Home Breaking News Rock stacking: Artistic expression, or environmental damage?

Rock stacking: Artistic expression, or environmental damage?

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Rock Stacks in Morro Bay on the south side of Morro Rock. Photo By Dustin Gil

Done for a photogenic picture, or simply to pass the time, rock stackings are fairly commonplace in many scenic natural environments.

Resembling alien monoliths, these rock stacks seem to pop up out of thin air anywhere that has a view, and what many may see as a harmless pile of rocks, some argue actually has detrimental effects to the environment. 

The act of stacking rocks is exactly what it sounds like. One meticulously stacks rock on top of rock, balancing each one on top of the next. Rock stacks vary from novice towers standing short in stature made of just a couple small stones, to the more advanced, towering multiple feet high, containing large and small boulders working in harmony with gravity to keep the stone column standing.

This pastime is nothing new. As if inherently human, people have been stacking rocks for hundreds of years, and the practice has all but died out in the modern age.

A simple search on social media will find you thousands and thousands of photos containing rock stackings in locations all around the world. Originally used to assist in navigation indicating location and routes, rock stacking is now more commonly done as a means of creative expression, and even a meditative practice for some.

People stack rocks in the shadow of Morro Rock. Photo By Dustin Gil

Though it may seem like a benign activity, those opposed to the pastime with environmentally conscious concerns argue that the act of stacking rocks in natural environments displaces the stones from where they naturally rest. contributing to premature erosion and displacement whatever organisms exist under each stone. At minimum, the towers stand to some as an arbitrary reminder of man’s impact on the natural world. An unnecessary “I was here” marking left in an otherwise undisturbed location.

Rock stacking at sunset next to Morro Rock. Photo By Dustin Gil

“The amount of harm these ‘art pieces’ cause is often dependent on the type of environment you may be in,” said Emily Kane, an Earth Science professor at Cuesta College. “There are certain environments where the rocks are used as hiding places, homes, or places to lay eggs – especially along the edges of streams or lakes. Removing these rocks from their original location is removing the natural home or protection that organisms of that environment may depend on.” 

Some national parks and forest services still employ the use of rock stackings to indicate trail routes and direction. This comes into conflict with the growing trend of visitors constructing their own rock stacks, which can result in leading confused people off trail, as recreational rock towers can look indistinguishable from their utilitarian counterparts constructed by the forest service. As a response to this problem, many parks now discourage or outright ban the activity, categorizing rock stacking as an act of vandalism.

Whether viewed as a natural art project, a means of meditative practice, or natural vandalism and a detriment to the ecosystem, rock stacking seems to not be going anywhere anytime soon. One considering participating in the activity should follow local regulation on the matter, and be mindful of the potential impacts the activity has on the environment they are visiting.