my own "improbable rocks" on Karitind in Reinheim, Norway.
Improbable-rock-1.jpg

I suppose uprooting rocks embedded in soil might cause some biological and visual disturbance, but in this case it was just one rock in a big pile. No harm done.

Speaking of big piles of rocks, here's a manmade one on the heavily-travelled Besseggen ridge in Jotunheimen:
PICT0140_1.jpgPretty intrusive, but it seems to be the custom here (as elsewhere, see prayer walls, Nepal) to add a rock to the pile as you go by. It would be totally out of place in a less-travelled location, but is a "cultural feature" in this context. The trail erosion is more of a problem.

11:07 a.m. on June 18, 2019 (EDT)
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If they are historic rock piles they have value to some people.  If they were built last year we don't like them and tear them down. 

The Basques built stone boys in the Great Basin over 100 years ago.  There are stone fences and stone men built by Paleo-Indians that were used to drive antelope thousands of years ago.  The Inuit built stone men in the Arcitc for centuries. 

Are petroglyphs and pictographs grafitti?

It all depends on how old they are and what your perspective is. 

By law, historic artifacts must be more than 50 years old. 

1:27 p.m. on June 18, 2019 (EDT)
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And there is your answer.

If you want create rock art, do it on your property, not in the wilderness.

2:28 p.m. on June 18, 2019 (EDT)
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ppine said:

"..By law, historic artifacts must be more than 50 years old. "

You know you are getting old when stuff you made in your youth may qualify as historic artifacts, and some consider the furniture you first bought when you moved out as antique.  I still have the recipe for making dirt.  Just stop calling me an old fossil, though, that is redundant.

Ed

10:45 a.m. on June 19, 2019 (EDT)
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Somewhat tangential , but this reminds me of an encounter I heard a first-hand account of:

Off-trailers in the Smokies use an old historic route known as the Dry Sluice manway, or to some, the Porters Creek manway, which according to lore, was used during prohibition to shuttle moonshine between North Carolina and Tennessee. 

This manway normally has several strategic cairns marking some of the more obscure routes and I've personally found them quite helpful and time saving.  

So, one day, a small group of off-trailers are heading up and observe another coming down that has a member of their group kicking over and scattering the cairns. 

The up-group confronts the destroyer of cairns and asks why he is kicking over the markers, and he replies "well, I found the way so other can too" (apparently not appreciating the fact that he "found the way" with the benefit of the cairns). A brief fist-fight ensued. 

a rock knocking story...

11:05 a.m. on June 19, 2019 (EDT)
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Rock cairns have been around since the beginning of trails used by Native Americans, especially at high elevations where there are few landmarks above treeline.  They are especially useful in cloudy and foggy conditions.  Leave then alone. 

2:09 p.m. on June 19, 2019 (EDT)
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ppine said:

Rock cairns have been around since the beginning of trails used by Native Americans, especially at high elevations where there are few landmarks above treeline.  They are especially useful in cloudy and foggy conditions.  Leave then alone. 

 This is completely at odds with your previous comments that when you go into the wilderness you would like there to be no evidence of human activity. 

Note that the sign above refers to the activity of stacking rocks--thus new cairns and ducks--not those over fifty years old.  This is my one concern with people who take it upon themselves to knock over every duck or cairn that they see.  Some of those have marked trails for a generation or more. 

On the other hand, I have no patience with those who decide to grace the wilderness or our national parks with artful towers of rock just to show off what they can do.  That IS graffiti, and I have been known to knock one or two down!

Like this idiotic cairn on top of North Dome...

 

8vjlX9wpEBaIDxG0V0TkN4OS4ftWheFDsVQfjdYV

6:06 p.m. on June 19, 2019 (EDT)
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How does one draw lines between rock cairns that help guide your way and art that's graffiti? is it the "i know it when i see it" test? does location factor in, eg., the cairns in the Whites tend to be above treeline, in places where you can actually use them to find your way (except for winter)? I'm sure it's reasonably obvious in most cases, but there must be some middle ground where it's not so easy to tell.  

Can't say I have ever had any desire to stop and pile up rocks while hiking. hm.  

11:58 p.m. on June 19, 2019 (EDT)
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LOL!!  I know for a fact that there is nowhere that I can go where no man has gone before.  The idea that because there is no evidence of personkind when I go somewhere, or when I get to where I'm going...........in no way infers that many have not been there before me, or will come after me.  A person can get as mad as they want by someone building cairns/stacking rocks.........or whatever it is that one want's to call it, but one thing is for sure.............and that is nobody has the right to tell me what to do and what not to do on the trail as long as I'm not breaking the law.  The fact is that regardless of what ever reason you might have in going out into the wilderness, others have their own reasons.............and for some people it is apparently to stack rocks.  Remember, just because you might believe in mantra "leave as little trace as possible", that in no way means that others believe the same thing.  This here is about the funniest thread I've read on TS in a long, long time. 

12:16 a.m. on June 20, 2019 (EDT)
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Apeman, read the sign.  It says that stacking rocks is vandalism, which is illegal.  So it is breaking the law.  

10:11 a.m. on June 20, 2019 (EDT)
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Apeman,

"know for a fact there is nowhere I can go where no man has gone before."

Maybe you need to try some new country.  

12:19 p.m. on June 20, 2019 (EDT)
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balzaccom said:

Apeman, read the sign.  It says that stacking rocks is vandalism, which is illegal.  So it is breaking the law.  

 balzaccom, Yes, I saw the sign and yes I can read! Note that I said, ".................as long as I'm not breaking the law."

So, I've in the PNW and I know for a fact that I've never seen a sign out this way that says anything about stacking rocks.  Maybe that's a special South West thing?  So that of course means that one cannot make a fire ring out of rocks, or as some of us like to call it...............................a round fire cairn.  Also, a long time ago when I was young we were taught that when we made a cat hole to poop in out in the wild, which should be a no-no anyway......we were taught to stack, or pile a small amount of rocks over the dirt covered hole so that animals had a hard, or at least a harder time digging it up, and or the dirt washing away in a heavy rain and exposing the poop and the toilet paper....I guess with our continually changing lexicon we can now call this the poop cairn....No stacking rocks eh?

Like I said, this is about the funniest thread I've seen in a long time.

12:41 p.m. on June 20, 2019 (EDT)
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At some point exercising one's right to do anything that isn't illegal crosses the line and becomes inconsiderate.  Nothing illegal about farting in an elevator or picking your nose at the dinner table, but who does that!  Nothing illegal about practicing "woodcraft" in many areas, but that doesn't mean it is OK to hack down half the forest because one wants to build a log lean-to and table for their weekend trip.  I am not perturbed by balanced rocks, ducks and cairns, or even camp sites where rocks were arranged to make cooking stances and ground leveled for tents.  Personally I am too lazy to civil engineer my tent stance or build wind revetments.  But I welcome these modifications left by others for my own comfort.   My conduct is predicated by what impact it will have on others coming after me.  Should I intentionally leave a mark, it is because I think it is of utility, mostly wind breaks for a stove and leveled rocks for a "kitchen" at a location that obviously receives frequent use.  But I first try to make do with what is already in place.  Yea, it isn't pristine, but consider the alternative, of everyone that uses the camp trampling the ground to collect rocks for a windbreak, and the impact that has on an often fragile ecology.  It certainly is less obtrusive than all the trash I collect that others leave behind.  Thus I practice LNT as a philosophy, not an absolute doctrine.

Ed

12:42 p.m. on June 20, 2019 (EDT)
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ppine said:

Apeman,

"know for a fact there is nowhere I can go where no man has gone before."

Maybe you need to try some new country.  

ppine,  My guess is that there is almost nowhere on the planet, other than the ocean beds and the tops of a few mountains where either ancient or modern peoples have not tread, inside or outside of the US.  My ego does not ask me, or demand that I go to such places and plant my, or my countries flag.  My hope would be that if any such places are found where man has not gone before that they lock that place down and that people not ever be allowed to go there.  It seems that no matter how careful one person is with a newly discovered land, others follow in those footsteps only to destroy such unbridled beauty.  As a species, with currently 7.7 billion people on this planet which is set to expand 11 billion by the end of the century, we seem unable to not trash anything that we touch in nature(Everest and Half Dome for starters).

6:04 p.m. on June 20, 2019 (EDT)
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Apeman,

Have you ever been to any really large wilderness areas?

Have you been to western Canada or Alaska?

8:06 p.m. on June 20, 2019 (EDT)
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ppine said:

Apeman,

Have you ever been to any really large wilderness areas?

Have you been to western Canada or Alaska?

I have been to Western Canada but sadly not Alaska.  Regardless, how would one ever know if a human has been to the place one might consider devoid of human touch or contact?  Do we have records that go back to the dawn of humans and records of movements of all humans since humans crossed the land bridge?  When I was a kid 55 years ago we grew up we learning that Christopher Columbus discovered America, the US.............Come to find out he never even stepped foot in North America.  Then we learned that he discovered the lower Americas and that some other European discovered North America.  But the Indians were already here, did they not discover North America.   And now it's entirely possible that the Vikings were here up to 500 years before Spain, England, Portugal, etc. Made it to the Americas.

3:27 p.m. on June 21, 2019 (EDT)
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The notion of a wilderness being pristine is mostly appearances, a function of how frequently it gets visited, how much abuse it receives on each visit, and how quickly it can "heal".  

Some people think of the wild shoreline of British Columbia north of Vancuver as pristine.  Most would never know otherwise.  Yet the trained eye will discern plenty of evidence where man has engineered shoreline structure to facilitate aquaculture of oysters, or funnel salmon into fish traps.  It just looks natural.  And then there is the fact nature will overgrow, consume, or literally bury any evidence of human activity.  Looks virgin, but ain't.  On the other side of the coin there are places where evidence of ancient man are readily apparent, because the ecology is easy to damage, or unable to hide our affects.  Typically these usually are desiccated desert areas, both hot and frigid.

Ed     

11:08 a.m. on June 22, 2019 (EDT)
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Ed is our best philosopher. 

I like the way his brain works. 

Thanks Ed. 

7:10 p.m. on June 22, 2019 (EDT)
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I have no problem with rock cairns, especially old ones. Rocks that I don't like are the one people paint at home  and leave on the trail to be found and then commented on the web. That's litter to me.

5:47 p.m. on June 23, 2019 (EDT)
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Rocks that I don't like are the one people paint at home  and leave on the trail to be found and then commented on the web. That's litter to me.

Is this really a thing people do?  I have never seen or heard of it...maybe I'm living under a (non-painted) rock.

12:17 p.m. on June 24, 2019 (EDT)
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FlipNC said:

Rocks that I don't like are the one people paint at home  and leave on the trail to be found and then commented on the web. That's litter to me.

Is this really a thing people do?  I have never seen or heard of it...maybe I'm living under a (non-painted) rock.

 Phil, yes, its real. Seen  too many in The Adirondacks. Most have some  kind of face or flower painted on them then, I can't remember exactly, a facebook  or such address on the bottom. I confiscate them.

I don't worry about cairns-they could be useful in bad weather or the dark and small ones fall rather quickly in weather.

2:14 p.m. on June 24, 2019 (EDT)
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Wow. Sad. I would add to my pack weight too and haul any of those out or at least bury them. 

2019_0601_09501400.jpg
Cairns I appreciate when they are route markers..just past this photo in the clouds above on Beinn Eighe in Scotland my son and I were helped to find a sharp turn on rocky ground by a cairn. No picture though...too wet and windy up there. 

3:10 p.m. on June 24, 2019 (EDT)
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The Chilkoot Trail is one of those places where navigation is aided a lot by having cairns.  It goes over the Coast Range of Alaska where upper treeline is about 2,100 feet.  Clouds and fog coming off the ocean obscure the trail much of the time. 

8:37 p.m. on June 24, 2019 (EDT)
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I'll pass up picking up painted rocks on my way up/out if I'm returning that way and grab them on the way back. Sometimes someone else has beat me to it. Going downhill I can carry anything :)

Mt Skylight next to  Mt Marcy had or has a very large cairn as it was said carry a stone to it and it won't rain.

Jay Mtn., also in the ADKs, is a multi summit ridge and each summit had/has a cairn for many decades. They are eerie when first seen on a foggy morn.

10:14 a.m. on June 27, 2019 (EDT)
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I have used cairns to navigate in a whiteout but I tried to knock them all over on the downclimb.

"Artistic" rock stacks are probably one of the lesser forms of litter/pollution/graffiti people commit in the back country but ya, enough is enough.

October 22, 2019
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